This is the fourteenth of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth chapters – “Build It and They Will Come” and “Never Give in to Hubris” – which appear on pages 259 through 272.
One major challenge for many people is how exactly to find people to connect to. Many of the typical social methods people use to meet each other are shots in the dark, hoping that you find someone compatible.
Ferrazzi is a big proponent of clubs and community organizations. If you dig around, there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of these in your local area, but many people never put in the footwork to find such organizations.
Over the years, I’ve been a member of many, many such groups, and I have to agree – they’re often useful in building relationships and providing a great way to spend time. In my experience, the best organizations are the ones that combine the camaraderie of a club with a natural passion that you already have.
Join a Club
Ferrazzi lays out the reasoning behind joining a club or organization on page 261:
All clubs are based on common interests. Members are united by a similar job, philosophy, hobby, neighborhood, or simply because they are the same race, religion, or generation. They are founded by a common proposition that is unique to them. They have, in other words, a reason to hang out together.
Take a look in the mirrow. Who are you? Where do you live? Where did you go to school? What do you believe in? The answers to these questions give you things that you have in common with other people, and this can often be the basis of participation in organizations.
Perhaps your school has an alumni association. Perhaps you’re a believer of a certain religion. Perhaps you engage in a particular hobby that others might share. Maybe you suffer from a certain medical condition, or have survived a certain social situation.
Whatever it is, there’s either an organization out there that will help you find people that you have something in common with or you can start such a group yourself. The people you meet will not only be easy to meet, but many will have social worlds that don’t overlap your own, giving you many opportunities to get to know people in different areas and stages and walks of life.
Bring Something Extra
On page 261, Ferrazzi talks about your unique selling proposition:
At a time like this, you have to figure out what is your U.S.P. – your “unique selling proposition,” for all you non-MBA types out there. What secret sauce can you bring to the table? Your proposition can be an expertise, a hobby, or even an interest or passion for a particular cause that will serve as the foundation from which an entire organization or club can be established.
When you join a club – or, especially, when you start your own – you need to bring something unique and interesting to the table or else you’ll just stand out. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a willingness to participate and take on the difficult tasks. Perhaps it’s a set of resources that you have that you can contribute to the group. Maybe it’s personal talent.
An example: when in college, I joined a computer group, where people would trade software and computer parts, build computers for people, and give each other advice. The group was somewhat anarchical, though, and the job of president – the person who had to interact with the college and arrange rooms for meetings and the like – was thankless, though people did appreciate that someone was willing to do it. For one (long) year, that was me. Because of that year, I built up several long-lasting friendships, resulting in two separate guests at my wedding a few years later.
Whatever it is, having that extra “something” will help you become an integral part of any group and make it possible for you to meet lots of people. Stand up, offer what you can, and good things will happen.
Clubs Aren’t for Rich White People
On page 263, Ferrazzi eschews the “rich white guys” notion of what a club is:
The days when clubs were only for wealthy white men to consort with people just like themselves are over. It doesn’t matter if it’s a group of carpet salespeople meeting weekly to discuss the trials and tribulations of their jobs; a roundtable of female Republicans who are dissatisfied with the stance of their state party; or a group who share a passion for great wines and who come together monthly to do tastings, hear vintners who are traveling through the area, and who plan an annual trip to Napa. Whatever it is and whoever you are doesn’t matter.
The idea that a “club” is just an exclusionary group of like-minded people who don’t want anyone else interfering in their ways died along with the pet rock. Sure, there are still a few such archaic groups around, but most groups simply aren’t like that, and if you use the fear of exclusion to keep you from dabbling your toes in the water, you’re making a big mistake.
The entire purpose of a group is to meet people that overlap in some demographic fashion, whether it be a hobby or a belief or a location or a political affiliation or something else. That overlap is the one thing that matters.
Yes, maybe some groups that seem like they would fit simply don’t fit, but it’s not because of exclusion. It’s usually because of personality clash.
The Value of a Club
The compelling reason for club membership is spelled out on page 264:
As long as it’s an association of people with shared interests meeting in a specified place (even if that place is cyberspace), you’ll benefit from belonging to something larger than yourself. You and your fellow members will be strengthened by a collective identity. And whereas with business, where boundaries of most relationships are clearly defined by a specific project or deal and end when that project or deal is done, membership in a club (preferably a club you’ve started) will lead to friendships that will last for years.
Being in a club means that you’re building a bond with other people that goes beyond the minutiae of the day. People come together in clubs because of common interests and beliefs and passions, not because they’re made to out of business or because it’s convenient.
That’s why clubs are often the best opportunity for building new friendships and connections in your area. The people in that room share something that transcends the ordinary. Often, they work together to build something even more interesting and exciting. That environment is the type of place where relationships and friendships thrive.
Take some time and find out what groups, clubs, and organizations are available in your area and give them a shot, whether it’s a book club at the library or a hunting club at the local range. Whatever it is, if it matches you, you’ll likely match it.
Whenever people start building a lot of new relationships, these relationships often snowball. Friends will constantly introduce you to new friends, and so forth. Ferrazzi looks at this more deeply on page 268:
The pursuit of a powerful network of friends is not in and of itself a bad thing. But the closer you get to powerful people, the more powerful you tend to feel. There is a point where your reaching out to others will pick up momentum; one powerful contact will lead to another and then to the next. It can be a very fun and motivating and important ride.
At one point in my earlier career, I noticed that this very phenomenon happened to me. At one point, I completed a pretty substantial project and was able to share the results of that with a large number of people. Later, at a large conference (the first of its kind I had attended), I would meet up with these people and they were constantly introducing me to others. By the end of it, I knew many of the key people there, pushing one of my friends to comment that it sure didn’t seem like I was a first-timer.
If you provide something of value to others and make a sincere effort to befriend them, help them, and maintain a connection, they’ll remember you. When the time comes, they’ll introduce you to people they know and you’ll get to know new people. Eventually this will reach critical mass – people will talk positively about you when you’re not around, realizing that they have you in common, and this will often bolster your reputation strongly without any effort from you. You’ll get calls and messages out of the blue from people wanting to know you.
It’s awesome. It works. It really happens. But it requires being a sincere and helpful friend to a lot of people over a long period of time.
Unfortunately, that kind of success can lead to vanity. On page 268:
Don’t let a little vanity seep into your actions or excite more expectations or create a deeper sense of entitlement. Don’t get your Ph. D. in master connecting, and then, for some reason, forget all the classes and values that were your foundation.
Everyone fails in life. What will you do when the phone calls that were once returned immediately no don’t even get a response?
It’s easy to think that you really are awesome and that a gravy train of success will keep on running. Inevitably, though, something happens. We all fail. We all do something we shouldn’t.
The end result of that is sometimes connections close right in your face, and often even a domino effect can occur as the story of your mistake spreads.
What happens then? You rely on your old friends, the ones who have been around for a long time. The only problem there is that if you’ve stopped being true to who you are, you’ve also stopped being true to them – and it’s likely they won’t be there for you.
If you begin to think you’re better than people you once thought of as a valuable equal, it will eventually backfire on your face. Remain humble, and remember who your truest friends are and the values that helped you to start opening the doors in the first place. If you stick to those values and beliefs, you’ll do all right.
On Wednesday, we’ll tackle the twenty-ninth and thirtieth chapters – “Find Mentors, Find Mentees, Repeat” and “Balance is B.S.”