Overall, the book is pretty famous and has been around for a while. I feel that many of its core lessons have spread widely and are now much of the foundation in a lot of the networking literature and how-to guides out there (including what is taught at UCLA Anderson and its career center). This is a good thing, as much of the philosophy in the book makes sense.
The overall lesson is that success in business and in life revolves around relationships, and one can improve one's skills in relationship building and maintaining through discipline and practice.
Here are my personal biggest takeaways from the book:
- Active Conferencing. This is sort of a term I came up with in the same vein as "active listening." Normally, people (myself included) go to conferences to sit back, listen, and learn; it's a pretty passive experience (though it involves thinking and remembering). What the author recommends is quite the opposite.
He said the main value in conferences is in the people you meet and connections and joint experiences you create. The actual talks and sessions are second priority. He likes to volunteer at conferences, get attendee lists ahead of time, researching who's coming and where they'll be at the conference in order to "run into" them. He'll even set up his own mini-conferences or pre- or post-conference dinners or get togethers for certain select invitees so he can create his own networking group out of the conference. For instance, he'll get the names and contacts of people he wants to meet in addition to people he already knows and invite them all to a separate mini-conference within the conference, just for that small group. This allows invaluable opportunities to get to know new people and to create a warm introduction to them through the people he already knows. It also establishes him as a central part of the social environment and a go-to person for networking in general. This seems really smart to me but definitely takes a lot of work.
- Fun networking dinners. Sort of like the mini-conferences, these would be dinners that the author would host in his home every few months, inviting a diverse group of fun, interesting people just to hang out. He'd have long-time friends who would provide him with social proof, semi-celebrities to build buzz and excitement about the dinners and create demand to go to them, and people he wanted to meet and get to know for his own personal or business reasons as well. This mix of people would provide for a fun evening as well as very valuable networking for both himself and his attendees. He'd even spice it up sometimes by hiring performers, bartenders, musicians, etc. This also seems like a great idea to me. When do you all think I should do my first dinner?
- Building a personal brand. This is a now-commonplace concept, but the author does a great job in his book in providing many creative ways to get this done. He advocates, for example, learning a field in depth that's interesting to you and producing valuable content of your own for others about it. The key is that you don't have to be a world-class expert; you just need to know more than those in your target audience or peer group. As long as you know something others don't and can write decently about it, you can be producing content others value. This builds your reputation and personal brand and establishes you as somewhat of a thought leader or at least resource others can turn to for new knowledge.
- Pinging. With this term, the author is referring to the practice of staying top-of-mind with the people you care about and checking in regularly with everyone in your network. I was impressed to read about how the author spends full taxi rides around the city doing phone call after phone call of birthday wishes or quick check-in voicemails. This obviously takes a lot of organization and discipline but can be accomplished pretty simply once you get into the habit of setting up tasks/reminders or using some social CRM software like Gist, Ming.ly, or Rapportive. This is definitely an area where I could personally improve a lot.
- Mentoring. This is a valuable practice both for the mentor and the mentee; it is only such mutually-beneficial relationships that are long lasting. The value comes both from sharing networks with each other but also from learning how to better network in the first place. The key that any mentee must communicate when asking for a mentorship is what the mentee will provide to the mentor and how the mentee will be diligent and responsible in the relationship.
- Clubs and community. These are two ways that one can expand one's network exponentially but also give something back. In joining a club of any kind, one immediately has access to new people and can make new friendships with little uphill battle. Some of the most powerful social networks still in existence are formed around clubs (albeit restricted ones).
In terms of community, getting involved with some volunteering effort or running for public office (which the author attempted to do) can similarly greatly expand one's network. Volunteering and doing things for one's community can rarely be done without getting to know all the influential people in one's area. In addition to connections you can make, you also show others that you care and are a person they can turn to when they need assistance or are looking for a referral for someone else.
- Don't be proud, and have fun. Lastly, the author did a great job of being brutally honest about his mistakes and course corrections throughout his own learning process. He made it clear how he was an introvert and bad networker at first and learned the ropes through a lot of hard work. When he had some upward momentum (even getting access to exclusive clubs and celebrities), he began to be proud, boastful, even dropping names. This quickly back-fired, and he realized that this pride was self-destructive.
On a positive note, he encouraged everyone to find simple things they are passionate about and form networks around it, meeting new people and bringing old networks into new activities. The author described how he loves finding new exotic restaurants and fun exercise routines; he regularly invites business contacts to go to his favorite boot camp workout class or for some crazy new ethnic food. This not only provides lots of bonding and shared fun but demonstrates several positive characteristics about the author in a subtle way. This was neat to hear and inspires me to want to merge certain professional and personal contacts through shared, fun activities.
The book was definitely enjoyable, easy to read, and useful, and I look forward to trying out some of its recommendations soon.