Sunday, January 13, 2013

Profitability In A Facebook Economy (Why You Can't Afford To Be Antisocial)

Today, people do business with their friends. Friends are a known commodity. Strangers may have the technical skill but are un-trusted - unless highly recommended through word-of-mouth.

At a coffee shop I overheard this conversation:

"So what are we going to do for dinner tonight?"

"I don't know, I'm sick of Chinese."

"After this next interview, let's just get out of here. We have to check the house."

The walls have ears, and those ears in the coffee shop were me: Was this a couple I was listening to, or the co-owners of a computer repair business?

From the sound of it, the answer was "both."

The concept of "the clubhouse" is as old as time. As little kids we built them literally, or turned back-to-back chairs into living room forts. High school kids form cliques, that morph into tribes. Friends become romantic partners, then live-ins, and sometimes marriage. Men withdraw to man-caves and other female-free hangouts; women go to coffee, lunch and the mall. Mother and daughter - shopping partners, confidantes, friends.

But in the past we did not go into business so incestuously.

Sure we had work connections. We segmented ourselves into mini-groups of allies. Like on the show Survivor, we would physically keep watch and mentally watch each others' backs, because nobody can survive alone.

That same dynamic is even more intense now.

In the past - unless you were in a family business - there was an invisible line. There was "work" and "home," "my professional self" versus "my family self," and "me." There used to be "work spaces" and "eating out spaces" and "home."

Now it's all one big blur.

Our workmates are our friends. Not only for professional survival. But actual friends.

Our friends become our roommates, our business partners, co-parents.

Our homes are partially workspaces, and work happens everywhere, anytime and all the time. Before bed, and the minute you wake up: check the email.

Coffee shops are centers of commerce: I can't count the number of meetings and interviews I've seen take place at various Starbucks' and Paneras.

Our companies exist internally, in the mind: Everyone's a self-made success, the "CEO of my own life."

This isn't a social commentary. It's business advice: Introverts are at a vast disadvantage, because 75% of your professional capital rests on interactions with others.

Today, you need people - you must be able to listen to their words, read what they have written, get along with them on a team, socialize with professional contacts. Because each and every one has a wisdom or a skill or a connection you cannot possibly have mastered. A knowledge base you will never duplicate.

Physical strength - useful then, not so much now, mostly irrelevant.

Technical mastery - meh, it's alright. Computers can do almost everything.

The one thing computers cannot do now is socialize intelligently. Identify a range of data sources, human and mechanical - to develop the kind of insight that enables strategic navigation toward a focused goal.

And change the social grid as the focus changes.

The goal today is influencing people to the point where you are identified as an expert, and recruited to join a team. Normally temporarily.

(Power today is NOT overpowering people as in the past and then declaring acquiescence.)

The movies show genius like Russell Crowe in A Brilliant Mind - isolated man in an isolated workplace thinking isolated thoughts that nobody else can think.

The real genius is more like the stay-at-home mother. Who typically combines appointments, shopping, housecleaning and the like; homework/homeschooling; get-togethers with friends, family outings; PTA; telecommuting and/or freelancing; running her own business, selling real estate or catering, etc; studying for a certificate or degree; and helping husband or partner in his own business.

We are living in the Facebook economy - where the capital flows to professional friends.

(Photo by me.)