Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lame Book, Good Tips: "Never Eat Alone"

Do you ever read a non-fiction book that teaches you something but is written by an author who is so annoying that you can't wait to finish it? Most self-help books tend to be this way, written by narcissistic authors who advertise their expertise and superiority, using cheesy metaphors, lame stories and inspirational quotations that make you cringe to expand a 5-10 basic concepts into a 300 page book. But I'm a cynical college kid, so what do you expect?

I recently picked up Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, which claims to teach you "how to build a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends and mentors." In my search for jobs and internships, I've been teaching myself to network with alums, family friends and former employers, and was given this book by a friend. It has all the aspects of self-help books that I just listed, with lines like, "human ambitions are like Japanese carp; they grow proportional to the size of their environment" and requesting that the reader, "take a stroll through that relationship garden. What do you see?" My personal favorite quotation is, "The way you reach out to others is the way you eat an 800-pound gorilla: one small bite at a time." Um... eww?

But the most obnoxious aspect of the book is the raging ego of the author, Keith Ferrazzi, who manages to name drop his famous friends and associates, as well as the name of the company he founded. And when I say this, I mean literally, every single page. You'll hear plenty about Phil Knight (former Nike CEO, apparently a good friend of his), Arianna Huffington (political pundit quasi-celebrity), and, strangely, how the author has had Richard Branson's phone number in his Blackberry for nearly a decade and is looking for the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation.

Ferrazzi basically admits early in the book that he is not particularly intelligent, talented or creative, and owes all of his success to his ability to network. So, who better to teach you how to connect with others to further your career?

As I said before, I believe that most self-help books can be reduced to a few basic points, with an additional 296 pages of filler. This one is the same, and to save you the time of reading so many unnecessary pages, here is a summary of the book's most essential points, which I found very helpful:

Get over your fears
. The toughest part of talking to someone you don't know (particularly someone who is very successful in your field) is gathering the courage to approach the person. But as Ferrazzi points out, it "often simply comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment against the fear of failure and its repercussions." Even the small chance that this person could greatly help your career outweighs the possibility of an embarrassing situation with someone you're unlikely to see again. Be confident, be yourself, and don't be afraid to show your enthusiasm in meeting the person, you're far more likely to stand out.

The goal is always a relationship
. Once you've overcome your fears and struck up a conversation with someone, it's important to connect on some level. Everyone hates superficial small talk, so try to bond with them on a more meaningful level, by showing interest and admiration for what the person does as well as presenting yourself as an interesting person who the other person could benefit by knowing. If you're just starting out, you probably don't have much to offer the other person, but you can at least make it clear that you'd love to learn from this person, and everyone loves talking about themselves and their life. Do everything you can to make it clear that you're not just talking to this person because you want to use them, but that you're actually interested in who they are and what they do. Sincerity goes a long way.

Build it before you need it. This is one of the best lessons I learned from the book. You'll be far more successful if you start building relationships with people before you need their help. Building relationships with people who can give you advice and provide mentoring is wonderful, and if you need their help in finding a job, they're far more likely to want to help you once they have gotten to know you well.

No one is too big or too small
. The author makes the point that secretaries, assistants and receptionists often have incredible power, because they often serve as gatekeepers to very powerful people. While you should treat everyone with the respect they deserve as human beings, you should go out of your way to make a good impression with anyone working under an important person, as their opinion of you may decide whether you get a chance with their boss.

Do the research (when you can). Ferrazzi is a huge fan of scouting potential contacts ahead of time and being able to know their interests ahead of time. This is supposed to help you make a connection, though Ferrazzi's examples often tread a bit close to the line of creepiness (such as when he opens a conversation with, "so I hear you run the New York Marathon"). I think it's better to prepare a line of questioning that will lead the person to start talking about their interests. If you find that someone is very active with a charitable organization, for example, you could start off by asking them what they do in their free time, and if they answer that they work for such-and-such charity, you will have done your research about the group and can talk about your familiarity with their work, etc. Use Google, read the person's biography (if they have one) on the company website, check to see if they've written any articles for trade journals, etc, but just be sure that you have the right person.

Overall, Ferrazzi's advice is mostly spot on, but a little bit unsettling, as he seems to recommend a pretty Machiavellian way of approaching relationships in life. Even so, almost everyone would benefit from reading this book and at least considering his advice, so I would definitely recommend checking it out on Amazon.


Scott Hughes said...

I share your opinions of self-help books, and since you gave the tips I don't have to read get the book and read the filler.

Scott Hughes
Books & Reading Forums

Ashish Mohta said...

Seriously those lame books.They just want to say "what i am saying is right and others not"...good post