Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Networking

Happy Mother's Day! Watched Persepolis tonight. Loved it. I am a big fan of animated films (Spirited Away, The Triplets of Belleville) and this one is particularly interesting and lovely. Think I'll buy my mom one of her novels for Mother's Day.

I ran into a very interesting blog called Repairing the Healthcare System a while ago and emailed the author (doctor whose son, interestingly, is the founder of Mobius Venture Capital) this past week who was kind enough to email me back. The disaster that is our healthcare system is of huge interest to me (after the disaster that is our energy consumption) though I know far less about it than I do about energy (of which I don't know all that much either). But the inefficiencies kill me and seem fixing them seems so possible, it's very frustrating that it isn't already fixed. The lack of transparency is ridiculous. No one would purchase a good or service without any hint of what the price would be and then wait weeks or months to receive the bill. It's hard to reconcile this absurd system with the fantastic efficiencies we enjoy in so many parts of every day life here in the U.S. My list of complaints is endless but I'll spare you the tirade. I have been toying with a business idea of a sort of Angie's List for healthcare but since I'm not seriously interested in entrepreneurship (I prefer to just give entrepreneurs money and let them do all the hard work) the idea's not really gone anywhere.

The point of all my rambling is that it was so fun to exchange emails with someone who was passionate and informed about this subject and to think that if I ever became serious about my business plan that he might have some insights for me. I've been puzzled by how much some of my fellow GSBers seem to hate "networking", particularly last fall when we were in the throes of recruiting. Now, while the NTP of my Myers-Briggs is up for debate, the I is definitely not. I am an introvert through and through but I love exchanging ideas with thoughtful people. I love networking.

It strikes me that the folks who hate "networking" aren't taking a very sophisticated view of the process. Networking should not be a canned, miserable experience. Networking should be a sincere exchange of ideas. So whether you're finding a job, or a business partner, or a lender, or a mate ... here are some thoughts based especially on the recruiting season but that could be applied to other situations.
  1. Ask questions, good questions, and listen: Perhaps one of the most useful things gained from a lifetime of NPR is the art of the "interview". As we all know, there is such a thing as a dumb question, so do your research (if applicable, for example, before emailing someone) and try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Empathy is the best connector but it's impossible to empathize with someone if you don't have a basic sense of what they are about. And how are you going to know what they are about without asking some questions? And if you're going to ask a question, then you should listen to the answer. Really listen.
  2. Suspend judgement: I've lived in 8 states and countless cities and made friends with folk from all walks of life and, while I'm still learning to avoid judging the book by it's cover myself, I've learned that pre-qualifying those worthy of conversation based on physical attributes or credentials or accent rules out a number of very interesting folks. But if the conversation is clearly not going anywhere, move on.
  3. Be sincere: Recruiters, admissions officers, employers ... they're people too. Don't ask questions that you're not interested in hearing an answer to. Don't spew needless flattery. Don't talk too much about your accomplishments. Don't appear to be reading from some internal script. Don't expect/force a particular outcome. Just relax and let the conversation flow where it may.
  4. It's ok to be direct ... but mostly be sincere: There are differing opinions one whether one should cold-call or cold-email, whether to follow-up with handwritten or emailed thank yous, when to proffer a business card, whether to state flat out that you're looking for work or just mention the desire for an "informational interview" (ha, yeah right), etcetera. In reality, these are all viable options. I prefer prefer email to phone cold-contact, never send hand-written thank yous anymore and don't care to beat around the bush if if my informational interview request is really job prospecting. But ultimately, while guidance and wisdom is nice, in the end, if you are sincere (see #3) and reasoned in your approach, you will attract the people who prefer your style and repel the people who don't get you and may not be the best person for you to network with anyway. I prefer fast, direct, to the point communication myself, but there are individuals (and even entire industries) for which this style is inappropriate and, more importantly, it makes no sense to act in a manner that makes you uncomfortable.
  5. Enjoy yourself: Relationships are what make life worth living and make the individual greater than the sum of her own efforts. There's no right way to "network" - create interactions that feel meaningful for you and leave you feeling enthusiastic about the future. Disregard the others.

But, more importantly, be kind to your mother!! ;) G'night.

1 comment:

HairTwirler said...

I hope you had a great mother's day! And I hope Baby Y (ahem, Dad) got you something nice!
Separately, the thoughts on networking are interesting. I talk about it with the bf a lot as he is a Ph.D. student. His networking is focused on the exchange of ideas leading to more natural connections than our MBA style chatter sometimes leads to.