Book Review: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

Never Eat Alone
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Author: Keith Ferrazzi
Published: 2005

Goodreads: 3.9/5
Barner&Noble: 4.0/5
Amazon: 4.1/5
(Jan 2020)

Keith Ferrazzi is the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a management consulting firm, former founder of YaYa Media, CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of Deloitte and Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In this first book, he describes why networking is important and how one can make it work. Despise its name, there is no advice to literally “never eat alone” proposed in the book. Instead, the book focuses on persuading readers about the benefits of networking, the skills should be practiced to build and maintain one’s own connections, how to utilize one’s network and lastly, to make networking beneficial not only for oneself but also for everyone.

Never Eat Alone can be structured around 7 main points:

  • Networking is good
  • Making new connections
  • Maintain one’s current network
  • Be popular
  • Best practices with networking
  • The importance of knowledge and expertise
  • Overall advice

Networking is good

The most crucial characteristic that determines our success is not intelligence, innate talent or background. Those factors are obviously important, however, we are not going anywhere if we do not learn by heart that we can never succeed alone.

Old schools taught us to be on our own. However, this concept is not true anymore. The achievements, in every area, especially business, are derived from helping, but not by standing up against, each other. Look at any field and we will see success always comes with help, not just from family members but also from many other people who happen to comes across one’s life. By having a big and healthy network, we are able to obtain better help when we need it on the way to achieve our targets.

A fun fact is that one tends to collaborate with whom he adores. So why shouldn’t we distinguish ourselves from the crowd and have our potential customers, bosses, and partners directly take a good look at us?

As another example, research shows that when finding a job, 17% of people got jobs from their close relationships, 55% from someone they sometimes meet, and the remaining 28% from someone they almost never meet at all. This fact emphasizes the importance of weak ties. Weak ties (or not-so-intimate relationships) bring us new worlds with lots of novel values.

Some might think that by taking advantage of one’s relationships to succeed is like cheating on the exams, to be more straightforward, unethical and despicable. This is also wrong and here are the reasons:

  • When we make use of our network, we are not tricking anyone. For example, our company has a new product and we introduce it to someone we know to see if their companies would like to buy it. We never lie to them anything about the product, we just let them know what it can do and how buying will benefit their companies. If we are not acquainted with these people yet, they might just ignore us before we can offer anything. Having a network, thus, is a legal and totally ethical advantage. Being talented is not enough, to attain a good outcome, we need to let others know about our talent.
  • The real networking means trying to help others succeed. You may be surprised that network building focuses more on giving but not taking. The one who just tries to take benefits from his network will never attain a real network that can actually benefit him. Instead, only by sharing and helping each other that our network has a chance to grow and remain healthy. On the other hand, when we aid the others in changing their lives, we are also learning, discovering and improving our own lives. More about this will be elaborated in the next parts of this article.

Our business may have ups and downs, yet our true friends and collaborators are still always with us. The market may have problems making our jobs unstable, maybe we want to leave the current company to make a start-up, in either way our network stays with us, it is our own asset that we will never lose.

Making new connections

Audacity brings with it motivation, strength, and magic. We cannot do a good job of making connections if being too shy to take action. Think about the worst-case scenario that can happen when we propose something to some others. The worst they can do is to decline, and in this case, we lose nothing. In other cases, they accept and we gain what we wanted. Thus, there is actually no excuses for not being bold.

However, on the opposite side, don’t be a networking jerk either. The traits of a jerk are:

  • talking nonsense
  • gossiping
  • making no contribution
  • acting badly to subordinates
  • being untruthful
  • being too greedy

These acts may, in the short-term, bring some profits, but be extremely detrimental to one’s life and work in the long run. Don’t be a bad guy!

One favored opportunity for connecting is through conferences. Carefully study the list of guests before the next meeting. Make a list of several personals you want to get acquainted with (normally, 2 or 3 are enough). This list should contain specific names of those people, not something general as company names or their positions. Note that we focus on PEOPLE, but not their companies or positions. Then, study them. The information may be personal (what they support and oppose, what they can be proud of) or related to their business (their company’s status, have they just released a new product). The source of information can be from the internet, public libraries, the news their company published, yearly reports, etc. Importantly, think of a way to start the conversation, a way to make a connection. This should be something you and he/she have in common, like a hobby or something we can do to benefit them, etc.

It would be even better if you do not come to the conference as a regular attendee. Here are some roles you can consider to make yourselves stand out of the crowd:

  • Help, or join the board of organizers. There are lots of logistic work involved in organizing a conference and this is our chance to get our hands dirty. When working with the organizers, we are not only able to be more close to them (and build relationships), but also have access to some internal information (like the list of participants).
  • Be a speaker, or if it is not possible yet, ask insightful questions. The key is to highlight ourselves with our valuable contributions. There are lots of people in a meeting and if you are not remarkable enough, no one will really recognize your existence.

