July 21, 2003 -- My column was finished three days early (that's a first!). Because I had some time before it was due, I sought the feedback of our staff. They blistered me. "Why are you writing a column on cronyism," asked our office administrator. "This is all about networking," I responded defensively. But, as I mulled over their comments, I realized they were right. I'd missed the mark. There are rewards to networking. There's value in staying in touch. It's fun to be involved. But networking has very little to do with a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" philosophy. It's not about the Godfather collecting favors. In fact, it's much more about you and the unconditional favors you do for others. In the mid 1970's, while in Chicago, I met a guy named Ted. At the time, he worked for a Southern California printer. Because we hit it off, we stayed in touch. In 1983 Ted was made president of a printing company in Minnesota. Why? Well partly because a Minneapolis business friend called me and mentioned he was looking for someone to lead one of his companies. I knew Ted was good at running companies. It was easy to suggest that they talk to each other. I had no idea whether or not Ted and my Minnesota acquaintance would hit it off, or even if Ted had the particular skills required for the position. I simply introduced two people to each other. That's the essence of networking. I called Ted as I was writing this article. We reminisced a bit about how much we've enjoyed what we do, mostly because of the people we've come to know. He also gave me some good ideas for the column. Networking has little to do with numbers, but it does have a lot to do with discernment. Do you choose the people with whom you want to network? Sure. You meet them by going to industry events, taking classes, joining associations. You come to know them by getting involved, interacting with them. It would be great to find someone who knows people you'd like to know, has experience you've yet to attain, offers knowledge that would help you. But this isn't just about what you need. It's also about what you can give. It's about relationships. Bottom line, Ted and I like the people we've come to know. We trust them to give us their best counsel and to keep their promises. We try very hard to give back more than we get. And, we both agreed, we've grown further in our careers than we ever could have dreamed of thanks, in large portion, to the people with whom we've had the good fortune to cross paths. Here are some guidelines to explore as you think about the people you know: It's OK to ask for the occasional referral. In fact, shame on you if you don't. But that's not the reason for your relationship. Look for a mentor, be a mentor. Enjoy what you do, don't be afraid to express your joy. Be available, be accessible. Be of value. Don't make a promise if it's just too big to keep. Be honest and trustworthy. Be willing to say, "I don't know." And above all, be yourself. I realize, now, why my first effort fell short. Networking isn't about getting work simply because you know someone. We're not talking about a good ol' boys' or girls' club. If that's your definition of networking, it's probably not working. Maybe this column isn't really even about networking, about filling your Palm with names. Sure, the more people you know the more you're likely to sell. But we're talking about something bigger than that, something almost altruistic. We're talking about opportunities. I'm convicted that by creating authentic opportunities for others, you create them for yourself. I'm finally completing my revised column (which now is going to be one day late) by scribbling on the back of a manila folder over a solo dinner in my favorite Chinese restaurant. I'm rewriting it with thanks to the folks I work with and to Ted for having the guts to give me honest feedback. And, as if to add credence to the input of friends, I've just finished reading my cookie fortune. It says - and this is the absolute truth: A wise man knows everything. A shrewd one, everybody. Our careers are not about networking. Our careers are about people.