Business networking is a non-skill, akin to glad handing, vastly over-recommended and over appreciated.

Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

What’s Wrong with Business Networking?

I’m starting to realize I hate the word “networking” used as a verb, meaning – apparently – some variation on connections with people for self-serving business use. Business networking my [whatever]. Networking

I’m pretty sure people are actual living breathing human beings, for the most part. Not nodes. Not assets. Not resources to be tapped later for favors. Real connections with other people are the spice of life, but you don’t get real connections with more than a few people because they take actual reciprocity, caring, and giving. You keep up with people and sometimes you discover a situation in which one of you can help the other, and that makes both happy. But that’s not business networking. That’s living.

I’ve heard a lot about so-called networking for decades now, starting when I was in business school for two years. Some of the faculty and some of my fellow students talked about networking with reverence, as if one of the main benefits of two years at school was the network we were all supposed to build with each other.  If they’d just called it meeting people, or friendship, I would have been fine with it. But networking always sounded uncomfortable to me, like talking to people now because I would use them later.

I did the MBA married with three kids and working at the same time, so I didn’t make any real friends. I spent whatever time was left over with my family. I did end up with a few dozen people I liked and am still, decades later, happy to hear from. But the idea of asking some business school colleague from decades ago, with whom I haven’t communicated in years, for a favor? I would never do that. Would you? Apparently, if you read all the praise of networking as a business skill, you’re supposed to.

The best networker I know never used that word and did it by accident, unconsciously, by offering help to people he knew. He was in a large high-tech company and over time his genuine help for others created for him a collection of people who vouched for him in the office politics the once or twice that his situation soured. He keeps up with people because he wants to. He does favors on occasion, and we return those favors. It’s all genuine. Is that networking? You tell me.

So what’s wrong with networking? That’s up to you. But I like the chorus of one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs: “It ain’t me, babe.”

5 responses to “What’s Wrong with Business Networking?”

  1. Hi Tim, You hit the nail square on the head regarding business networking. I find personal introductions to be much more meaningful and lead to more meaningful personal relationships. It is all about relationships and nurturing those relations by giving without the immediate expectation of getting. I will share this as a link back to you. Thanks again for your insight !

    • Scott Robinson says:

      “Giving without the immediate expection of recieving”. This nugget of advice is timeless. Twenty five or so years ago when i was a recent college grad pursuing a career in financial services with a big name brokerage firm all anybody had to say was got a network, develope your network. I attended a lot of chamber of commerce mixers and found one thing to be true. Everyone was trying to sell you whatever they were selling.
      Then i got the best piece of advice from a mentor.
      1. Ask as many question you can about their product or service while disclosing as little as possible about what you do.
      2. Then play match maker. Oh your looking for “x” i was chatting with this gentleman or lady earlier they may be able to help you. Here is the card they gave me.

      3. People are more inclined to return a favor, do a favor. The so called plant a seed for later.

      4. Relationships are more vauable and genuine than networks.

      • Jonathan_Bplans says:

        Thanks for the story, Scott! Those tips are really valuable. Are you still involved in financial services, or on a different path?

        • Scott Robinson says:

          Jonathan, Thank you! I hope your reader find my comments useful. No, I am no long in financial services. In 2000 I was living and working in San Francisco with what I considered a clear career trajectory and, well, you the rest of the story. Like so many other in the bay area finding themselves in A similar situations I made a decision to pursue what I really loved and enjoyed doing. 15 years later I am still cooking and still feel it is my life’s calling.
          While I have your ear, As my career focus is shifting toward consulting, developing concepts, and launching new projects i find this website and all the commentary to be an indispensable resource. Thank you, all of you!

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Business networking is a non-skill, akin to glad handing, vastly over-recommended and over appreciated.