Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or business/entrepreneurship book of interest.
One profound thing I’ve always noticed is that if you give something of value away freely, with no strings attached, and don’t expect anything in return, and do it routinely and often enough, you’ll get far more in return than you’ve ever given. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to express in a clear balance sheet, because there is no real balance to it. You give and you get. What goes around comes around.
One of my earliest book reviews, the excellent Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, focuses in on this idea, in a way. Ferrazzi’s book mostly focuses on networking in the modern era, suggesting that you should use every opportunity you can to make connections and then when you see opportunities to help people, just do it automatically. The end result is a large collection of connections that have some loyalty to you, and that can be invaluable if you’re in need.
Love Is the Killer App takes that idea even further. The general idea that Tim Sanders presents here is that you should work to maximize your own personal value by learning as much as you can, connecting with as many people as you can, and sharing that knowledge and those connections as freely as possible. By sharing your knowledge and your connections, you multiply your value to others.
Is this a good complement to the excellent Never Eat Alone, or does it merely retread the same ground?
The Lovecat Way
What is a “lovecat,” exactly? It’s an overly cutesy term for something rather obvious: a person who is known for sharing what they have and is valued for it. You probably know a lovecat or two – think of the people you know who are consistently reliable with good information and help. You tend to turn to them regularly with questions and to bounce ideas off of them, and their responses are usually knowledgeable and spot-on. Plus, when you need a hand, they’ve usually got the resources you need. In short, you value these people – and you’re not alone. Lots of people value lovecats.
Now, take it to the next step – if a person like that, someone you’ve been able to consistently bounce ideas off of, get help from, and has regularly been a source of clients, calls you up and asks for some help, you’re likely going to give them all the help you can possibly provide, right? Also, when you are talking to your friends, you’re likely to notice that those “lovecats” come up often – you talk about them. That’s the inherent value of being a lovecat – by giving freely, value comes around over time.
Sanders lists quite a few additional benefits of being a lovecat: you build a reputation for yourself, you have access to the attention of a lot of people, they give you a positive benefit of the doubt, you get great feedback on your ideas, and you also get the personal satisfaction of helping people. Add them up, and it becomes clear that when you consistently give a little of yourself to others, a lot more comes around in subtle and different ways.
But how can you get there? Sanders breaks it down into three pieces, which should logically be followed in order.
The most valuable resource you can personally have, regardless of the area you’re involved in, is knowledge. By knowledge, Sanders refers to a deep and intrinsic understanding of your areas of expertise and how they connect to others. If you can become the most knowledgeable person around in an area that’s valuable to others, they’ll come to you for help and you’ll become known for this knowledge – and thus yourself valuable to others.
The first step is to figure out what areas you wish to become strongly knowledgeable in. Preferably, it’s an area strongly connected to your professional life. For example, if you’re a computer programmer sitting in a cubicle somewhere, you should become deeply knowledgeable not only about the art of computer programming, but also in how it relates to the overall function of your organization.
This means reading. A lot. Sanders suggests reading the trade journals a bit, but you should focus most of your reading and knowledge acquisition on meaty books on your topic of interest. Read the foundational books in your area – for example, if you’re a programmer, a good pair to tackle are Donald Knuth’s Art of Computer Programming and Abelson, Sussman, and Sussman’s Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. But don’t just read them – take notes on them and try to actually absorb what they’re saying. Take it slow, take notes, go back and reread previous pieces, and make sure you’re actually adding to your own knowledge along the way.
This shouldn’t be a one-time thing, but a consistent thing you do over time. Continual learning, particularly from challenging books, is the way to make yourself a strong source of valuable knowledge, both for yourself and for others. The trick, though, is finding ways to share that knowledge so that it does provide value for others.
The next step, of course, is to take that knowledge and use it. But how? Sanders breaks it down into three pieces.
First, build contacts. This means meeting people and sharing your knowledge with them. Attend conferences and meetings, ask intelligent questions (based on your knowledge), and answer some, too (based on your knowledge). This will help cement relationships with a lot of different people in your area of interest. Talk to the people you brush up against in those meetings, learn more about them, and maintain a contact with them.
Next, build connections. If you do this enough, you’ll build a bunch of contacts, and you’ll begin to see some obvious connections among those contacts. Person A has a need that Person B can help fulfill. Person A and Person B don’t know each other, but have a lot in common. Your next step is to connect those people together – introduce them and point out what they have in common.
Finally, disappear. Once you’ve made that connection and you can see it’s clicking, back away. You’re not needed anymore, but your value in building that connection will be remembered. Quite often, if that connection bears fruit, you’ll be remembered for it, even though you only just helped to put the pieces together.
The final key is compassion. At first glance, it seems over the top and silly, but it makes a lot of sense. If you genuinely care about the success of another person, let them know and do what you can to help them succeed. Tell them, flat out, that you want them to succeed, and back it up with whatever support you can provide.
To some, this will seem like sucking up or sucking down, but if it’s backed up by genuine care and action, it doesn’t really matter what it seems like. What matters is that you actually do care and that you show that you care, in thought, word, and deed. True caring comes through, and when it’s loaded with knowledge and contacts, it can be truly invaluable and can cement a lifelong relationship.
Some Thoughts on Love Is the Killer App
I really like Sanders’ idea that knowledge is such a fundamental part of building professional relationships. Many people focus too intensely on social relationships that really don’t matter because there’s no real value exchanged. You don’t learn anything or gain anything from the “power networking” guy down the hall other than a brush-off when you’re not useful for his immediate goals.
The actual part on networking seems to strongly assume you’re already outgoing and strong at mechanics of networking and socialization. Love Is the Killer App is pretty clearly a book that works best for extroverts – as an introvert who has to work very hard to make socializing work, I would have been lost by the networking chapter without some supplemental materials. If you’re in this boat, Never Eat Alone is far superior for teaching the fundamentals of how to network and build relationships – I suspect that book’s author to be highly introverted, which is actually a good thing for an introvert learning how to build such relationships.
“Disappearing” is something that many people fail to do well. The idea that you put a bunch of effort into cultivating and building a relationship between two other people, only to back away and leave them to their own ends, is fairly difficult for some. Think of it this way: three’s always a crowd, and if you’re not part of the value being exchanged, you’re the third wheel.
Is Love Is the Killer App Worth Reading?
Sanders provides the most rational and detailed description and explanation I’ve ever read of the “what goes around, comes around” phenomenon and how it can help you personally and professionally. If you honestly don’t understand the benefits of just helping others without sweating the consequences, Love Is the Killer App is a must-read.
Aside from that, the general premise of the book was something that seemed very common sense to me. The value, for me, was in the details – for example, the connection of building your own personal knowledge to the process of building valuable relationships isn’t something I’d ever really considered.
In short, Love Is the Killer App is a great read if you’re interested in connecting with others and building professional relationships. It’s actually quite complementary with Never Eat Alone – the latter focuses specifically on the mechanics of how to make those connections, while this book focuses on the context of why you should do it and what steps you should take to build a foundation for it. Personally, I found them both valuable, with Never Eat Alone being a bit more personally useful, but I can easily see how Love Is the Killer App could be more useful and compelling to many.