Be clear that our goals of attending conferences should not be on knowledge or relaxing, but on meeting and making acquainted. Here are the tips to get the most out of a conference:

  • Do your homework and bring with you as much useful information as you can in order to share it with others. People will not be interested in us if we can not contribute anything.
  • Be direct, share some of your personal information to show them that you are vulnerable, and care about their problems. This will help you quickly break the ice.
  • Be focused on your targets. You cannot build relationships with all the attendees, instead, you should focus on several personals that you have listed out before the conference began.
  • If it is feasible, make acquainted with the main characters (speakers, famous CEO, organizers). If we are attached to them, there are many chances to meet up with many others who also want to approach them.
  • Make use of break times.
  • If you can, organize your own meeting on the side of the main conference. There is no rule to prohibit this. Try to invite some speakers or famous people to participate in your gathering (so that this gathering becomes more reputable) and invite the ones you want to meet up.

People seem to be more open when having meals. Thus, that is a good idea to take breakfast, lunch or dinner with the ones we want to make friends with. This also works with some old friends we want to heat up. To save time and also to help people building their networks, we can invite some to a meal at once.

A meal in a restaurant is ok, however, a home-party would be even better. Making a party in your room and, if possible, having some highly respected personals coming also helps make your party more reputable and thus, be more attractive to others, who are not in your network yet. Take these tips for organizing a party:

  • The ideal size of a party should be 6 to 10 at first, this may increase a bit when you are more experienced.
  • Don’t need to care much about the decoration, space, or even food. Your space can be small, food only needs to be acceptable and decoration is preferred to be subtle.
  • It is okay for not being luxurious or excellent.
  • You may create a topic for the party.
  • Don’t be too busy in the kitchen, we should spend time networking, not cooking.
  • Keep the atmosphere relaxed, no one wants to be stressful in a casual party.

Besides meeting directly, often, we are only able to make a call or send an email. The first call we make to someone we want to connect with is called a Cold Call, and to warm up a Cold Call (make the call more intimate and trustworthy), here are some formulas:

  • Find some common ground (e.g. what both parties care about).
  • State the name of someone both of you are friends with.
  • State what benefits the other man can get from you.
  • Be direct, succinct and short (more details can be elaborated after you can arrange a meeting).
  • Make concessions. This is a psychological effect: when we make concessions, the other one tends to also give in as well.

Whichever the method you used to contact with your target, directly, through a phone or via email, don’t forget to remind him/her of your existence, and possibly arrange an appointment. This can be done typically by email. You should remind them of yourselves in around 12 – 24 hours from the first meeting. For example, send an email expressing how the meeting was so interesting, how grateful you are, recall something you/he stated in the meeting and invite him to a cafe.

Maintain one’s current network

If growing a plant requires to water it regularly, to nourish a connection also demands to ping the other on a regular basis. By pinging, we mean a way to remind them of us, via a call or an email saying hi and ask if everything is going well, or a cafe/meal to catch up. Don’t let ourselves forget their names, also don’t let them forget our existence. Their birthdays seem to be a good time to ping, as it is specific to each person, thus making them feel more special.

Note that:

  • A newly created connection should be reminded at least once a month.
  • To make him/her our friend, we need at least 2 meetings outside of the office.
  • A second-class relationship requires a minimum of 2 or 3 pings annually.

Making a party also helps in maintaining our network. Be flexible, for your party, you can either invite all old acquaintances or some acquaintances plus strangers who you want to get to know. You can even suggest your acquaintances bring their connections to this party.

Be popular

Enhancing your image also gives you advantages in meeting more people and more important people too, as one tends to be attracted by powerful and famous individuals. To do that, make your own personal brand. You have to be different from others, in a positive way.

Tips are:

  • Create a personal branding message: what you want others to think about when you appear in their minds.
  • Our appearance largely affects how they think about us. So take good care of it.
  • Actively introduce your brand to the world by giving contributions: be a conference speaker, write articles, sending an email to your CEO describing your new idea, etc.

Connect yourselves with the connectors, the ones who have large networks of connections. Be reminded that being a connector has some reputation as well. By being friends with them, we can ask for their help when we need it (they are very powerful), furthermore, they can help expand our networks. Those connectors may be of various occupations, typically:

  • restaurant owner
  • head-hunter
  • lobbyist
  • fundraiser
  • public relations
  • political and journalist

In the section above, we talked about making acquainted with the key persons of the conference to have more people come in, that is also one way of making us more popular (and more reputable), at least in the scope of that conference.

