Network and Relationship Building Done Right

Networking is one of the hottest topics in the blogosphere right now, part of a general rush to figure out how business (sales in particular) can relate to the online world.

The most common problem with the rush to networking—online or offline—is the overwhelming desire to treat it as a quick-hit way to transactional selling.  Call it the spammification of new sales ideas.

The truth is simple and evident: blogs and communities and twitter feeds et al have not rewritten the rules of relationships.  They are simply another venue within which to play them out.

Just as email is getting overwhelmed by spam, there is a surfeit of those who collect Linked-In contacts; who enjoy applying the still-latent meaning in the word “friend” to 700 such people on Facebook; and generally those who wish to find a shortcut to relationships and to sales.

Alas, rushing too fast into relationships in cyberspace has exactly the same result as it does in the analog protein world: it achieves the opposite of what was intended.  We resent being hustled, rushed, hit on.  And we react.

Which is why it’s always refreshing to see a sensible treatment of the subject. has a new online guide, called “Face-to-Face Networking Guide: A Primer for Relationship Building.

And it is done right. It gives practical advice on how to network—online or offline—based on some sound, commonsensical ideas about how human beings develop relationships.  This not a piece by Luddites—they know their technology in the new world, but more fundamentally they know how selling of complex services works.

Full disclosure: I’m a Contributing Editor of, they publish some of my articles, and I’ve done a webinar with them.  That’s all because I think they’re pretty darn good at what they do, which is to produce great content about how to sell professional services.  

Give them a look-see.


Larry David, Seinfeld and Social Networking

The technology of social networking is overrated. You still have to be able to communicate. Cartoons notwithstanding, in social networks everyone does know you’re a dog—and it doesn’t take long to learn it.

Might there be learning in studying those who are not good at networking with others?

A recent New Yorker item describes how workers with the mentally ill have discovered a powerful tool: the comedic stylings of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, by Larry David (co-creator, with Jerry Seinfeld, of the hit TV show Seinfeld).

Those being studied represented several forms of alienation from society at large (they were schizophrenics, if memory serves me). The researchers discovered that the patients responded to situation comedies portraying social ineptitude. They could relate, it turns out.

The logical endpoint of that insight was Curb Your Enthusiasm. For those who don’t know Larry David’s brilliant show, picture Seinfeld if HBO did it, and every episode had George at its center.

Jason Alexander (Seinfeld’s George) describes an early-season reading where he questioned George’s motivation for something: “I don’t know anyone who would do that.” Larry David responded brightly, “I would.” And Alexander says, “suddenly I understood the George character. It was all Larry.”

Larry David (he plays himself on Curb) is cheerfully, honestly, forthrightly neurotic and self-centered to the nth degree. It’s not that he’s proud of it; he’s just saying that’s what he is.

The fun, of course, is that David is merely more honest than the rest of us. We can laugh at him without directly facing the social pain that his behaviors cause us when we commit them—which we do, all the time. He is our public court jester. He speaks the truth in a socially acceptable manner—as comedy, with a subtext we needn’t publicly acknowledge. But we know it. He’s doing public self-psycho-analysis, and we’re along for the ride.

That’s why he’s a hit with mental patients—and with the rest of us too. We’re not qualitatively different—it’s just a matter of degree. “Sanity” is a wispy line; it’s hard to say where the hill ends and the mountain begins.

It’s an old sitcom formula. Nearly every I Love Lucy episode begins with a prank gone wrong, spiralling out of control. The comedy consists in watching Lucy lie about what’s happening, until the lie is unsustainable, and she must surrender to reality. We relate to her frantic mania, knowing that Ricky will forgive her in the end. On TV, that is. In real life, Ricky rarely forgives—or so we fear.

Every single Seinfeld episode with George is about the inability to maintain a neurotic fiction he has created in the face of a reality-based onslaught. He is owned by his fibs about Vandalay industries and his casual claims about Hamptons real estate. His only success in life comes when he resolves to do everything the opposite of his instincts.

