Don’t network.

I was recently invited by my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, to speak at student orientation for the incoming MBA students. As I thought about what to say, I realized that one of the most important lessons that I had learned since graduating was that you don’t always have to follow conventional wisdom to succeed in life.

For example, I have always revolted (even if it was silent and within my own head) when given the advice to network. I just could never see the point in spending time making lots meaningless connections.

When faced with the prospect of a “networking event” I “should” attend my face would involuntarily go something like this (grimace).

This clearly has me in the minority. That said, my career and my life are interesting and fun. I have never wanted for lack of a meaningless connection.

My advice to those incoming MBA students : Don’t network (it’s relationships that matter).

Don’t network into meaningless relationships with colleagues who bore you – find the people who can make you laugh all night, who light up your mind and light up your heart. Surround yourself with people who make the time fly by.

It is relationships with people that make a successful career and a successful life.

Think about the things that have come along and made a difference in your life. For me, that is always tied to a person. Meeting my husband. My friend John recommending me for a job out of MBA school (we had laughed all night). Writing a recommendation for a friend named Cindy in whom I believed (we had heady debates). It’s always someone I know, really know. Not a meaningless connection.

To tie this back to the high tech world, it seems to me there is a lot of networking that goes on in selling these days. What if we stopped worrying about having tons of “connections” and instead started really listening to what our customers really need? I suspect we would all benefit in myriad ways. Imagine responding to genuine needs of a community vs. self-centered selling based on only the desire to make a profit. True relationship building is part of the first while shallow networking is part of the latter. For this un-networker, one of those surely sounds better.

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