Monday, May 21, 2007

ROI (Return on Influence)

There is nothing new here folks. Actually as time goes by I find fewer and fewer original ideas. This is particularly true for technology. Names change, underlying physics stays the same. The reason it is on my mind is not because it is a new concept that I can exploit for my personal gain, it’s because it is a very old concept undergoing a technology upgrade. Interestingly enough, like most technology upgrades, it makes networking faster, more convenient, easier to do and more impersonal. The later really bothers me in this case.

For the first 100 years social networking was constantly on the rise. We were joining and contributing to more and more organizations and groups. Over the last 25 to 30 years this trend has reversed. Look at this proof; Organizational membership is on the rise, but attendance at meetings has dropped 58%, having dinner as a family has dropped 33%, having friends over has dropped 45%. Working from home is on the rise. And we are unhappier for it. Clinical depression has grown ten fold over the last thirty years to what many consider is at an epidemic level. Younger people are unhappier than older people. This too is a reversal in historic trends. (Bowling Alone, Robert Putman)

As a sales person using an index card file as their Rolodex, it required effort. The sales person made an investment in every person they entered. I’ve actually never done this; when I learned excel the investment dropped to my level. The next phase was to get more impersonal by scanning a business card, no typing required, but the sales person normally still had to make physical contact to get the business card. Better yet, now the sales person can invite another person to their LinkedIn connections and let them enter the information no physical contact required. David Nour of Relationship Economics, The Des Moines Register, Self Magazine and many other publications have all trumpeted the value of LinkedIn for networking. LinkedIn reached 10 Million users in April of this year. We can have hundreds of connections without actually getting directly connected with anyone. Now there’s a concept.

At work, IM (instant messenger) has even taken the place of the quick walk down the hall or fast phone call. I am always interested when employees IM each other two cubes away. I have been on IM exchanges when I finally had to tell the person “we should meet over this”. We send e-mail to blackberries or laptop computers to have instant access. We are better connected with our peers and counterparts then ever before. We know the names of more people, from more places than our parents would have even dreamed of knowing. "Rob Cross and Andrew Parker, in The Hidden Power of Social Networks, researched the factors that contribute to the effectiveness of the most successful executives, and discovered a consistent trait: successful executives not only had very large networks, which we might have supposed was a given, but more importantly, those networks were extremely diverse, involving people in many disciplines."

But we seem to have fewer real relationships. Many of us live in an urban environment where we don’t know much about our neighbors. We change jobs every few years. When we leave, we leave most of the relationships we built over our tenure there. When someone quits our employer or move away from the neighborhood we lose touch. We’ve got all the names and contact information. We just don’t make contact.

My parents were concerned about my social skills because I grew up in front of a television. The good news was that I needed to interact with other kids if I wanted to play team games (baseball, football, tag). Today many kids play games over the Internet. Home schooling and online education is growing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against any of this. I’m just curious. Humans are social animals. We seem to be evolving into less social animals.

At what point do we lose our desire, and hence our ability, to relate to each other has human beings. This is not an altruistic concern. People buy from people. People buy from people they trust. At what point do I start to lose the value proposition that is “me”? When does “me” become a commodity? Over a lifetime the ability to create and nurture meaningful relationships has a real ROI (Return on Influence). It is tangible and valuable. It is not manipulative.

Pick up the phone and call someone…

Intimate relationships cannot substitute for a life plan. But to have any meaning or viability at all, a life plan must include intimate relationships. - Harriet Lerner

No comments: