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Is Networking Friendship, or Just MBA Speak?

What do you think about this?

The networking connections are one of the most valuable benefits of an MBA. Five to ten years down the road these people will either be running their own businesses or have high-level positions in large companies.

That’s a comment to my post here and on Small Business Trends. I said the value of my MBA degree was what I learned, not what I earned.

That networking idea, especially connected to business school, has been around for a long time. It was already there in B-school lore, thoroughly entrenched, ironically, even before there was actual networking – the web, social media, Internet, email, etc. I did my MBA from 1979 to 1981, and we heard it a lot even way back then. And they meant it then exactly as it’s used here.

But I don’t like it. To me, the term networking smacks of people as career stepping stones, and relationships as business assets. And insincere grins and car salesmen wearing white buck shoes and green checked sports coats. And pinkie rings. And people who barely know each other asking for favors. It makes me feel like after I’m done networking I should take a shower.

Friendship, on the other hand, I like. Friendship is about people, and life, and it’s always good. Also community, and discussion and keeping in touch.  I’m fine with that.  I like the idea of people who do higher education together becoming friends for life. That’s cool. I haven’t been the best at keeping up, but I’ve always liked the idea. I’m still in email with some people I met at Stanford and even with friends from Notre Dame, my undergrad school, where we were the class of 1970. But that’s not networking, it’s life.

And social media, by the way; I like that too. I’ve had lots of twitter relationships end up as face to face or phone, and these are friendships, not networking. These are people I like. Communicating (well, publishing) about things they like. If that’s networking too, then it’s not so bad.

You tell me, please: am I making something out of nothing? Is networking just another word for friendship? Does the new world of social media turn networking into something different than its meaning in the MBA context?

(Image: James Steidl/Shutterstock)


  • The Networking Myth « Why MBAs Suck says:

    […] In a March 2011 post he asked Is Networking Friendship, or Just MBA Speak? […]

  • hims says:

    No, Networking is not just another word for friendship at all… you did the distinction very well…

  • Charles Robinson says:

    I never finished college of any type, but I do know I hate networking. Networking is selling. I’m not a salesman. Oh I know that we all sell ourselves to some degree, but when people talk about networking I have exactly the same smarmy image you do. I find it unpleasant and distasteful.

    And I’ll also repeat Seth Godin’s premise of permission. I do not ever attempt to turn friends into customers. Friends are friends first and foremost. I would never consider doing anything to damage that.

  • Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    I like to think of friendship as something beyond or deeper than networking. I think networking is meant to provide value to one another whereas friendship is about the.relationship itself. However there is selfish networking where people measure what they are getting out it. There is genuine networking where no score is kept. I would certainly like to see more of the latter.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  • Jan Schwartz says:

    I did not go to B school so I don’t have a preconception about what networking means to someone with an MBA. For me, networking is a stepping stone to a potential relationship that sometimes ends in friendship and sometimes not. And sometimes it gets me business and sometimes not, but those relationships that wind up as friendships are worth the networking. We can call it something else, but whatever we call it, networking works for me.

  • James M Murphy says:

    Thank you for the distinction. Many people fuss and fret over having to meet and greet, sell themselves, and shy away from anyone they don’t know in that crowded room. Approaching people with the outcome of developing a business friendship is what it is all about. Friends help friends become better, succeed, and prosper. Networking loses that emotional connection that is present in “friendships.” I read through your other blog posts and appreciate your sound thoughts. To your continued success, James

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