Photograph by Tom Merton — Caiaimage via Getty Images

Here's why it's ok to skip that networking event next Thursday.

By Steve Tobak
May 6, 2016
May 06, 2016

“Do we live in enlightened times?”

If I were to ask you that, you’d probably make a wisecrack about the Kardashians or Martin Shkreli. But if I pushed you for a definitive answer, you’d probably say yes. And I would agree. Sort of.

While we do live in an era of unprecedented technological and scientific sophistication, how do we explain all the ludicrous myths, fictional fads and silly pseudoscience that the media bombards us with 24/7? When it comes to health and fitness, our culture is consumed with miracle diets, mystical cures, anti-aging remedies and dietary supplements. It’s no different in the business world, where leadership bloggers, self-help authors and self-improvement gurus have millions of wantrepreneurs thinking they’re the second coming of Steve Jobs.

But of all the loony business fads I’ve had the burden of shooting down over the years, the most overhyped and under-delivered is the networking craze.

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It’s a misconception that attending professional networking events or spending loads of time building your social network presence is the best way to meet people who will help you boost your career or business. While every executive will tell you that their network is a key asset, that doesn’t mean their contacts actually come from networking activities. Your most important relationships – the ones that will really make a difference – will likely occur organically through direct peer-to-peer contact over the natural course of doing business.

That’s how practically every famous pair of co-founders of every successful company you’ve ever heard of met and built their relationships. It’s also usually where they find their initial funding and mentors, as well.

Jobs and Steve Wozniak actually met in high school and later worked together at Atari. Mike Markkula, who invested and secured a bank loan for Apple, was referred to Jobs through Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna. McKenna and Markkula, as well as Intel CEO Andy Grove, became advisors to Jobs.

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Not only did WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton work together at Yahoo, five of their Yahoo friends coughed up $250,000 in seed funding to get their messaging app off the ground. Mark Zuckerberg later emailed Koum out of the blue. The pair met in a coffee shop, became friends and Facebook bought the startup for $19 billion.

GrubHub founders Matt Maloney and Mike Evans worked together at Apartments.com. They were actually working late on lookup searches for rental real estate, when hunger, of all things, got them thinking about a one-stop website for ordering takeout.

As an undergrad at Stanford, Evan Spiegel used family connections to audit graduate level business classes. That’s how he met then Google CEO Eric Schmidt, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley and Intuit founder Scott Cook. Cook mentored Spiegel and invested in his messaging startup, Snapchat, now valued at $16 billion. You can roll your eyes at his luck, but you can’t argue that Spiegel is an aggressive opportunist who worked hard to make his personal connections count.

I can go on with story after story but you probably get the point. Suffice to say that, in over 30 years working with hundreds of accomplished entrepreneurs and executives in and around the high-tech industry, I don’t know any who got to where they are by networking, myself included.

 

Don’t get me wrong. After all this time, I do have one hell of a network. But it was built on genuine interest in getting to know and wanting to help the people I worked with. It was built on long-term relationships. And every single opportunity that’s ever presented itself over the years was a direct result of those relationships.

Which brings us to the virtual elephant in the room: social networks. While LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter may be useful in superficial ways, as a means to build relationships that can make a difference for you someday, they’re simply too overcrowded.

That’s probably why most Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence whatsoever and, of those who do, few are active participants. They simply don’t see the ROI, especially in terms of building their networks in any meaningful way. In all likelihood, neither will you.

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