A Network Never Sleeps
Our foursome had finished the usual Saturday morning round of golf. We were in the clubhouse doing the postmortem when Jerry said, "Last night I got a call. It was two in the morning. I won't tell you who it was because one of you might know him. He was semihysterical. His accountant had called him that afternoon and told him he was broke; his company couldn't make the payroll, and if he didn't retrieve the checks he'd written, there was a good chance he'd go to jail. The guy needed $20,000. The strange thing is, I hadn't talked to him in over ten years. He said the only reason he called me was that I used to be a close friend and that I knew he was a trustworthy guy. Well, I offered to lend him a few thousand dollars, but I didn't give him what he needed even though I could have.
"It got me thinking though," Jerry added. "What if it had been me? How many people could I realistically count on to bust a gut to help me out if I'd called them at 2 A.M.?"
"How many, Jerry?"
"Two, maybe three."
We went around the table. The answers were about the same until they got to me.
"Fifty," I said.
"Come on, Harvey! That's B.S."
"No, it isn't," I said. "I've been ready to make the kind of call that Jerry got for nearly forty years. I never had to make it. I made fifty others like it instead. I've made 2 A.M. calls to find the absolutely best doctor in town in a family medical crisis; I've made them to get a valued employee out of a blackmail situation and to stop a customer not only from dumping me but to keep him from badmouthing me so totally that my business would be ruined forever.
"I know I've been to the wall at least fifty times, and in each one of those fifty times, I was able to find the right person to get me the help I needed.
"Ever since I was dumb enough to buy a bankrupt envelope company when I was just a kid, I've been building a network of people who I could count on and who count on me in case one of those 2 A.M.ers came around. I know I wouldn't have survived if I hadn't, and I'm proud that a lot of other people who made those kind of calls to me wouldn't have made it either if I hadn't been part of their networks."
I feel sorry for the guy who called Jerry, because it didn't have to come down that way. But the guy didn't stay in touch. He didn't prepare. He not only didn't dig his well before he got thirsty, he waited until he was dying of thirst before he even started clawing the ground.
How many names do you think he called before he called Jerry--a guy he hadn't talked to in ten years? Five? Ten? Probably even more. And with each call the odds grew longer against connecting, because he was getting farther and farther away from his real network.
Remember the Broadway show and movie Six Degrees of Separation
? The title refers to the fact that there's a chain of no more than six people that links every person on this planet to every other person.
What if I want to meet the president of GE and sell him some envelopes? Well, if I know somebody who knows somebody and so on, six deep, I can be standing there in Jack Welch's office pitching #l0s before we play our next round. That's a helluva network, and we're all capable of building one just like it.
But try to reach over the five people between you and Welch directly? Can't be done. That's Jerry's nonpal's way. A non-network. A rope of sand. If you dig your well and actually have a network, you're never going to be out on that sixth dimension all by your lonesome where all you get is busy signals and wrong numbers.
"Jerry, I just want you to know that if I get a late-nighter from you some day, the twenty grand will be in your account within twenty-four hours. By the way, what have you got for collateral?"
"What have I got for collateral? I remember catching one of those 2 A.M.ers from you, Harvey. I've been there for you."
"You're right," I said. "And that's all the collateral you need."
Jerry and I have been around forever. If we can keep our network going year after year, it isn't too late for you.
The New England Journal of Medicine
has published studies showing that people who stop smoking, even though they may have smoked for decades, can cut their risk of lung cancer nearly to the same levels as people who have never smoked.
Same reasoning with networking.
The Mackay Journal of Networking
has no published studies but cheerfully predicts that no matter when you start, you can build a network of people who will pick up the phone, ready to help, if you ever have to make a call at 2 A.M.Mackay's Maxim:
2 A.M. is a lousy time to try to make new friends.The Most Important Networking Lesson I Ever Learned
When I graduated from the University of Minnesota, I couldn't afford my own apartment. I lived at home in St. Paul. My mother had died just about the time I finished up at school, so my housemate was my father.
He was lonely.
I was trying to get my career started, and I was in over my head most of the time.
The result: a lot more father/son talks than I'd had in all the previous years we had lived together.
At the time, I was scratching out a living selling envelopes for Quality Park. I wanted to get on the fast track, but I didn't have a clue as to where the fast track was or how to catch the train that traveled on it.
My father did.
