Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Book Review: Never Eat Alone

I just finished the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and recommend it as a good read. The book is predominantly about networking. While it is not everyone's favorite topic, I think the book offers advice that is more valuable than the standard "it's all about who you know." I look at the book as being more motivational as it discusses goal setting and has a number of examples of determined people succeeding against the odds.

Ferrazzi begins the book by talking about his humble beginnings in Pennsylvania and tracks his educational and professional background. He writes about how early on his father recognized the doors that strong connections with powerful people could open up professionally and in education. After college Ferrazzi became the Chief Marketing Officer for Deloitte Consulting and Starwood Hotels before taking a job as CEO of YaYa Media and opening his own consulting firm.

Never Eat Alone attempts to draw distinctions between the smarmy bunch of hyper-networkers who fail to foster deep connections with contacts they meet and the people who can effectively use their network to further their career. The former group of people are painted as the one-sided used car salesman types who come off as fake and hand a business card to anyone who will speak to them. The later group of people are described as poised to grow their network and potential for professional success.

This book begins with a section on goal setting and how to create a three-tiered plan to help you end up where you want to be professionally. As the book goes on, the author fills in details of how he got where he is. While I think the advice is generally point on, I do have some important caveats for people who thinking about reading the book:

First, the author attended Yale and Harvard Business School, two of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. He repeatedly touts the idea of relying on your University alumni network to get new leads and business confidants. Ivy league aside, if you went to a small private university, smaller state university, or no university at all this isn't going to be very helpful for you. In my opinion, the single most valuable skill that an ivy education gives you is not a skill at all -- it's access. Ivy graduates immediately have a shared talking point and network to many of the rich and elite which can help open doors that others simply do not have access to.

Second, some of the tactics the author uses for networking and meeting specific people seem borderline stalker-ish to me. This may be because I'm not a person who is extremely outgoing or a person particularly attracted to sales. I don't see anything wrong googling someone you intend to meet or otherwise doing some research but thinking up elaborate plans to place yourself in positions where you just so happen to bump elbows with someone just to say you have met with them seems a bit much to me.

Third, there is a good portion of the book devoted to name dropping and chest thumping about how impressive Ferrazzi's list of associates and contacts is. If you have a low tolerance for this sort of thing you may want to consider looking elsewhere for reading material.

Caveats aside, Never Eat Alone is a worthwhile read. The book has solid tips, suggestions and strategies for navigating conferences, attracting other connected people, and mastering small talk. Another major plus is the book is a relatively fast read. The material is not very dense or dry and you can get from front to back in a reasonable amount of time.

Let me know if you have any other good business, finance, or other books to read you recommend.