Never Eat Alone: Social Arbitrage

This is the tenth 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 nineteenth and twentieth chapters, “Social Arbitrage” and “Pinging – All the Time,” which appear on pages 171 through 189.

neaIn the past, I’ve worked with three kinds of people: information broadcasters, information sharers, and information hoarders.

The broadcasters were annoying. They would simply share gossip to the exclusion of everything else and, often, the material they broadcasted was useless. It was hard for people to build good relationships with them because anything that was said was immediately blabbed anywhere and everywhere.

Other people were information hoarders. You could at least be secure in that when you told them something, it would not be shared. Yet, these people never shared anything in return. They held onto their knowledge, content to build an empire with what they knew.

The people that were always the best to work with were the information sharers. They worked hard to acquire new knowledge and new friendships and would be discretionary in what they shared, sticking to the genuinely useful things that didn’t hurt other people. If you had questions, you could go to these people and receive information without worrying that your requests would be used against you. You wanted to work with them because they were genuinely helpful.

In this part of the book, Ferrazzi argues that those information sharers hold the real power in the world.

Become Indispensable
On page 174, Ferrazzi makes the case for why you should strive to be indispensable to others:

Real power comes from being indispensable. Indispensability comes from being a switchboard, parceling out as much information, contacts, and goodwill to as many people – in as many different worlds – as possible.

Ferrazzi basically makes the argument here that real power resides in the hands of people who have a lot of friends and acquaintances who view them as invaluable, not in the hands of the people nominally in charge (necessarily).

In almost every experience I can think of in my life, this is true. People that have a lot of strong connections and give information, ideas, and other things as freely as they can quickly become indispensable – they’re the heart of whatever organization (whether a true organization or just a group of people) they’re involved with. The person who is friends with everybody usually winds up being the leader of the group, whether or not that’s their title on the door or not.

I’ve seen companies that are basically ran by the guy on the floor who has good relationships with everyone, while the nominal president spends his time in the office with the door shut. The president could leave and it wouldn’t affect a thing – the floor leader leaves and everything falls apart.

Which position would you rather be in? The disposable one that’s out of touch and friendless, or the person who has lots of friends and is completely indispensable? Who would you rather be friends with?

A System of Bureaucracies
On page 175, a quote from Ron Burt pops up that’s really thought provoking:

“People who have contacts in separate groups have a competitive advantage because we live in a system of bureaucracies, and bureaucracies create walls,” says Burt. “Individual managers with entrepreneurial networks move information faster, are highly mobile relative to bureaucracy, and create solutions better adapted to the needs of the organization.”

When you think of our world as a system of bureaucracies, it actually makes a lot of sense. Our families are bureaucracies. Our circles of friends are each bureaucracies. Our workplace is a bureaucracy. Virtually every group we’re a part of is a bureaucracy.

The more bureaucracies you have access to, the more you can accomplish and the more valuable you become to every single bureaucracy you’re involved with.

Let me use an example to show you what I’m talking about. A close personal friend of yours is fired. Let’s say you have good friends in several businesses in the area in which your friend works – he’s likely to call you, right? And you’re likely to be able to help him, right? Your access to many different bureaucracies enables you to better help a friend and thus you’re more valuable to him. Plus, if you direct a good worker to a new company, the bureaucracy at that company will value the person you’re connected to there even more than before, again, adding value to you.

On the other hand, if you don’t know anyone, you won’t be able to help. You won’t have value to that friend and he probably won’t turn to you in his time of need.

A network of good relationships is very strong and it often leads to even stronger connections.

Be Interested in Others
Ferrazzi uses a Dale Carnegie quote on page 177 to make a point:

To paraphrase Dale Carnegie: You can be more successful in two months by becoming really interested in other people’s success than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in your own success.

It all comes back to listening and then thinking about how you can genuinely help someone. The more times you’re able to do that, the more valuable you become and the more power you’ll subtly accumulate.

On the other hand, if you just try to promote yourself and grab every opportunity blindly, you won’t be building those valuable relationships. You might get off to a slightly brighter start, but over the long run, the person with the relationships is king.

The way to build them is to listen, to stay in touch, and to help whenever you can without worrying about what you might get in return. It’ll just gradually flow your way.

What Is “Pinging”?
On page 181, Ferrazzi introduces the idea of pinging:

I call it “pinging.” It’s a quick, casual greeting, and it can be done in any number of creative ways. Once you develop your own style, you’ll find it easier to stay in touch with more people than you ever dreamed of in less time than you ever imagined.

Yes, there’s grunt work involved. Pinging takes effort. That’s the tough part. You have to keep pinging and pinging and pinging and never stop. You have to feed the fire of your network or it will wither and die.

To put it simply, pinging simply means staying in regular touch with the people in your network and not letting them drift away. This might take the form of quick emails, messages on Facebook, text messages, cell phone calls, and so forth.

The reason for doing this is to simply keep up to date with how people are doing and also remind them that you’re listening and that you care. Some people broadcast what they’re up to on social services like Twitter and Facebook, but it’s still a good idea to ping them sometimes, just so they know you’re actually involved and paying attention to their statements.

Contact Lists
On page 184, Ferrazzi makes a great case for putting effort into organizing all of the people you’re connected to:

The third step, as I mentioned in the chapter on taking names, is segmenting your network into call lists. In time, your master list will become to unwieldy to work with directly. Your call lists will save you time and keep your efforts focused. They can be organized by your number ratings, by geography, by industry, and so on. It’s totally flexible. If I’m flying to New York, for example, I’ll print out a “New York list” and make a few calls […]

This is one area of my life that I didn’t have much organization on until recently. There are a lot of people that I keep touch with on a regular basis, but it was on such an ad hoc basis that people kept falling through the cracks – I wouldn’t intend for them to fall through, but the sheer number would make it happen sometimes.

My solution was easy. I just started putting everything in Google Address Book. I made up quite a few groupings of people within that to help me keep everyone organized. One thing I did to help myself is assign them all to numbered groups, groups 1 through 25, pretty much randomly. Each day, I’d contact everyone within that group electronically. So, one day I might shoot an email to the twenty people in group “1.” The next day, I’d do the same with the people in group ‘2.”

This takes time, but it helps me maintain relationships with a LOT of people and contact them all at least once a month.

Making Pinging Normal
This needs to become part of your normal behavior or else it’ll be hard to maintain. On page 185, Ferrazzi explains it well:

The important thing is that you build the concept of pinging into your workflow. Some organizations go so far as to make pinging integral to their organizational processes.

In other words, for pinging to work, it needs to be a normal part of your day.

I’ve started taking a portion of my day – early in the day, usually – to simply ping people and respond to the replies I get (if needed). Yes, this sucks down some serious time – it usually adds up to 75 messages or so a day – but all of these messages are useful. They help me to maintain real relationships with a wide variety of people.

Then, when something of real importance comes up, I can contact any of these people. I’m fresh in their minds and when my request for help comes through, they’re usually glad to help me out. Similarly, they know I’m a person they can reach out to for help.

We make each other better, and this is maintained through pinging.

On Wednesday, we’ll tackle the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters – “Find Anchor Tenants and Feed Them” and “Be Interesting.”

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