Networking advocates are fond of claiming that every successful person got where he/she is because of another person. While this type of argument is easy to make and sounds persuasive, it is ultimately unhelpful and misleading. Let me explain what I mean with a few examples:
Example 1: In the recent news coverage about the death of professional basketball player Manute Bol, I remember reading that Bol was discovered by a U.S. basketball official in Sudan. The official persuaded him to come to the United States to play ball, which he did. Networkers will tell this story as an example of how networking is the key to success. But while the story does illustrate that making connections with other people can be advantageous (a non-controversial proposition), it does not demonstrate the efficacy of modern networking techniques, for at least two reasons: (1) Manute Bol did not network his way to success – the connection that introduced him to professional basketball resulted from a chance meeting and (2) Manute Bol succeeded as a basketball player because he was 7 feet 7 inches tall, not because he knew the right people.
Example 2: I recently wrote about the UK’s self-proclaimed psychic, Joe Power. As I noted, Power’s recent appearance on “Derren Brown Investigates,” a British televsion series, will probably help his career. Over the past two years, Power has seen the audiences of his psychic programs grow steadily. Networkers might point out that Power is succeeding because of people. Audience members who are networked talk to their friends about Power’s shows, leading those friends to attend future shows and tell others, and so on. The network grows, and grows, and grows, leading to Power’s continued success. Right? Not exactly. Although Power’s success undeniably depends on whether people show up to his psychic reading shows, it is unfair to credit his audience members for his success. The reality is that Power succeeds by working hard to create a product (a stage show / psychic reading) that is appealing to other people. He does not have to attend cocktail parties and pass out business cards to succeed. He succeeds by performing.
Example 3:Crystal Bowersox survived a medical scare and performed tirelessly in the 2010 American Idol series to achieve a second-place finish. In interviews, she thanked various friends and family members for contributing to her success. But do they really deserve the success? Did her network of personal connections lead to her stardom? Only in a peripheral way. Her success was mostly due to her personal willingness to (1) practice singing and playing the guitar for years, (2) endure the gruelling American Idol audition procedure and (3) perform well to an audience of millions of television viewers. Up on stage, she was all alone doing the things she had to do to ensure her success.
Networking can be credited for virtually anyone’s success because we all have connections to other humans, and inevitably some of them help us. But I have yet to meet a single person who has succeeded primarily by networking. Most people succeed by making their services valuable, creating a great product, investing carefully, or otherwise performing work. Networking might be a necessary evil in some cases, but it is no substitute for personal achievement.