Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity or personal development book.
The word networking has a very negative perception for most people; they imagine some guy shaking their hand, smiling, and marking them down in a Rolodex somewhere as merely another asset to tap someday. While there are people out there that match this mold, the truth is that actual relationships with people are a big key to success, and it’s also true that most people simply aren’t very good at quickly building mutually beneficial relationships with others. They either don’t have the social skills, see it as being vampiric and cold, or simply don’t see the larger benefit.
Never Eat Alone is a guide to networking in a socially healthy and mutually beneficial way, although it avoids the word “networking” on the cover (instead using the subtitle “And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time”). The approach here isn’t shaking everyone’s hand in the room, grabbing business cards, and jamming them into an overstuffed Rolodex; instead, it’s a much more humane approach, one that actually appealed to me even though that picture of the shifty networker above really turns me off.
Never Eat Alone: A Walkthrough
The book is broken up into four sections, which themselves are broken up into a number of short chapters. Interspersed throughout are short one-page profiles of people who are particularly good at building relationships quickly (like Bill Clinton and Benjamin Franklin). While the profiles were interesting, it was the rest of the book that really contained usable advice and action points. Let’s take a stroll through it and see what we find, shall we?
Section One: The Mind-Set
The first section of Never Eat Alone is rather introductory, as it mostly lays out the basic idea and explains some of the things that you shouldn’t do.
Chapter 1 – Becoming a Member of the Club
This chapter is really an introduction to the rest of the book, laying out the basic premise that real networking is about finding ways to make other people more successful. In other words, jamming business cards in your Rolodex like that somewhat disturbing example above doesn’t cut the mustard. Why is that? If you do something to make someone else more successful, they’re more likely to value your relationship with them, and the more relationships you have with value in them, the more valuable you become, not only to yourself, but to the world: your employers, your clients, and so on.
Chapter 2 – Don’t Keep Score
The most fundamental lesson of all in this book is that you shouldn’t keep score when it comes to networking. If someone calls you up and asks for a favor that you can easily accomplish, make it so and don’t look back. Relationships are not finite things that are a straight-up exchange of one thing for another – they are living, breathing things. If you are going to take the time to connect with somebody, you should be willing to try to make that person successful. If they succeed, you succeed – it’s that simple.
Chapter 3 – What’s Your Mission?
Networking is largely useless unless you have goals, which the book eloquently defines as a “dream with a deadline.” Ferrazzi offers a three-step plan for setting goals. First, find your passion: what do you truly love to do? What would you enjoy doing for the rest of your life? Next, put those goals down on paper and flesh them out; his fleshing-out process is much like my plan for setting and reaching long-term personal finance goals in that you should write them down, then try to break them down into smaller goals that you can really wrap your arms around. Finally, build a “personal board of directors” by finding ways to establish a connection with people in that field already. How do you do that? Much of the rest of the book explains the process.
Chapter 4 – Build It Before You Need It
The main idea here is that you should begin reaching out to others and building your network of contacts before you need anything from them. If you start networking just as your job is about to die, it’s too late. Ferrazzi offers several ideas on how to get started with this: join community groups that interest you, take leadership positions in hobby groups that interest you, enroll in a local community college class on the topic of interest, or try to become involved with an approved work project that enables you to come into contact with more people. Then, as you’re exposed to more people, gravitate towards the ones who are involved with things that you want to be doing (i.e., your goals from the last chapter).
Chapter 5 – The Genius of Audacity
Many people have a very hard time being audacious when building a new connection: they want to appear humble and want to make a “good” impression right off the bat. The author suggests a different strategy: if you want something, be up front about it. It takes courage and a bit of talent, but Ferrazzi offers some guidance about how to find those things: find a role model, learn to speak, get involved, and simply giving it a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no, which is the same answer you already effectively have, so what do you really have to lose?
