About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

#88 - Never Eat Alone

OK, time to whittle down the non-fiction stack a bit. I'm currently reading Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, by Keith Ferrazzi (Currency, 2005). It's been on my list so long I've forgotten how it got there; for all I know, it's something I saw in an airport and found intriguing. Interesting, as it's essentially a book on networking, that it percolated up just as I'm kicking off my job search in earnest. Sometimes karma works in mysterious ways.

Ferrazzi's premise, drawing from his own experience as a working-class but ambitious kid from a small Pennsylvania town who nonetheless attended elite schools, graduated from Yale and then Harvard, and achieved impressive success in the corporate sector, can be summed up as follows:
"[I]n some very specific ways life, like golf, is a game, and that the people who know the rules, and know them well, play it best and succeed. And the rule in life that has unprecedented power is that the individual who knows the right people, for the right reasons, and utilizes the power of these relationships, can become a member of the 'club,' whether he started out as a caddie or not."
From there, he goes on to outline principles for building strong professional relationships (a/k/a your network) and (presumably) therefore achieving whatever goals you've set for yourself. Specifically, these principles are as follows:
  1. Don't keep score. Ferrazzi argues that if he had to sum up the key to success in a single word, it would be "generosity." You need to both accept it and ask for it. You also need to be willing to introduce your contacts to each other. Here, he cites a former prep school headmaster who, in his words, "build an entire institution on his asking people not 'How can you help me?' but 'How can I help you?'"
  2. What's your mission? According to the book, the folks most likely to succeed are those who not only have goals, but write them down and build a concrete action plan that will get them there. He further breaks this down into the following steps: finding your passion (both by looking inside yourself and seeking friends' and colleagues' advice); putting your goals down on paper (ideally, both a three-year goal, and then three-month and one-year mini-goals that will help you get there); and identifying people who can help you on your way to each of these goals.
  3. Build it before you need it. In Ferrazzi's words, "people who have the largest circle of contacts, mentors, and friends know that you must reach out to others long before you need anything at all." The piece that really spoke to me in this chapter was the following:
  4. "Too often, we get caught up efficiently doing ineffective things, focusing solely on the work that will get us through the day. The idea isn't to find oneself another environment tomorrow -- be it a new job or a new economy -- but to be constantly creating the environment and community you want for yourself, no matter what may occur.

    "Creating such a community, however, is not a short-term solution or one-off activity only to be used when necessary. The dynamics of building a relationship is necessary incremental. You can only truly gain someone's trust and commitment little by little over time."
  5. The genius of audacity. Frankly, networking (oops, sorry, relationship building) doesn't come naturally to anyone ... but on the other hand, "nothing in [your] life has created opportunity like a willingness to ask." In other words, you need to introduce yourself to new people, even if it's uncomfortable and you'll probably get rejected sometimes.
  6. The networking jerk. Don't be That Guy (or Gal) who loves to schmooze and gossip, but treats underlings poorly and/or is only in it for what they can get.
  7. Do your homework. Pretty self-explanatory; essentially, find out as much as you can about people before you meet them, and find some common ground ASAP afterwards.
There's much more -- the above notes only take me about halfway through the book -- but all in all, it's an excellent reference and provides some good food for thought and action, whether you're on a job-hunt like I am or just interested in such stuff.

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