On Monday, I had the good fortune to have dinner and a beer with Bill Taylor, one of the founders of Fast Company magazine and the author of the new book, Mavericks at Work - Why the most original minds in business win. He was out in Seattle promoting his new book, which, if you haven't noticed, is getting a lot of press (Newsweek, BusinessWeek, US News, etc).
We talked about a lot of things while I bought him a proper microbrew, which incidentally they don't have on the East Coast where he lives. Anyone that tries to tell you differently is not to be believed. It was really interesting to get his take on the themes that he extracted from a multitude of case studies that he and Polly LaBarre used as the basis for the book. One of the themes, which I'll discuss in a future post, highlights the transparency that is being created in the world (which I discuss a lot in relation to recruiting) and how companies can capitalize on the phenomena to win customers and create competitive advantage.
During the course of our conversation, Bill asked me about Jobster. Honestly, I get asked about Jobster, and our experience with the product at Starbucks, on about a weekly basis (there's that transparency thing again). As we talked about networking effects, management, and the usefulness of technology in building bridges between people, it struck me that Networking ≠ "Net Working".
So there I was, munching on some garlic fries and sipping a pretty nice amber ale, and I was chatting with Bill Taylor. He didn't have to meet with me, in fact, he just got off a flight from Boston and it was 7:30 pm, and I'm sure he was bagged. And it was my son's birthday (1 year old on the 9th), but I chose to meet Bill anyway because our paths aren't likely to cross in the same cities very often. We both found mutual value in making a live connection since we were in Seattle.
Over the course of the last few months, he's helped me out with some things; I've helped him out with some things. I sent him some coffee. He gave me a copy of his book (signed no less). I know what sports teams he likes. He knows I have two kids. As of Monday, I now know he's a die hard Bruce Springsteen fan, and has been to way too many concerts. I won't disclose the exact figure, for fear of detracting from future book sales. I meant to ask him if he likes the Killers and their new album. We wouldn't have known any of this had we not sat down and had a beer together.
The most valuble networking (the old fashioned way - between people) comes from authentically giving people value and making a human connection. It's about forming "1/2 friendships" that have a probability of becoming 3/4 or perhaps someday full friendships. Networking ≠ "working on the net" to make connections with people. It's not the same thing, and the level of value creation isn't the same, nor do I think it ever will be.
That's not to say that Jobster, H3, LinkedIn or other technology extensions can't create value...they can and they serve a purpose: they are a means to a predefined end. Filling a job. Extending a campaign. Capturing lists of people as a target market. They are 'reach extension tools' but they don't perpetuate true networking, because high-value, relationship driven networking between people can't be filtered. Once filtered, it becomes diluted, and I submit that dilution limits value creation. Old fashioned networking is a means to an undefined end: the probability that unknown value will be created in the future.
We can all spend a ton of time "net working": spending time on the internet with technology to extend our reach. But the the most valuable connections I've established in my career (indeed my life), which continue to pay dividends and drive the highest return, are from building relationships with people for the sole purpose of giving them value. Quantity does not beget quality or value creation.
The old form of networking seems to have been eroded in the last 15 years, in much the same way that people now send an email to a colleague who sits 20 feet away instead of walking over to them. Choosing not to network is an error in life-management. In fact, I think I can trace all of my notable career and life accomplishments to some sort of networking. Career opportunities, investment opportunities, entreprenuerial opportunities, you name it... nearly all have started with my efforts to build relationships with people for the pure sake of building relationships with people.
Another example: I spoke at Georgetown University in the spring; to an MBA class in the Executive Masters of Leadership Program. In my presentation, I talked a fair bit about the value of networking, and encouraged the students to keep in touch with me. I also gave the MBA candidates some Pike Place Blend Coffee. I got to meet a lot of really cool people while I was there.
One of the students (Chas) who works for a music company, sent me an email afterwards, and told me his wife drank all of his coffee. So I sent him some more, and remarked that I really liked the band Carbon Leaf and that he might know them, since they are also from Virginia. I didn't hear from him again, until last week, when he dropped me a line out of the blue and said, "Hey, thanks again for the coffee, I have an band-autographed copy of the new Carbon Leaf CD waiting for you, I just need to know where to send it..."
That is so cool.
Networking ≠ net working. Never has, never will.