Chapter 6 – The Networking Jerk
I loved this chapter, because it basically says “Don’t do anything like what you imagine a ‘networker’ to be like.” In other words, be the opposite of the Rolodex-stuffing scumbag. Instead, he offers six rules that ensure that even as you try to build connections, you never become that kind of jerk. First, don’t schmooze: have something to say, say it with meaning, and focus on establishing a few good connections than spending your time surfing the room. Second, don’t rely on gossip because it paints a picture of untrustworthiness. Third, be willing to give something away – he uses the example of bloggers who give away content to their readers. Fourth, don’t treat those under you poorly, ever (I believe in this one strongly). Fifth, be transparent – if you want to meet someone and are happy to meet them, say so. Last, don’t be too efficient – make genuine, individual connections. If you’re going to take the time to touch base with a contact, write to that person individually, don’t just include them on a big ol’ email to hundreds of people at once that starts off with “Dear friend!”
Section Two: The Skill Set
Now Never Eat Alone starts getting down to the meat and potatoes of this ethical and healthy breed of networking.
Chapter 7 – Do Your Homework
Once you’ve defined someone you wish to meet, the first step is to do your homework. Know who the person is (roughly), what their interests are, what they do, and especially what things you might nave in common with them. The author even goes so far as to suggest making up short bios for each person you really want to meet at a particular meeting. This way, you’ll have something to break the ice and also potentially flatter someone as well by knowing who they are.
Chapter 8 – Take Names
Once you have a connection with someone, it’s important to get their contact information. The author recommends starting with everyone in your current network, then building from there by adding people that you want to meet that match your goals. Then, when you have the opportunity to meet them, fill in that hole. Keith recommends doing things like cutting out lists of people assembled by the media, because these people are usually reasonably well-connected – for example, he mentions lists of movers and shakers from trade magazines.
Chapter 9 – Warming the Cold Call
If you’ve ever had to call someone for business purposes without a prior connection to them, you know how terrible it can be, but sometimes you have to do it. Ferrazzi makes a couple of recommendations for how to make this go a lot smoother. First, try as best you can to find a connection to the person you’re calling – someone you both might know. Second, make it clear to them right off the bat why this call is valuable by taking the homework you should have done on the person and connecting it with whatever the purpose of your call is. Be efficient with your words and try to pique their interest – don’t ever drone on and on. If the purpose is to get an appointment to talk to that person face to face, close with a suggestion that even if the topic isn’t of interest, you’d like to meet anyway because of the mutual connection’s admiration. I really don’t like cold calling, so this chapter left me feeling rather … well, cold.
Chapter 10 – Managing the Gatekeeper – Artfully
The entire point of this chapter is simple: work as hard as you can to stay on the good side of administrative assistants. I honestly believe this is one of the best lessons in the entire book – never ever overlook an administrative assistant, blow one off, or make their life unnecessarily difficult. I often spend time just kibbitzing with the administrative assistants, not only where I work, but also in the offices of some of my associates, and there have been times that it has really paid off and some key administrative task has simply happened.
Chapter 11 – Never Eat Alone
The idea here is that a meal is a spectacular time to connect with someone, so if you’re eating alone, you’re missing out on an opportunity to connect with someone. I agree with this sentiment, and it’s one of the reasons that I have to be careful balancing my brown-bag frugal style with the need to eat with certain people. In fact, the author suggests mixing and matching by inviting multiple people to eat with you from different parts of your social network, which can help build new connections and bring hidden ones to the forefront.
Chapter 12 – Share Your Passions
If you want to build a stronger relationship with someone, invite them to share in something that you’re passionate about, whether it be the theatre or a baseball game or whatever. For me, this often means inviting them over for a meal, as I am passionate about cooking (homemade fettuccine Bolognese, a glass of great red wine, and a homemade chocolate raspberry trifle for dessert tends to make friends, trust me). Whatever it is that gets your fire going, share it with those that you want to build a relationship with.
Chapter 13 – Follow Up or Fail
Ferrazzi seems to treat this as the most important point in the book, so I’ll put it in bold: when you make a connection, follow it up. Whether with a note or an email, you need to follow up on any connection you make that you feel is important. Ferrazzi also strongly hints that a handwritten thank-you note may be the best way to go to really stand out from the crowd.
Chapter 14 – Be a Conference Commando
This chapter offers extensive detail about how to maximize a conference in terms of meeting people, but what it really boils down to is discarding the preconceived notions of how a conference works. Generally, you should go intending to reach a wide audience by speaking and/or establish a good relationship with a small handful of people. Most important, though, is that you don’t sit there and do nothing and that you don’t turn into the schmoozing networker, either.