George, Lucy, Larry—they cannot tell the truth in a socially acceptable manner. We learn by watching their comic misery, because we too suffer from that inability, and are alienated from others because of it.

A lot of coming to trust others is learning how to speak the truth in a socially acceptable manner; to marry radical truth-telling with our conventions of propriety.
We learn much of it not by learning lines, or by watching others do it well, or by learning the principles of effective communication. We also learn by watching social train wrecks, made palatable by humor.

We learn many things—like truth-telling—more by seeing negative examples than by seeing positive ones by themselves. Much corporate training is afflicted by an abundance of softened edges, watered-down empathy and general happy-talk. But truth isn’t truth if it has to be constantly watered down. You can’t enable people into overcoming their addictions to neuroticism.

To get along in the social networking world of the future (or of today), don’t just bone up on good behaviors. Make it a point to study disasters too.

Just make sure you’re laughing most of the time.


Greed in the Social Networking Space

It took the advertising industry about 150 years to get to the point of putting ads on the inside of bathroom doors. It took considerably less for the commercial vultures to zero in on the social network phenomenon. Except this time, it’s an inside job.

First, MySpace. In July of this year, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought MySpace, making a few more mega-zillionaires out of kids who were in it for kicks.  Murdoch knew better, and immediately set about “monetizing” his investment.

How’s it going for his target audience?

In the words of a college freshman, Marshall Green:

MySpace is going to end up just like Friendster.  Except for bands, some high school kids I know still use it but the trend has shifted to Facebook.

I think the main reason is the site design. MySpace just has a terrible interface that continues to deteriorate as the developers tack on extra features that Facebook integrates better.

The thing that Facebook does well, finding other people you know and connecting with them, are more of an afterthought on MySpace.

Instead of using AJAX and web 2.0 technology to update the page without reloading the whole thing or taking you to a new page, MySpace makes you jump through a bunch of screens to do simple things like leave comments. This is basic stuff that MySpace has neglected to do because they are lazy!

What’s worse is the amount of ads. Most ads on MySpace are sketchy, and in the past have linked to adware and spammers. Half the time when you visit their front page, the entire background is a giant ad for a Fox TV show or movie. It’s obtrusive and detracts from the experience.

It all gives you the sense that the company doesn’t care about delivering a good experience, they just want to make a lot of money with as little work as possible. The interface was never spectacular, but I noticed more ads and a slowdown in new features following the Fox takeover.

(Full disclosure: I am related to young Mr. Green by marriage; his mom’s to me).

That was several weeks ago. On November 6, the “good guys” in this space—Facebook—announced their new approach to incorporating advertising into that ostensibly wholesome society.

The gist of Facebook’s idea is to allow Big Advertisers in to make “friends” of existing users, and to build their reputation by demonstrating the “trust” that one’s “friends” have in the product being advertised.

As one wag put it, “so it’s like spamming your friends?”

You know you’re in for it when language gets reinvented, a la doubletalk like this from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and new gazillionaire:

Q: “Are you worried this will make Facebook too commercial?”
Z: “Actually I think this will make it less commercial because the ads now are [more generic].”

For a deliciously cynical take on this, see Nicholas Carr’s blog .

Marshall’s view?

If I start seeing notifications and friend requests everywhere from Coca Cola and Exxon Mobil, then Facebook will be on the way out for me. There are already some sneaky ads that masquerade as friend notifications. They trick you and I’ve nearly clicked on them several times before realizing they were ads.

If it gets as bad as MySpace people will find something better. There will obviously be another new trend in social networking sites in the future anyhow.

It’s been clear for centuries that you can always find success by going more down-market in taste than the last guy; more negative in political advertising than the other guy; and more overtly commercial than your competitor.

The question is: where’s the bottom?

When trust is just a tactic, “friends” are not what they seem, and social networks are flipped into cynical mouthpieces for corporate America, it feels like we’re pretty low.

