Networking is about detail

All that advice you read online about networking like a pro? Forget it. You’re far better off remembering how you would go and make friends as a kid.

‘Do any of these shiny cars excite you?’

We were standing on the mezzanine at Adelaide BMW, at the SA Leaders 2016 Annual Social, near to two stunning sedans – one with a coating that made it impervious to scratch attacks like keying – and overlooking a showroom of shiny, expensive cars. The man who asked me the question was an amible, chatty fellow, and I’d been engaged in conversation with him for about an hour by this point. He leaned over towards me and gestured with his wine towards the cars as he asked the question, and the look on his face suggested that found them all enormously interesting.

‘Not really,’ I said, deciding that life’s too short to pretend to be interested in things. I lowered my voice. ‘To be honest with you, I have a very pragmatic view of cars. I buy them cheap and make them last as long as possible. Fancy cars don’t interest me.’

The man angled his head and appraised me out of the corner of his eye, as if to assess whether or not I was being truthful. He smiled.

‘You, my dear, will become very wealthy with an attitude like that. Cars lose value extremely quickly.’ He shook his head with a chuckle. ‘They’re actually a terrible investment.’

Investments and money making is something that this man knew an awful lot about. His professional background was in advising Fortune 500 companies and other listed companies, helping them to drive profitability and turn things around when they weren’t performing terribly well.

In that sense, I’d struck a goldmine of valuable information. Clues were in his conversation, if you knew what to look for: Comments about corporate sustainability, strategy, taking the long view.

There are many different ways to think about networking, and it’s a topic that is forever covered in the business pages. How to network, how to get the most out of networking, how to talk to people, how to pitch to people, how to do this, how to do that. In the past month alone, there are 10 pages of results on Google for the phrase, How to network effectively. They cover such things as:

  • How to network effectively
  • Sins of networking
  • How to network like a pro
  • Network to succeed
  • Building your network
  • Influencing people
  • Connecting with people

… blah blah blah.

Most of the things about networking focus on what you can get out of it. If the articles you read aren’t about networking effectively, they will become things like how to meet as many people as possible, how not to waste your opportunities at events, and so on.

They all miss the point. Networking is the adult word for making friends. And you can’t make friends with people by running around like a headless chook trying to collect business cards.

My approach is wildly different. I find the people who are interested in talking. And I let them talk. And I listen.

What do I listen for? Interesting stories, useful tips, fascinating things I didn’t know. Opportunity shows itself in all sorts of interesting areas, but it is rarely as open to you as when you are thinking more about others than about yourself.

Once I knew this man’s history, and listened to some of his most interesting stories – including an incredible story about selling lottery tickets in China, and the approach their local advisor suggested they do with persistent debtors – I was able to learn a great deal from him.

What I learned is that, in all business, the devil is in the detail.

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