Chapter 15 – Connecting with Connectors
Here, Ferrazzi borrows heavily from the concepts in The Tipping Point and brings up “connectors” – those people who have an incredibly large and strong personal network. These people are obviously great to have a connection to, but how can you find them? Ferrazzi suggests several groups to look at: restauranteurs, headhunters, anyone remotely close to politics, public relations people, and journalists, for starters.
Chapter 16 – Expanding Your Circle
The biggest way to expand your circle of contacts, according to this chapter, is to merge your contacts with someone else. Offer to exchange invites to events with someone whose circle you don’t know well – and who doesn’t know your circle well. This can provide a great opportunity for both of you to seriously expand your circle. You can also agree to swap dinner parties with someone: each of you are responsible for half the guest list to two separate dinner parties, one hosted by each of you. This enables a lot of connections to be made, because when people you’re connected to form more connections, everyone wins.
Chapter 17 – The Art of Small Talk
This chapter is full of the “typical” stuff people think of when they imagine what a course in interpersonal relations is like: Smile At Others, Unfold Your Arms, Relax, Lean In, Shake Hands, and so on. This is basically a one-chapter compression of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I hope to review and give proper respect to at a later date.
Section Three: Turning Connections Into Compatriots
This part of Never Eat Alone is all about building upon those connections made in the previous section and turning them into people that you can rely on for a lifetime. It starts, appropriately enough, with freewill giving of yourself.
Chapter 18 – Health, Wealth, and Children
The best thing you can do to help another person is to directly impact one of the three things in the title of this chapter. Personal and financial health and the benefit of children are often direct keys to a person’s heart. If you are capable of doing something that helps a person in one of these areas, you’re often able to endear yourself to that person and establish a really fantastic and deep connection that will last for a very long time.
Chapter 19 – Social Arbitrage
The idea here is that you should strive to build connections in as many different areas as possible. Have connections in tons of different professions, social circles, and so on, and then make connections when needed between people who exist in completely different social universes. This makes you seem indispensable to both people that you’re connecting, as you’ve benefitted both of them in a way that neither one was capable of independent of you.
Chapter 20 – Pinging – All The Time
I have a habit of making lots of quick contacts with my friends on a very regular basis just so the connection between us stays alive, strong, and healthy. I do this by occasionally whirring through my list and touching base with anyone I haven’t talked to lately. This works for me because I’m highly comfortable with most of them. In this chapter, Ferrazzi highly recommends doing that exact same thing with your entire contact list – just contact them every once in a while to keep that connection alive, because without some maintenance, even the best connection can wither on the vine. The chapter particularly recommends using birthdays as an opportunity to deliver a sharp ping, with a handwritten birthday note.
Chapter 21 – Find Anchor Tenants and Feed Them
This chapter is basically a guide to hosting a successful dinner party, which is a great way to build up established relationships and help the people you invite to establish new relationships of their own. Most of the advice is pretty straightforward here, but I found several of the suggestions to be quite interesting: hire some entertainment, invite some additional people to stop by for dessert only (usually close friends who won’t mind the lack of a dinner invite) and provide fresh blood for the party, and avoid seating couples together as that will get people interacting more and blood flowing.
Section Four: Trading Up and Giving Back
The final section of Never Eat Alone is mostly about specific techniques for strengthening your overall circle, mostly by making yourself more valuable to them.
Chapter 22 – Be Interesting
No one wants to spend time around a boring person, so make yourself interesting. Beyond the obvious of keeping up with current events and having a point of view on the issues of the day, Ferrazzi offers several interesting ways to do this: ask seemingly stupid questions, always be open to learning something new and trying new things, take time out for vacations and spiritual growth, and never get discouraged if things don’t go well.
Chapter 23 – Build Your Brand
Here, Ferrazzi goes beyond merely making yourself interesting into figuring out exactly what value you have for others. What do you bring to the table that others don’t? What do you want people to think of when they hear your name? Figure that out and cultivate it when you can by focusing and behaving in ways that will cultivate that image that you want.
