18 Oct Avoid Trading Tech Relationships Like Pokémon Cards
CHICAGO – Way back in the day, I had a problem.
I was 22, an escapee from a very old and distinguished conservatory of music and I needed to finish my degree. Somehow, I convinced the sisters at Mundelein College in Chicago that my two years of sight singing, dictation and music theory should be good for some transfer credits.
I then buckled down and finished my undergraduate education in a few years of evenings and weekends.
Typically, I would work all day and go to school at night. One of my shiftless punker friends would then pick me up and we’d dance all night at O’Banions or Ann Arkees or that punk rock club on Greenleaf that is long gone now. Amazingly, though, a bit of that Mundelein education sticks with me even now.
In one ethics class, we used a text titled “Beyond the New Morality” (Grisez) that had a very simple message: people are worthwhile on their own and shouldn’t be used as the means to an end.
You can’t help but think about that message when you look at the current tech-networking scene these days. I don’t only mean the informal practice of networking but the semi-formal theory of it (the way people are taught to network by so-called “networking gurus”) encourages us to think of our networking associates as useful implements for our own advancement.
“Use the people you know to get what you want” is the rallying cry. We’re told to give out a zillion business cards before we leave a room. We’re coached to spill our audio-business-card introduction in a new acquaintance’s face in 30 seconds or less. Above all, we’re told to be sure to let everyone know what we need. Here’s how it goes:
“Hi there. [Looking at your name tag.] Bill, my name is Anne Smith. I have a marketing firm called ABC Marketing and I need clients in the financial services industry!”
If you are in Chicago or elsewhere in the Midwest and you’re in the technology industry, you will go to an event where someone will recite this speech at you. It may happen many times in one evening. Here is your handy reply (practice in front of the mirror):
“Anne, that’s tremendous. I myself need a Diet Coke something awful and I’m going to mosey over to the bar, but I’ll catch you around. [Exit stage right.]”
Seriously, this new aggressive networking is a pox. It’s rude, it can’t possibly be effective (not over the long term) and above all, it’s unethical. When these networkers see a room full of people, their minds must turn to multiplication tables. So many contacts! So many access points to so many other people who aren’t here tonight!
The more I schmooze, the more my ACT database will grow and grow and one day I will take over the world!
I’m exaggerating. Though me-first networkers aren’t bad people, they are misinformed. Remember: people have value in and of themselves and aren’t means to an end. There is another kind of networking that is slow and encourages you to talk to a person until you find out what’s appealing, interesting and engaging.
This leads to more conversation (or perhaps not, which is OK, too). Maybe we will get together for lunch. Maybe we will merely keep in touch. I don’t know you. We’re just meeting for the first time and I’d sooner have my tongue cut out than ask you to help me get clients. How could I be so presumptuous?
If you are meant to help me get clients, that will come down the road.
There even is a local networking guru who teaches you to enter a room full of like-minded networkers and give each of them 10 of your contacts. You are supposed to give up the business cards or contact information for 10 people you know to complete strangers. Now think about that.
You are supposed to turn over the relationships you have earned through trust, kindness, reciprocity, good listening and companionship to absolute strangers and say: “Yes, kind stranger. Please feel free to contact my good friend at his office.
“Say you got his name from me, notwithstanding the fact that I know you from Adam and you may pester my friend for three months. It’s worth it for me to treat my dear friend like a low-denomination bill because you, dear stranger, will trade me his contact information for one of your own that might help me get those clients in the financial services industry which, as you know, I need.”
So that’s the state of things in Chicago high-tech networking today.
Friends of long standing get traded like Pokémon cards at second-grade recess. People are means to an end and it’s all speculative. I’ll trade you one Aon vice president for two Harris Bank middle managers and I’ll throw in a TransUnion guy that I met last week. Ay carumba!
If you value people and if you value friendship, eschew this faux networking and stick to the real thing: relationships. Avoid events where you are supposed to give up your friends’ contact information. Avoid conversations focused on what we do and what we all need and spend your time on those who center on who we are and what we are all about.
Come to think of it, you might do better volunteering for any good cause than attending some of these Chicago tech networking soirees. If you meet someone who seems like the type to trade your business card for a second-shift SBC tech support guy before he hits the elevators, keep your cards to yourself.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of the The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.