Maybe Marshall’s right in thinking his generation will reject the hype.

But as H. L. Mencken said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

I wouldn’t short Murdoch and Zuckerberg just yet.

The CEO vs. the Bankers: Death by Transactions

I spoke to the (non-American) former CEO of a large company—the profitability leader in its capital-intensive global industry.

“Why do American CEOs listen to 30-year old investment bankers?” he asked me. “They don’t know anything.”

“I used to get calls from them—Morgan Sachs, Goldman Stanley, you know—the supposed crème de la crème of MBAs. Here’s how they went:

Bankers: Why do you keep so much cash? Your leverage ratio is half that of your industry. You’re earning nothing on it, like keeping it under a mattress. You’re destroying shareholder value. If you have opportunities, you should invest. If not, you should return it to the shareholders.

CEO: Let me ask you—who’s the global market leader in software?

Bankers: Microsoft, of course.

CEO: And how much cash do they have on hand?

Bankers: Way more than the industry average; too much; they should return it to the shareholders.

CEO: Uh huh. And who’s the global market leader in semiconductors?

Bankers: Intel, of course.

CEO: How much cash on hand?

Bankers: Again, way too much, more than industry average, they’re destroying shareholder value.

CEO: Uh huh. I too am the market leader, and the profitability leader. I don’t focus on your options pricing models and portfolio theory and risk hedging. I focus on “buy low sell high,” “keep your powder dry,” “bide your time,” “strike when the iron is hot,” “find your niche,” “beat your competitor don’t copy him."

My industry—like every capital-intensive industry—has cycles. I buy my expensive assets at a huge discount—when the market is cold and my suppliers have no backlog. I get what I want, when I want it, pay less, and have grateful suppliers. My competitors buy when their profits are high—they overpay, wait years for delivery, and irritate their suppliers—as do their competitors.

I make strategic moves when I’m the only one who can do it. My competitors make their moves along with everyone else.

I can do all this because I have cash. My competitors all listened to your advice about copying the average. Not only am I the only one with funds to execute my strategy—I’m the only thinking of a unique strategy.

The CEO continued, “they often didn’t even get it. They couldn’t recognize a bad model when it slapped them in the face like a dead fish.”

Q. Who’s right?

A. The CEO—hands down, a no-brainer.

Q. How could the bankers so spectacularly miss something so obvious?

A. The blinding power of an unchallenged paradigm.

Q. And what paradigm would that be?

A. Ah, that’s the big question. Is it:

  1. Youth is arrogant
  2. Business has become overly quantitative and analytical
  3. Finance has triumphed over marketing and production
  4. Paris Hilton was somehow involved
  5. We are killing off strategies and relationships for the sake of transactions.

I vote #5—death by transactions.

The history of capitalism is one of scale economies, enabled by parceling out pieces of work to others. Every time you do that, you gain scale—and you create a transaction.

This trend has accelerated: more chunks of business are being chopped up and parcelled out—both in space and in time.


  • Modular software
  • Mortgage (and other asset) collateralization
  • HR competency models
  • Outsourcing
  • Globalized sourcing

This habit is reflected even in meta-patterns of business thinking—how to tackle a problem? Break it up, break it down. Analyze it. Measure it. Parcel it out. Track it. Install rewards. Repeat at one level of detail lower.

Every time you break up a function and parcel it out to more people over less time, two things happen. Greater efficiencies—and less relationships.

Repeat infinitely, and you get people who think about business like tinker-toys—models to be constantly assembled and re-assembled.

That way of thinking fosters neither strategic or relationship thinking.

It is also impossible to think ethically when there are no relationships to be harmed, and no timeframe in which to be held accountable.

But the biggest irony is: it doesn’t work anymore. The chop and parcel game has been played out. The returns are beyond diminishing; the cost of the transactional mindset is exceeding the savings of scale. The game has turned dysfunctional.

Death by transactions.