Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. For the next few weeks, we’ll be talking to leaders about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems, and about Brody Moments (from Jaws’ Police Chief Brody and his famous line “you’re going to need a bigger boat”) related to the coronavirus.
Today we talk with Dr. Ivan Misner, the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (Business Network International), the world’s largest business networking organization. Called the “Father of Modern Networking” by CNN, Misner is a New York Times bestselling author, a columnist for Entrepreneur, and has been a university professor as well as a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of La Verne.
David and David: Can you give us an example and context on a specific Brody Moment from your past?
Dr. Misner: When I started my career as a management consultant, most of my business came from speaking engagements and referrals. To get them, I brought together friends I knew, told them I’d be willing to refer them, and hoped that they’d reciprocate.
Someone outside my group saw what I was doing and thought it was an incredible way to get more business, and asked if I would help them start their own group. I helped her open a group and then I did the same for two more people. I started my first chapter in 1985 and by December of that year, I had 20. The Brody Moment was realizing that BNI could be huge, and I sat down and created a plan, a process and a system to scale it.
David and David: What do you think are some of the Brody Moments leaders are experiencing today, in the context of the pandemic?
Dr. Misner: Leaders are realizing that the effective implementation of technology is absolutely critical now. In 1984, Paul Edwards used to run these business “salons'' where they would talk about the future. One night, he took me into his office and showed me a little box with a yellow screen - an Osborne portable computer - and said “this is going to change the world, people are going to start working from home, and this is going to enable small businesses to look big.” I doubted him, but he and his wife Sarah went on and wrote the seminal book Working from Home in the late ’80s and sold millions of copies. It’s taken this long and a pandemic for his dream to really hit the tipping point.
Another Brody Moment is happening for people in the business of commercial office space. Demand will dramatically decline for a while, if not permanently, with more and more people working from home. Almost 10,000 BNI meetings are happening on platforms like Zoom right now. The genie is out of the bottle and many people are likely to embrace a hybrid approach to their networking.
David and David: What do you see ahead? With respect to a “new normal” after the crisis is over, what are the implications for business networking?
Dr. Misner: According to some experts, Mixed Reality (MR) technology will be as commonplace as the iPhone in five years to ten years. As that happens, you’re going to see more business networking taking place through some sort of MR format, which will globalize the marketplace. We’ve already had people from other countries dropping in on virtual meetings of American BNI chapters (and Americans dropping in on international groups), which wasn’t happening before because they would have had to travel to attend. The result will be an increase in international referrals and international business.
Our virtual meetings are almost identical to those that were held in person, and in some ways, they have been better. For example, in a BNI meeting every member gets up to one minute to talk about who they are and what they do, and one person does a 10-minute feature presentation. Online, those presentations are actually easier and require much less setup. The BNI Online platform has certainly worked - last month the organization generated just under $1 billion (USD) in business for our members from referrals through the online system. The downside to the online meeting is that you don’t get the same connection - the screen is only chest-up, it’s easier to be distracted by devices and e-mail, and so on.
While we’ve seen that virtual can work, I still believe that face-to-face meetings are best suited for networking and that they’re not completely going away. That’s because networking is about cultivating and harvesting relationships with people. It’s about relating, not transacting business. In writing one of my books, we ran a survey that ultimately showed that people who said they were relational in their approach (versus transactional) were much more successful in their networking.
David and David: What advice do you have for people who are new to business networking?
Dr. Misner: You can’t go right into sales mode. I teach a VCP process - establish visibility and build credibility, before trying to get to profitability (the referral). People try to jump over visibility and credibility to get to profitability faster. We call that premature solicitation, and it happens all the time, especially on social media. On LinkedIn, for example, people connect and the next day they’re selling you their products and services. That’s sales, not networking. You have to have a true connection or have helped someone before you ask for something. People say it never hurts to ask, but they’re wrong. It can hurt if you ask too soon.
I also advise people to take “the butterfly effect” into consideration. You don't know who people know, so just connect with someone to build a relationship. The first time I wrote about that I was on Necker Island, trying to write an article. I was sitting there stuck and Richard Branson walked over and invited me to join his group by the beach when I was done. I remember asking myself, “Damn, how did I get here?” I realized it was a business coach who referred me to someone, who asked me to speak somewhere, where I met Jack Canfield, who invited me into the Transformational Leadership Council, where someone else invited me to Necker Island. That took two-and-a-half years of hard work building relationships without knowing where that butterfly effect would take me.
And, if you want a great example of premature solicitation, when I tell that story on stage, inevitably someone I’ve never met will hand me their card and ask me to introduce them to Branson.
David and David: Any other advice you can offer? Parting words?
Dr. Misner: Use this time to talk to people and think of creative ways you can build your business. Pour a lot of time into the relationships you have already. Reach out to people and ask if they’re okay, if their family is okay. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them.
A lot of people say they don’t have time to network. Well, you have time now. As the proverb says, the best time to plant an oak tree is 20 years ago, but the second-best time is today. It’s not too late to start building your network right now, one person at a time.
Original article posted on Forbes on June 1, 2020
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