Best practices with networking

  • Be generous. The more we help, the more we can get help. Connections are like muscles, the more we train, the stronger they are. Don’t take note of what we have helped other people.
  • Make use of our networks to help others when they need it, introduce some people in our network to each other.
  • We build our relationships by asking ourselves what we can do to help them, but not what they can do to help us.
  • The most essential factors that bind people together are health, wealth and offsprings. This fact is scientifically proved by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which places these factors at the lowest levels, where one needs the most.
  • The biggest fault in networking is one only thinks about the others when one needs them. The right moment to start building our networks is right now, in other words, as soon as possible.
  • The gatekeeper (the personal secretary) has a very important role, and to make contact with our targets easier, we should pay much attention to making close with their secretaries. Keith Ferrazzi had experienced how his relationship with Mary, Pat Loconto’s secretary, largely affected the way he worked. Kent Blosil, an ads-salesperson from Newsweek magazine also made his way through to Keith and made a successful deal with Deloitte when having Jenifer, Keith’s secretary, on his side.
  • Be grateful to those who helped us.
  • When having a small talk, don’t just try to take advantage of the others. Be yourselves, be honest and open-minded, listen and feel the others’ feelings.
  • Don’t limit yourselves to only meet up with people at the same level (in terms of wealth, achievement, position, etc.) as you. Building up your targets, make it larger. Some people, who are already famous or on the way to be famous are very worth making connections. Be confident to make friends with them.

The importance of knowledge and expertise

Being connected also requires knowledge and expertise as well. One is considered interesting not only by having a fluent conversation but also by having and sharing knowledge. That said, to attract people, we need to be an expert on at least our fields to be beneficial and to be attractive to others, especially the ones we want to be friends with.

On the other point of view, people tend to work with whom they like, however, the partner must also be good at work too.

The advice is to have your own perspectives in different aspects of life and be specialized in some fields. Here are some guidelines:

  • Get yourselves updated, analyze trends and find opportunities.
  • Ask ‘naive’ questions. Don’t be too shy to ask when you don’t understand.
  • It is better to sharpen your strengths than correct your weaknesses. Keith applied the 80/20 rule: 80% to sharpen his best and 20% of the time to improve his worst.
  • Spend time to study.
  • Being healthy. Staying healthy keeps our minds and brains always in the best states.
  • Experience new things in your lives to open your eyes.
  • Never give up.
  • Catch up with new technologies.
  • Make money. Yes, that is it. Making money for our company is the goal we are supposed to chase, and on the way to make money, you will learn a lot.

One very important skill you need to hone is the art of storytelling. Being able to tell good stories will make your work more persuasive, thus more likely to affect people and convince them.

Overall advice

Follow your passion. If you have found your passion, chase it with all you have. It is better to go all-out for things we are willing to do, not what we should do or what we have to do.

Set goals. To achieve what you want most efficiently, the tip is to set up goals. The more specific your goal is, the easier it is to develop a strategy to achieve that goal. Remember that goals have to be specific, feasible and challenging.

You may consider setting a big goal (for the next 3 or 5 years) and some small goals (in shorter periods of time, e.g. 90 days) that contribute to the big goal.

You should write down your plan to achieve the goals and preferably share it with others. By writing down and sharing, we show our commitment to accomplish it.

Mentors and mentees. Having mentors and mentees are both important, at any time. A mentor is often a more experienced one who has a lot to teach us and also willing to guide us. A good mentor provides the shoulder of the giant to stand on, forcing us to be responsible to our goals when we are too lenient to ourselves, but also motivate us when we are down.

A mentee is someone who needs our help with guiding and orienting his direction. The best way to learn is to teach. The relationship of a mentor and a mentee should be win-win, thus, to persuade someone to be your mentor or mentee, let him know what he will benefit from this relationship.

Take the initiating step. This is often the hardest and people are reluctant to do it. However, if we are able to break through our psychological obstacles and build things from the ground, we learn more and get more. In the book, Keith gives his own example of building a club about Total Quality Management when he is not allowed to join the reputable clubs of successful people.

Writing. Writing is always an important skill, in life, at work, and even for networking. Imagine we want to make a connection with somebody, why not write about them, with that, we can call or make an appointment for an interview with them, which is a really good chance for making acquainted.

Be cautious of hubris. When we are closer to powerful people, we will feel we are powerful too. Keep our feet on the ground. Being arrogant will steal from us not only the business but also the precious connections we have long built.

No work-life separation. There should not be a separation between work and life. Make our work interesting so that we consider it as a part of our life. When we are having fun with our work, the equation of work-life balance disappears.

Last but not least, know your first priority. We people often spend our whole youth to pursue wealth and glory, just to realize they are ephemeral at older ages. Take time to contemplate what your utmost wish is, like how Keith spent 10 days on the Vipassana meditation course. Answer the question: what really makes you happy? In the end, the reason should be related to our relationships with others, instead of anything else. Be a good person and help others.

My final thoughts

This is a good book that deserves its National Bestseller Prize. Despise being first published in 2005, the book is frequently updated by the author to keep it up with the ever-changing market and digital world. Through his writing, Keith Ferrazzi delivers to readers a comprehensive view of social networking, from its benefits to tips and guidelines he had applied successfully in his career. I would recommend everyone to take a read.

The book: Never Eat Along and other secrets to success, one relationship at a time by Keith Ferrazzi.

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