"Look, ever since you were seven years old, you've been batting golf balls around. I've seen you come in with bloody hands from hanging out at the driving range." (They gave me all the free whacks I wanted in exchange for running around in a golf cart with an iron cage mounted on it, picking up the loose balls.)
"Now that I think about it, golf is probably the only form of human activity you've taken seriously up to now.
Why don't you try to capitalize on what you've lost?
"Go over to Minneapolis and pitch the admissions committee at the Oak Ridge Country Club. They're always buried in last place in the Minneapolis City Golf League. Tell them how you played golf for the University of Minnesota team, won the city championship twice, and was runner-up in the state high school tournament. They need new blood. They need talent. See if they'll let you in without having to pay the usual horrendous initiation fee, which neither of us can afford.
"If they do, you've got unlimited potential to make great business contacts. I think they have about 300 members, and most of them would love to play with you because of your low handicap. And maybe your generous and visionary employer will help you with the dues if you can show them some envelope action."
So why not? What's to lose in trying?
I gave the admissions committee the sales job of a lifetime. I figured the odds were the same as making a hole-in-one, but I gave it a shot.
"For nothing? You want us to admit you, a twenty-two-year-old kid, who knows virtually no one in the entire club, for nothing? Just so you can hustle our old duffers, pardon me, our distinguished members?"
Slight overswing. I had landed in a bunker.
"No, no, that isn't what I had in mind."
"Right. You want to help us win the City League Championship. Not sell envelopes."
"Well, not gamble on golf. I promise you I will never hustle a member. But I don't see anything wrong with making business contacts. That's what people do at country clubs. And just because I'm young, you shouldn't hold that against me. Young members are likely to pay dues for a lot more years than old members."
"No initiation fee?"
"I can't afford an initiation fee. Not now. Maybe someday."
"Someday? Then maybe we should defer your admission until someday."
"And blow off young members until they get old? And good golfers too?"
And so it went.
No sale. Triple bogey.
But I didn't throw away my clubs.
Six months and numerous meetings later, I was admitted.
For next to nothing down and a dues schedule I could live with, barely. As part of the deal, they made it clear they would be looking over my shoulder for any signs of improvement in my financial condition.
As I look back on my career, there's no question that this was the one single act that most helped me launch my career.
Three hundred members. Three hundred potential customers. Three hundred million unbet three-footers and Calcuttas. All in addition to the ton of new contacts in the city league.
What a network!
Fingerhut Corporation--the huge direct mail company. My largest account forty years ago, and still my largest account today
The Minnesota Vikings
The Pillsbury Company
To name just a few. So many new doors were opened up for me that within a few years I was top dog in sales at Quality Park and ready to go into business for myself.
But the best payoff was yet to come.
I was introduced to another former junior champ with a closet full of golf trophies.
Though my new golf partner never bought an envelope from me, she did say "I do." As a result, Carol Ann and I have been married for thirty-six years and raised three terrific kids together.Mackay's Maxim:
Your best network will develop from what you do best.Doin' What Comes Unnaturally
Fred was one of my schoolmates from fourth grade all through college.
He was a loner, a total introvert, painfully shy, with all the baggage that comes with it--the dead-fish handshake, the downcast eyes that never quite met yours, the halting, barely audible stabs at conversation.
Still, Fred was sincere, honest, hardworking, a thoroughly decent person.
I'm sure Fred went through high school without ever having a date. I can remember how, on graduation day, many of us trolled the halls to corral our classmates into signing our yearbooks. We competed with each other to see who could fill the most pages with reminiscences and tributes from their friends.
But not Fred. Once again, too timid, too shy. It would be a force job for Fred to go up to a classmate and request this easy favor.
Fast forward to college.
Somehow, Fred managed to get into a fraternity. Maybe it was because he never had a bad word to say about anyone. Maybe he was a "legacy." Maybe it was because Fred decided it was something he wanted badly enough to come out of his cocoon and really go for.
What was it that changed him? Only The Shadow knows.
Whatever it was, whatever it took, a new Fred began to emerge.
By our last year in college, he was unrecognizable from the Fred of our high school years.
He had become popular and gregarious. Fred's "lost years" in high school had not been entirely wasted. He seemed to know more about swing music and jazz than anyone else on campus, probably from listening to it alone in his room. He also developed a flair for dancing, a considerable social advantage.
After college, Fred and several of his fraternity brothers formed a partnership in the automotive business. They became very successful.
We all know people like Fred. Some of them never manage to shake off their early problems.
