Monthly Archives: July 2006

Networking and Keeping in Touch

Ever since I left Yahoo! 2 years ago, I’ve been asked numerous times about how I keep in touch with people post-Yahoo!. I would come back from a trip to LA or Europe or NYC and talk to people about how I saw this person or that person, and they would be amazed that I still knew them or was able to keep in touch with them over time and distance outside of our common factor, which would be our job at Yahoo!.
Keeping in Touch is Full-time Job…Sort of
It sometimes feels like a full time job, juggling contacts, and managing my calendar weeks in advance. It would even be nice to have an admin deal with all this! But as much time and effort as it can take, I don’t look at it as a job either. I know some people do, and there are “professional networkers” who do a lot of networking mostly for job related reasons. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I just think there is something deeper that we can enjoy about networking.
The Time Factor
Most people live in the here and now. You try to get them to nail down time in advance and it’s impossible. I have known people in the past who refused to hold a time with you in case SOMETHING BETTER SHOWS UP. How does that make you feel? Are you the most important thing in their lives?
In my role as world traveller, I have come to live by my calendar and strive for 100% compliance with it. I try to schedule things with people weeks in advance with people, since my travel calendar is already set for the next few months. I also try to remember when people want to get together with me so that I contact them later to catch up.
Sometimes I screw up though. I have missed meetings due to the complexity of my calendar and I really hate that. It doesn’t make me feel very efficient and I do my best to fill in the calendar immediately after setting something up.
Scheduling travel time is also a challenge. Knowing how long it takes to get from one place to another can be really tough. That’s another thing I hate: BEING LATE.
Time is valuable to everyone. I don’t like to waste other peoples’ time.
The Connection
I’ve read some books on networking for business. Sometimes I think they miss an essential human component to networking, which is the ability to connect with other human beings at a more deeper level than just for business.
I think people see right through you when you network for business. Your mannerisms, what you talk about, everything – it all says, “we should stay in touch because it may benefit us business-wise.” It never says, “Hey what a cool person – I enjoy just shooting the breeze here and it takes a load off to catch up.” In the past, I’ve had people network with me like that. I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but I think it could be much more.
Connecting with people on a deeper level is a skill. It shows your willingness to trust, to communicate, to share, to give and receive. It speaks to you opening up as an interesting human being rather than just looking for another business contact. I believe you can learn to do this, as I have had that experience just recently over the last few years. But I also see how some people have never learned that skill and seem to be unable to even get there. It’s really too bad.
I also believe it’s the real secret to keeping in touch with people in the long run. Why would you continually keep in touch with people who you really don’t care all that much about except to get something out of them?
You naturally want to hang out with people you like, and that you can CONNECT with.
Connection starts at the beginning. In my experience, sometimes you get it or you don’t. Sometimes it’s natural and sometimes it just doesn’t work. I don’t think it can be forced. But even within that, there is a wide grey area between the “natural connection” and the “there won’t be any connection at all now or in the future”. In general, first impressions can mean a lot so I would definitely put your best forward as early as possible. Otherwise, natural connections can be severed whereby they could have developed. I also believe that there are some people you just won’t connect with at all, and sometimes you just have to live with that and move on.
No matter what, connecting with someone makes the relationship that much more satisfying and incents you to connect more.
Value Given, Value Received
It almost pains me to talk about giving and receiving value in networking. It makes it sound so unnatural. Certainly in our society, we value connections at the human level and the giving and receiving of non-physical things like love and help and respect. We don’t hold in such high regard expections of physical or monetary gifts.
But I don’t think I could talk about networking without talking about what I get out of it.
So satisfaction and enjoyment from connecting with others is one great benefit we’ve talked about.
One value I like to receive is for the effort I put into trying to meet with people, over time I’d like to see it come back my way. It takes a lot of effort to schedule things, drive around and meet people, catch up and conversate, etc. At some point, sometimes it becomes more one way. I find that I am the one that constantly pursues meetings. I call or send out emails and sometimes I get no response. The best ones I get back are the “YES WHEN ARE WE MEETING?” emails or the energetic “THAT NIGHT WORKS LOOKING FORWARD TO IT” replies. It really makes me feel good to see/feel/hear that others are just as enthusiastic to meet up with me as I am to meet with them.
If I don’t get that back, over time I am less likely continue pursuing meeting up with that person. You know, life changes. People change. People get married and have other more important things occupying their time. Or they just stink as networkers and as connectors of people. It’s just the way of the world. However, the ones to really cherish are the ones that continually give you value as much as you give them value when you meet. They enjoy your company beyond just being a great business contact.
Networking in the Digital Age
Truly it’s easier now to keep in touch with people than before. In the old days, you’d have to use the phone. Now the digital age has made it so much easier to keep in touch and find people in your past.
My favorites:
1. Sending out that random email to someone I haven’t talked to in a while. Certainly email is the method of choice for non-real time scheduling of meetings and communication.
2. Trolling Yahoo! 360 or Linked-In for old acquaintances. Yahoo! 360 has been particularly good because of all the people I have known over the years at Yahoo!. Friendster sometimes works, but I’m not on it that often. Social networking sites are great for this kind of stuff.
3. Instant messaging works great! While working at Yahoo!, all my old colleagues were my Yahoo! Messenger friends. I just didn’t delete them when they left, so occasionally I’ll ping them to see what’s up.
4. My blog has been an unexpected source of connection with old acquaintances. I am constantly amazed by who reads my blog. Every now and then I’ll meet up with someone and they’ll say they’ve been following my exploits on my blog for months. Amazing! Makes me want to keep blogging!
Bottom Line
Networking takes time and effort. Connect with those you network with, when you can. Make networking fun and enjoyable rather than just another thing to do for work. Remember always that networking can lead to friendships and other rewarding relationships as well. It works the other way too, where friendships can lead to meeting more interesting people, valuable personally and professionally.
Relationships are natural and necessary for human beings so make the time and energy to meet and keep in touch.

