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One of the things we bang on about in both networking and negotiation workshops is the need to get real information to help avoid bad decision making based on faulty data.

And I've just had a reminder of that lesson.

I'm at St Pancras station, ticking off the last few destinations for the 'book on train' project. As I stop for a coffee at well known franchise, it occurs to me that leaving one or two books on tables there might encourage finders to whisk them off to exotic locations.

I could easily just plonk a couple of books on tables and make my exit, but wanting to ensure that staff won't just bin the book with other table waste, I think it prudent to try to get the manager 'on board'.

The manager listens attentively to my explanation of the project, and seems genuinely interested, but says she is unable to help. The reason, it seems, is an edict from Head Office which dictates that all tables must be cleared of all contents between customers: no exceptions.  So while the books might not end up in the waste bin, they would instead be collected up and stored in the crew room as 'lost property' (and doubling as reading material for any member of staff keen to improve their networking skills...)

Digging a bit  further into the Head Office edict, I discover from the helpful manager that the same applies to all branches. Given that I'd previously been toying with the idea of  'seeding' books at other branches of the same chain, the fact that I've bothered to engage her in conversation about my project ends up saving me wasted time and effort, plus of course the value of the books themselves.

But there is, of course, the counter-argument which goes like this: "It is better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission." In this case, it has very definitely paid to ask.

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If you’ve read The Network Effect, or been to our workshops, you’ll know that we often send out our own postcards, printed with a thought-provoking proverb or quotation. We often see them on people’s noticeboards or desks – but imagine our delight when Sarah, who participated in a workshop we ran at Judge Business School in Cambridge back in 2008, sent us a photograph of a postcard she had received, framed and proudly displayed on top of the first desk she purchased after her return from postings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

As an aside, we would argue that the motto on this particular card – A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world (written by the novelist John Le Carré) – is especially appropriate in this age of digital communication. We certainly take the view that emails, tweets, and Facebook and txt messages just aren’t enough. You have to get out from behind your desk and network, face to face!

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Refreshingly, I’ve just got back from a meeting with someone who positively radiates energy. I’ve come away from too many ‘informal chats’ feeling drained, but this time I’m positive and hopeful that something will actually happen as a result of our conversation... but most interestingly, this guy’s business card includes his photograph. What people (and companies) choose to do (and not to do) with their business cards is a special interest of mine, and selecting examples from my ‘collection’ to use on page 141 of The Network Effect was a particular pleasure. Putting your photographs on your card is generally considered a bit tasteless (as my contact today fully realised) – but he also knew that the photo made him doubly memorable: literally, in that the photo acted as an aide memoire, and figuratively in that he becomes known as the guy with the unusual business card! I think he was right to take the risk – weighing up his gravitas as an experienced and capable interim with the risk of looking, at worst, a bit silly!

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Books have started surfacing. To recap, we've put specially labelled books on trains leaving London's King's Cross/St. Pancras stations and invited people to tell us where they found the book, and where they plan on leaving it (or did leave it) for the next person to find.

You can see the detail of each book's movements by following the project on Twitter @network_effect, but to date we have nine reports from seven books. With about 60 books placed so far, that's something around a 10% response rate.

So what's happened to the others? Worst case scenario is that train cleaners have trashed them, but the hope is that the rest of the books are being carried around by people who are reading them and enjoying them. Assuming a week or so to get through the 230 odd pages, I hope to be seeing more books surface in the next few days.

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It’s a mistake that many, many people make. They assume that everyone sees the world from the same point of view, their point of view.

For example, The Network Effect is clearly at the top of my list of priorities at the moment – I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, and want, quite naturally, to maximise its impact. I also genuinely believe that the book can help a lot of people. So I pick up the phone, late on a Friday afternoon, and call one of my contacts – a senior careers adviser at a top UK business school.

“What did you think of the book?”, I ask. “Brilliant”, she replies. “I haven’t yet read it from cover to cover, but I’ve dipped into it, and everything I’ve read is excellent.” I ask her if she could please put a review on Amazon for us. She pauses, and I jump in with “It needn’t be very long – just a couple of sentences would be fine.” And that’s when I feel I’ve slightly misjudged the situation. It’s Friday afternoon, and her hesitation should have warned me that she doesn’t want to add anything whatsoever to her ‘to do’ list. The book is in no way, shape or form as important to her as it is to me. Nor should it be. And I should have realised that before.

Although I try to take my own advice, and practice what I preach, I don’t always manage. In future, though, I’ll still ask for a review (if you don’t ask, you often don’t get, as the saying goes) – but I’ll keep well away from insisting on a favour.

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