For some people, networking is as natural and instinctive as breathing. We all know people who are self-confident, radiate optimism, make friends easily, and seem to glide through life on winged feet.
Not many of them will be readers of this book.
Why should they be? They do this stuff without even having to think about it. They network with their alarm clocks when they wake up in the morning.
This book--and particularly this chapter--is addressed to the rest of us, the Freds of the world, those not quite so sure of ourselves, perhaps a bit shy, even timid. We're not out there bowling over everyone we meet with our dazzling smiles or brilliant conversation. We're not even out there bowling.
For most people networking is a learned behavior, like learning to swim. It is a gradual--and often painful, even scary--process of trial and error, small incremental steps, and finally a few breakthroughs.
Fortunately, there are several tried and true techniques for overcoming this Fear of Trying.1. Practice "let's pretend."
Why do we procrastinate? Why are we shy? We fear failure, and we define failure as falling short of perfection. Since perfection is impossible to achieve, we are conflicted and act tentatively, or don't act at all.
Plato said each thing or idea has a perfect form. While we can never achieve the ideal form, we should attempt to come as close as we can by observing and emulating the characteristics of the ideal.
Let's segue from the ancient Greeks to the modern angst-ridden networker. There is someone you want to meet. You have done your homework, you are aware of an affinity or a shared experience with this person, but you are afraid to make the first move.
Why not play a game with yourself? The name of the game is "Let's Pretend."
Ask yourself, "What would the ideal networker do in this situation?"
Pretend you are that person. And do it.
If you are able to do that, you can reinvent yourself.
By pretending you are what you are not, you actually can become what you have pretended to be.2. Adopt a role model.
What's the difference between this suggestion and the Aristotle gambit?
Your ideal is real, not imagined.
You're not asking yourself what the perfect person would do, you've attached yourself to a successful networker and you're committed to studying his or her techniques.
In the best of all possible worlds, your role models also can become your mentors, helping you, advising you, guiding you, even lending you their network as you build your own.
For the shy or anxious person, this method has two advantages:
It takes only one good connection to start you on your way.
Your natural shyness and inexperience can help rather than hinder you. As you gain confidence and skills, your role model will take pride in your progress and be motivated to do even more for you.3. Take lessons.
You're taking one now, as you read this book, so you're already a believer in the learning process. There are other, real-life educational opportunities that are effective for overcoming shyness and inexperience.
The first real networking school I signed up for after I got out of college was Toastmasters. It proved so valuable to me that here I am many years later being paid handsomely as a public speaker, even though my main thrust is still running my business.
Toastmasters is not just about making speeches. It's about doing your homework, self-confidence, appearance, and becoming an interesting person and a valuable resource to others. In other words, Toastmasters can help you gain and polish the tools to become a successful networker.
The Dale Carnegie schools are designed to achieve similar goals. I'm a graduate, and I can tell you from my own experience that they are masters at instilling personal confidence, polish, poise, communication, and networking skills in their students. They've been around a long time--an excellent indication that they are getting results.
And if you hope one day to be a professional public speaker, or if you just want to sound like one, there is no better organization to join than the National Speakers Association (NSA), headquartered in Tempe, Arizona.
I am a member and collectively we speak to 20 million people a year. If you're looking to hire a speaker for an event, they're the ones to call. In fact, I believe this organization is so worthwhile that if you don't feel you got your money's worth the first year, send me a copy of your canceled check and I'll give you a "Harvey Mackay Scholarship"--the second year's membership is on me. NSA can be reached at (602) 968-2552 or via the Worldwide Web at www.NSASpeaker.org. They can explain to you about national membership and/or put you in touch with your local chapter.4. Keep taking lessons.
Graduation is not the end of your education. It's the foundation, the launching pad, the beginning. Unless you keep your batteries charged, they will run down. For an ongoing source of inspiration and motivation, I recommend subscribing to Norman Vincent Peale's publication Positive Living.
A similar publication in more condensed form is Bits & Pieces.5. Join up.
Just about any group offers possibilities for making contacts and achieving personal growth: Dancing. Choir. Coin collecting. Horseback riding. Art appreciation. Theater going. Antique shopping. Politics. Great books. Wine. Food.6. Have a little faith.
Dale Carnegie probably summed it up best: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one."
The more you exercise your networking muscles, the stronger they get--and the easier networking becomes.
Excerpted from Dig Your Well before You're Thirsty by Harvey MacKay. Copyright © 1997 by Harvey Mackay. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.