Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Book Report: The Virtual Handshake

Whenever someone starts to talk about networking, the computer geek in me assumes they mean something having to do with TCP/IP. To most people, though, that means tracking and growing the relationships you have with different people. For most of my professional career, I've equated this practice with going to bars in groups of people you hardly know that only talk to you long enough until they can figure out way to exploit your skills to do their bidding. Obviously, I've had a bad attitude about it and much to my detriment.

What changed my way of thinking was reading David Teten and Scott Allen's excellent book The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors And Closing Deals Online. Since then, I've broadened my network far beyond what I had before and did so from the comfort of my desk (and one trip to a Chipotle in Austin, TX). While I'm not exactly ready to leave HP over this epiphany, I'm involved in a lot of things I wasn't before that have opened side opportunities that weren't possible with my previous mindset.

The book opens with a discussion of what your personal network really is and comprised of. David and Scott break this down into 7 key pieces (I paraphrase their work below):
  1. Character - Your integrity, clarity of motives, consistency of behavior, openness, discretion, and trustworthiness.

  2. Competence - Your ability to walk your talk; your demonstrated capability.

  3. Relevance - The Acquaintance's value to you, defied as their ability to contribute to your goals.

  4. Information - Data that you have about the Acquaintance.

  5. Strength - The closeness of the relationship, broadly grouped as strong or weak.

  6. Number -How many people you have in your list of ties (family, close friends, people you've worked with a long time) and weak ones (everybody else).

  7. Diversity - Heterogeneity of your network by geography, profession, industry, and hierarchical position.
This is all covered in the first two chapters of the book, but I spend a lot of time on it here because it not only provides a framework for the other chapters, but when I applied this analysis on my own career it had a pretty profound effect on me. What I realized was that I had a bigger network than I thought I did, despite never actively "networking" per se. However, I had pretty pitiful diversity outside my employer of the last 14 years. These two chapters did what every good book should do: made me want to read the rest of it.

The remainder of the book explains different ways to expand improve your network using virtual tools (hence the title). There's a section on social software that covers things like email lists, social networking sites, virtual communities, and blogs. My favorite of these, and a focus of Scott's now with his website, pointed me to LinkedIn. I had a LinkedIn profile for awhile, but I wasn't really doing anything with it. Using advice from the book I found old college friends, people who had left HP and started their own thriving businesses, and even people inside HP I simply hadn't thought about in a long, long time.

The my other favorite part entitled "You Are the Virtual You"gives great advice on how to present yourself online to maximize effectiveness. Specifically, the discussion of signatures was enlightening for me. I had been signing posts in discussion groups or comments on others blogs with:


I then graduated to:


Before finally realizing that this was much better:

Pete Johnson Chief Architect

Personal Blog:

The first signature says nothing and, accordingly, did nothing for me. The second one gave me some base blog traffic when I wrote something decent on blog comments and discussion groups. On one techie site in particular, I saw a 10-fold increase in traffic to my blog when I changed from the second version to the third based on the credibility my job title gives me that I wasn't exposing before.

Those are the biggest things I took away from The Virtual Handshake, but there's plenty of other suggestions in there that anybody can use to their advantage. We live in an increasingly virtual world and being able to navigate it effectively to maximize opportunities in your real world existence is something everyone can use.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 11:06 PM   3 comments


At 5:28 AM, Blogger Chris Carpinello said...

I've had a similar epiphany about networking after reading Keith Ferrazzi's "Never Eat Alone". Between reading this blog entry and being a regular reader of Scott Allen's blog, The Virtual Handshake has moved from shortlist to Amazon order.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Wendee said...

I stumbled onto this post via LinkedIn, in my typical meandering way. I echo Chris's comments! I teach business identity/communication for designers and have students read and digest "Never Eat Alone" (no pun intended). I've been wanting to find additional material - perhaps an alternate or supplemental book, and will be picking up this one based on your review. Thanks for this book report. I appreciate your insight, and look forward to reading the others.

So ... does the fact that your other posts appeal to me prove that I am indeed (still) a nerd? I wear that badge with honor. I'm really enjoying working through your posts.

Design Consultant and recovering Rocket Scientist

At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people will start thinking about networks as being friends or co-workers. I attended a course that made me think about how long I had been on this Earth and how many people I have really known. Age has some advantages. :)


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