Networking Should Not Look Like Networking

Last week in Series V, we published a half-fictional essay about startup founders and mental health in partnership with Justin Irabor. You can still catch up past editions here.

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If you watch a lot of movies, you probably already have a subconscious guide for if you go to jail: find the biggest guy in jail, and beat him up. Don’t ask why — these are rules. If you can beat up the toughest guy in jail, you become the new toughest guy in jail and no one will bother you after that.

(Unless, of course, someone new who watches a lot of movies gets jail-time.)

This idea is problematic because it seems to be conflating biggest guy with toughest guy. Appearances, as we know by now, are often deceiving, and so if you’re looking for the toughest guy in a room, sometimes it may not be the 90kg tattooed guy lifting weights with a mean scowl in the corner, but the bespectacled bookworm practicing his transcendental meditation during prison lunch break.

Understanding who the toughest guy is — and not relying on the flawed model of appearances alone — is a valuable skill to have in jail, but it is crucial to have in business.

Consider networking events for example.

A recurrent rookie mistake we find people making is pitching to someone who looks like the biggest person in the room, and finding themselves frustrated when the expected progress is stalled. It’s very common for random people to walk up to random people at events, make small talk and exchange business cards. You can often watch them tick a check-box in their heads: yep, ‘networking’ has occurred.

Someone once said that ‘networking events are opportunities for desperate people to exchange business cards with equally desperate people’, and very often we see this play so obviously in broad daylight. I was recently reminded of this when Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights observed that most of the events he has ever spoken at [on behalf of CB insights] have been of no value to the business. His is the most recent example of this problem I remember; whatever ‘synergy’ or ‘opportunity’ you get from attending one of these things is bound to be more the result of entropy than a feature of the ‘platform’.

See you next week,


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