A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Notes on Never Eat Alone

I’m about 60% of the way through Keith Ferrazzi’s widely-recommended book on networking,
Never Eat Alone. As such, this is not a comprehensive review but rather a few notes on things
that have so far struck me while reading it.

Where is the actual work being done?
The impression one gets of Ferrazzi’s life from the book is that it (a) creates absolutely
enormous amounts of value for people and (b) involves little to nothing that we would
recognise as “ordinary work”. That’s not to say that he is lazy - the effort he apparently goes
to in making contacts and ensuring that he is adding value to their lives is nothing short of
heroic. But this seems to be all that is happening - there are descriptions of planning ahead
(i.e. planning which people to meet and befriend), and of strategies for meeting people,
directing meetings, and maintaining relationships, but none at all of making important
decisions. Indeed, there’s a mention of one senior business leader who attributes his
success to spending hours each day patrolling the factory, not actually achieving anything
but being sure to greet every individual worker, no matter how lowly, by their first name.

I don’t want to suggest that this kind of stuff is unimportant or that it “isn’t work”. But for it
to be viable for businesses to pay people like Ferazzi megabucks for it, one is led inexorably
to the conclusion that either (a) most business purchasing decisions have a very great deal
of latitude, such that decision-makers can actually decide from whom to buy based on who
the know and like rather than product cost and quality, or (b) the business world is a
chronically low-trust place, such that the creation of these relationships really is incredibly
valuable not just to the individuals concerned but to society as a whole - if there were not these
strong bonds being forged, the deals would not be going through at all. There’s probably also
a fair dollop of (c), that the book - being focused on networking, after all - misses out a lot of
Ferazzi’s other activities, but neither (a) nor (b) exactly fills one with optimism about the state
of the American business world.*

It me
He argues that conferences are basically useless for learning things, but that they are
nevertheless highly valuable because they allow business-people to make connections
leading to contracts. To wit, one of his “Don’t Be This Person” profiles (page 133):

THE WALLFLOWER: The limp handshake, the postion in the far corner of the room, the
unassuming demeanour - all signs that this person thinks he or she is there to watch the speakers.

The determinants of success
If I were to summarise the lessons of the book so far, they would be that social success
depends upon five factors: planning, research, organisation, confidence, and actively seeking
to create value for people.

Ferrazzi regularly thinks consciously about what his goals are, and sets out concrete action
plans for what he wants to achieve towards them in the next 90 days, the next year, and the
next three years. In particular, one aspect of planning I had never considered before s that in
addition to setting goals for himself, he identifies several people - not just for each goal, but
for each progress marker - who can bring him closer to his ambitions. The chosen goals and
targets are based on a mixture of introspection about what he truly wants, and consultation
with others (of course) about what his strengths and weaknesses are. There isn’t much
about tracking one’s progress towards these once started, but it seems safe to assume
that’s part of it too.

Second - he prepares for his networking. Quoting from page 69:

“Before I meet with any new people I’ve been thinking of introducing myself to, I research who
they are and what their business is. I find out what’s important to them: their hobbies, challenges,
goals - inside their business and out. Before the meeting, I generally prepare, or have my assistant
1prepare, a one-page synopsis on the person I’m about to meet… I want to know what this person
is like as a human being, what he or she feels strongly about, and what his or her proudest
achievements are.”

He suggests a variety of ways to go about compiling this information, all of which should
be available online - social media, company PR literature, and annual reports from the company.

A while back, one notoriously successful networker raised considerable furor by revealing that
he kept a list of his friends, ranking them on a variety of metrics including income, political
soundness (for his own warped value of “soundness”), and physical attractiveness. Ferrazzi
doesn’t recommend anything quite so calculating, but he reveals that he goes beyond merely
keeping a list of contacts to divide them up into 1s, 2s, and 3s, and makes contact with them
on a schedule according to their importance within this schema. He also advises that a new
contact will only remember you after they’ve had contact with you via three different media,
and he communicates accordingly - if he emailed them originally, he’ll strive to speak to them
on the phone and to meet them in person within the next few months, for example.

One of the reasons I’d be appalling in his job is that I’d have nowhere near his confidence in
pushing boundaries. I can just about get the idea of trying to meet people well above your
station and maybe even solicit favours from them - but his advice that people will tolerate
being contacted, unsolicited, five times a day seems remarkable. I used to work in a call
centre, and we would frequently have people screaming at us if we called them three times
in a week. Perhaps this is a difference between the UK and the USA?

But the most optimistic key to the golden gates, and a positive note to end on, is his emphasis
on unconditionally aiming to create value for other people. Whenever someone mentions a
problem to him, he describes his thought process as “Who do I know who could help this
person with their problem?” He portrays himself as generous with his time and keen to do
favours, and I have no particular reason to believe that he is being dishonest; and above all,
while he is clear that you should be receiving favours as well as giving them, states as the
title of one of the earliest chapters - Don’t Keep Score. This cuts both ways - being willing to
receive favours that you can’t repay as well as to give out favours with no particular prospect
of them being returned to you - but after all, there’s nothing wrong with being clear about
what others can do for you, so long as one is gracious in accepting them and pays it on to
someone else.

Overall the book’s advice seems actionable; the chapters are short, containing a minimum of
fat; and I am so far happy to add to the recommendations of it.

*Ferrazzi also finds the time for long monastic retreats, weeks building schools by hand in
Africa, spending six months unemployed between jobs, and the like. Again I have no
objections to his presence in the business world, he seems to be creating enormous
amounts of value for those who know him - but it contributes further to the impression that
what value he creates is concentrated within a relatively low number of events, as opposed
to the long grind of value-creation that characterises most jobs.

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