Chapter 24 – Broadcast Your Brand
This is a primer on basic public relations – in other words, spreading the word around about the image you want to cultivate. For me, this blog is, in a way, a method of broadcasting my brand. I’d like it if people saw the name Trent Hamm and thought about interesting and applicable ideas for my life and food for future thought written in straightforward language, and hopefully The Simple Dollar is helping to build that up.
Chapter 25 – The Write Stuff
Very brief here, but to the point: write, write, and write some more. The written word is an incredibly powerful communication tool, and the more you practice writing, the better.
Chapter 26 – Getting Close to Power
Many people want to know how to get close to those who have decision-making power, but often the generic straightforward methods end with no returned email or returned call. Ferrazzi suggests a different route: try being involved with political fundraisers, attending conferences, joining nonprofit boards, and playing some golf. For me at least, golf has been spectacular at opening up opportunities – I’ve met many different people on the golf course and have established some lifelong relationships with people that I’ve met in a foursome.
Chapter 27 – Build It and They Will Come
This is all about clubs and other social organizations. Basically, joining these is a great way to meet new people from areas that you may have nothing at all to do with, which makes it possible for you to expand your social network in completely new and unexpected ways. I found that being involved in the very local political scene has much the same effect – I now know people who run landscaping businesses, two local organic farmers, and lots of other interesting folks simply because I got involved in a group.
Chapter 28 – Never Give in to Hubris
This is a vital life lesson: if you ever begin to think that you’ve got it made, stop right now. It takes only one mistake to knock over the whole house of cards. The author gives a great story about getting caught up in the moment and making a complete jerk of himself by overselling what he had because of ego. Instead, be humble and realize that the connections you’ve already made are the really valuable ones, not the big one you’re hoping to make.
Chapter 29 – Find Mentors, Find Mentees, Repeat
Ferrazzi makes the astute point here that you should always be looking for people to mentor and help you, but you should also be looking for people who you can help and mentor. This means that not only should you seek out help from others, but you should also be willing to step forward and lead others when the time comes – and consistently do both.
Chapter 30 – Balance is B.S.
As the book begins to close out here, this chapter makes a key point that people shouldn’t have to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives and keep them in balance. In fact, Ferrazzi largely encourages the opposite: mix and match the two in whatever way makes you feel happiest about your life. In fact, he argues that the more people you interact with regularly, the more interesting and happy your life will become because of the diversity and variety.
Chapter 31 – Welcome to the Connected Age
Never Eat Alone closes here with a paean to the age of the internet which affords many ways to make connections easier and also affords a lot of ways to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Ferrazzi does go beyond the basic “sign up for social networking programs!” idea that many people seem to claim with regards to the internet, though, and moves on to some of the bigger changes that the internet is bringing about: major shifts in grassroots politics, the rebirth of guilds and old-style labor unions, and so forth. An interesting look at the future from the perspective of someone who is skilled at connecting with people.
Buy or Don’t Buy?
I confess right off the bat that I’m not particularly skilled in the art of networking. Most of my endeavors find me either doing intense, focused research or find me writing in a solitary environment. Aside from a two year stretch in my life, I’ve never attended conferences or had any real need to network with peers or others. I also think the traditional view of networking, the one I expressed at the very start of this review, is pretty much a low form of life. So why read a book on networking?
First, I recognize that my connections to others need a lot of work. I know a lot of people, but many of the connections to these people are fuzzy and weak at best, and I often have no clue what to do about it. Maintaining connections simply doesn’t come natural to me.
Second, while the art of “networking” as it is properly seen turns me off, I do see the value of connecting with others. I enjoy helping people, and having a network of people is a great way to continue to help others. Plus, if I had been spending time building an actual circle of people to connect to, I might be able to have my foot in the door in the publishing industry.
Third, my life seems to be moving in a direction where connections will have more value. A future in writing looks more and more possible with each passing day, and as I said above, it is likely that a key connection or two will help make it happen when the time comes.
In short, I see it as a skill that I really need to work on. If you see it similarly, Never Eat Alone gets a strong “buy” recommendation from me. However, if you’re in the situation I was a year or two ago, networking might not be a particularly valuable skill to develop – and the entire concept might make your stomach turn. If you don’t have a fundamental interest in the topic and have no interest in learning how to network in a socially healthy and ethical way, then this book will do very little for you.