Tag Archives: networking

True Story of a Natural Networker

Coincidence or synchronicity: two days ago I had a heart-to-heart talk with somebody about partners in business, and the natural networker concept came up in reference to a specific person I know. We were talking about partners and complimentary skill sets. He does what I never could. I’m not going to give you his name, but I call him Ralph.

This story started in the 1970s before “networking” was a word that any of us used. Even in college, Ralph was a natural friend, somebody who liked other people and was always ready to do somebody else a favor, when he could.

Ralph was never subservient, but he was always helpful. That was in his bones, as pure instinct. He was the archetypical nice guy. Everybody who knew him liked him. And because he did favors, he got them back. He was also smart and he was a hard worker.

What’s important to me is that this wasn’t Networking like we talk of it now, as a business tool, a set of tasks, something you’re supposed to be doing to succeed. It was just being a nice guy, and helping others when he could. It was never contrived. It was never thought out. At least, I’m pretty sure … and maybe almost never.

But when there were problems in the large company he worked for, and Ralph was set up to be the scapegoat, he didn’t get fired. He had too many people in the company speaking up for him. I saw that happen twice. He hadn’t failed or performed poorly, but it was a large company, and if it weren’t Ralph, he would have had to take the hit. He didn’t.

And when he needed help from somebody, he didn’t mind asking, and they were generally happy to help because that was returning favors he’d already done.

I always admired that natural instinct. It’s a good way to be. Good vibe, as we used to call it; good karma, if you like that word; and good business. I was never so outgoing, but at least I had the sense to respect somebody who was.  And still is – we’re still friends, 30 years later.

Is Networking Friendship, or Just MBA Speak?

What do you think about this?

The networking connections are one of the most valuable benefits of an MBA. Five to ten years down the road these people will either be running their own businesses or have high-level positions in large companies.

That’s a comment to my post here and on Small Business Trends. I said the value of my MBA degree was what I learned, not what I earned.

That networking idea, especially connected to business school, has been around for a long time. It was already there in B-school lore, thoroughly entrenched, ironically, even before there was actual networking – the web, social media, Internet, email, etc. I did my MBA from 1979 to 1981, and we heard it a lot even way back then. And they meant it then exactly as it’s used here.

But I don’t like it. To me, the term networking smacks of people as career stepping stones, and relationships as business assets. And insincere grins and car salesmen wearing white buck shoes and green checked sports coats. And pinkie rings. And people who barely know each other asking for favors. It makes me feel like after I’m done networking I should take a shower.

Friendship, on the other hand, I like. Friendship is about people, and life, and it’s always good. Also community, and discussion and keeping in touch.  I’m fine with that.  I like the idea of people who do higher education together becoming friends for life. That’s cool. I haven’t been the best at keeping up, but I’ve always liked the idea. I’m still in email with some people I met at Stanford and even with friends from Notre Dame, my undergrad school, where we were the class of 1970. But that’s not networking, it’s life.

And social media, by the way; I like that too. I’ve had lots of twitter relationships end up as face to face or phone, and these are friendships, not networking. These are people I like. Communicating (well, publishing) about things they like. If that’s networking too, then it’s not so bad.

You tell me, please: am I making something out of nothing? Is networking just another word for friendship? Does the new world of social media turn networking into something different than its meaning in the MBA context?

(Image: James Steidl/Shutterstock)