Where Have All the White Headphones Gone?

About 2 years ago, I was on assignment for about 6 months in Europe. I was in London mostly, and there every other week, in addition to staying there for 5 weeks straight. It was a great experience as you never really know what’s like in a foreign country, unless you live there day to day for a while, go grocery shopping, walk the streets, and really be like someone who lives there.
So 2 years ago was early 2004. It was around the time the iPod was really taking off, and I was amazed at all the trademark white headphones I saw on the streets as people walked to work. I remember thinking about what a great branding design it was, to see all these white headphones everywhere. You knew immediately that this person had an iPod. No other MP3 players had such a distinctive headphone color. I also remember thinking about how dominant the iPod was in the market of digital music players and here was visible proof that the iPod was very popular amongst the masses.
Fast forward to summer 2006. I am walking the streets again of London. This time I am amazed at the lack of visible white headphones among the people. Truly the density of white headphones has dropped considerably. What happened?
Market reports show iPod sales are still strong, but then I remember reading an article that talked about the sheer number of competitive products out there, which was numbering in the 100s. It seems as though this had made a dent in MP3 players as other products came into grab some market share and Londoners had purchased other brands of players, as the number of headphones I saw was still high, but just not the usual signature white iPod headphones I saw 2 years ago.
It’s hard to retain market share when new products have entered the space. Apple has competed on design successfully with the iPod and its associated coolness with owning one, but when there are equally cool but different looking products out there, it’s tough to keep it up. As a designer, I shudder to think about the time when design itself can become commoditized in a particular category. When this happens, you need to start designing more personal products, those that target the individual and what makes him/her cool and not just an overall coolness about being associated with brand like Apple.
It will be interesting to see if the coolness of owning an iPod will continue into the future, and if Apple can keep producing the magic which makes consumers desire their products.

David Shen Ventures, LLC: Spread the Knowledge

I just started a company with which I will attempt to involve myself in startups. For simplicity, I have dubbed it David Shen Ventures, LLC.
Through advisorships with companies, I can give them the benefit of my 9 years of Yahoo! experience in creating businesses on the Internet. I meld that with my experience in design and believe that I can increase a company’s chance of success.
But one thing I’ve noticed being out here in the world for 2 years after Yahoo! – even after the Internet being around for about 11 years or so now, the broadness of knowledge still has not made it out of the walls of Yahoo! or Google. If you think about it, not many people have really left those companies until just recently. As a result, most of the companies don’t get the exposure to the breadth and depth of thought that occurs within those companies. I’ve always said that the most junior of employees at Yahoo! has still more knowledge about Internet products than the most experienced of another company. It has nothing to do with intelligence; smart people are everywhere. It has everything to do with experience and exposure to lines of thinking that you would never had seen unless you worked at a Google or Yahoo!.
As I get David Shen Ventures, LLC into operation, I find that there is a real desire of startups to learn the secrets of Yahoo! or Google. My hope is that I can truly add value to these companies, and to the industry in general, by exposing them to the thinking and experience that I had 9 years of immersion in.
I want to spread the knowledge. I want to share the wealth of the wisdom.
It’s been a positive thing for me; already I have 12 companies wanting me to join them. So much hunger for Yahoo! know-how…