Friday, March 28, 2014

Networking, Selfishness, and Friends in Business

Recently, I came across a post on the Wall Street Journal’s website by Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal entitled My Advice? Stop “Networking.”

This short post caught my eye for two reasons.

First, Warby Parker is a certified B corporation and one of the more visible (they sell glasses… humor is not my strong suit) and successful companies in the for-profit social enterprise movement. 

Second, since my move to a business school last fall, I have heard the term “networking” with increasing frequency.  Sure, “networking” is discussed in law schools and there are some networking events, but in business schools the term “networking” is ubiquitous and the events focused on “networking” are constant. 

"Networking" has some negative connotations, but I think Blumenthal’s attack is misplaced.  Instead of attacking “networking,” Blumenthal would have done better to attack “selfishness.”  

There is nothing wrong, and much good, in the dictionary definition of “networking”:

the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.

Networking can be a wonderful thing, for everyone involved, if you can keep the selfishness at a minimum.  Unfortunately, many people network in a selfish manner. 

Blumenthal also writes about breaking down the walls between our work and personal lives, but sometimes those walls are healthy.  He writes about the joys of involving friends in business, but sometimes involving friends in business is unwise.  

Those of us in the corporate law world have seen and read about countless businesses that turned friend against friend, mentor against mentee, and family member against family member. 

I am thankful that my professional and personal contacts overlap significantly.  Just yesterday, I had two long phone conversations with people I consider both professional contacts and valued personal friends.  That said, I am also thankful that I have friends who have nothing to do with work and some professional contacts who never venture outside of my work circles. 

In short, while I understand Blumenthal’s negative reaction to “networking,” I think "selfishness" is the real problem.  Further, I understand the great happiness he may be experiencing by involving friends in his business, but I also hope he recognizes that business may put great strain on those personal relationships.

Business Associations, Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School, Social Enterprise | Permalink


I concur with your conclusion. I’m “seasoned” (old) enough to finally understand the truism that is oft repeated - - “it’s a small world.” This “seasoning” also grants a retrospective that consciously or unconsciously there is implicit in every relationship (as contrasted with an incidental meeting) a quid pro quo even where it is simply “friendship for friendship.” Even in our most intimate relationships, e.g., marriage, there is a quid pro quo. We see this and its benefit even starting in primary and secondary schools – not to mention admission and completion of “prestigious” undergraduate and graduate schools. That said, relationship development (used rather than networking) can be natural or an edifice - - but ultimately it is about an entrée to communication, access or potential rainmaking.

At a certain point in life, simply by “living so long” virtually everyone encounters that event where we say “I’ve met ‘x,’ [or, I went to school with, or I play golf with…] let me give him/her a call” and because of some prior event or developed relationship it may result in the facilitation resolving a concern or connection.

Posted by: Tom N | Mar 28, 2014 6:23:22 AM

Thanks, Tom. I also prefer "relationship building" to "networking" - the former suggests less selfishness. And selfishness, as I wrote, seems to be the main problem. As you state, there is some quid pro quo in every relationship, but some people are more selfish than others. Better to focus on being less selfish than to focus on doing less "networking" (or "relationship building").

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Mar 28, 2014 6:44:23 AM

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