Networking a Soft Science? Only to College Professors!

Recently, I had lunch with the president of a Southern California University along with his dean for the School of Business. We spoke about many things but, specifically, he wondered what I thought the school could be doing better to teach students graduating from his university. My answer was easy–“start teaching courses on networking, social capital and/or emotional intelligence.”

He asked me why.  I told him that if you ask the average business person or entrepreneur what one of the most important ways to build his or her business is, he or she will almost always tell you “networking or word of mouth.” So if networking is so important, why aren’t we teaching it?  I told him that social capital (which is the study of resources developed through personal and professional relationships) and emotional intelligence (sometimes called EQ for emotional quotient) are key factors to the successful interaction of people with one another.  I suggested that often people may get hired because of their IQ, but they get promoted because of their EQ.  All of these subjects have a strong influence on someone’s success and there is a wealth of research being developed in each of those areas.

The president looked to his dean for the School of Business and asked him what he thought. The dean looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “My professors would never teach that material here.” I asked him why and he said, “It’s all soft science.”

Soft science! Teaching people how to interact with people in an effective way is “soft science!” I should not have been surprised. I’ve run into this many times before with college professors in the past. I was just amazed that this progressive university would take such a position.

We give people bachelor’s degrees in marketing, business and even entrepreneurship, but we teach them hardly anything about the one subject that virtually every entrepreneur says is critically important to his or her business–networking and social capital. Why don’t business schools teach this subject? I think it’s because most business schools are made up of professors who’ve NEVER owned a business in their life. Almost everything they’ve learned about running a business they’ve learned from books and consulting. Well, I’ve read a fair number of books, I was a consultant for many years, and I’ve run my own business for more than two decades. I can tell you firsthand that if you haven’t actually owned a business, you have a handicap in teaching a course involving entrepreneurship.

Can you imagine a law course taught by someone who’s not an attorney, or an accounting course taught by anyone without direct accounting experience? Yet we put business professors in colleges to teach courses related to marketing and entrepreneurship with little or no firsthand experience in the field. Is it any wonder, then, that a subject that is so critically important to business people would be so completely missed by business schools? Of course not. Networking and social capital courses aren’t taught in business schools because most business professors aren’t practitioners. They don’t really understand the importance of this subject for entrepreneurs. Granted, there was little written in the field of networking and social capital 20 years ago (do a literature search. You’ll see), but that is not the case today. There are hundreds of articles and many books on various facets of the area. A thorough bibliography of many of these articles and books can be found in the back of The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret (Revised Edition).

Networking is a field that is finally being codified and structured. Business schools around the world need to wake up and start teaching this curriculum. Schools like any large institution are bureaucracies, so it’s unlikely to happen quickly; however, for those schools with vision, foresight and the ability to act swiftly (sort of the way business professors claim that businesses should act), they will be positioning themselves as leaders in education by truly understanding and responding to the needs of today’s businesses. These schools will be on the cutting edge of business education to better serve their students while positioning themselves as a leading institution for entrepreneurs.

Word-of-mouth marketing works. Social capital is critically important. And networking is the mechanism to develop both. As more universities and colleges open their doors to professors who want to include this strategy with their marketing instruction, we’re going to see a major shift in the business landscape. We’ll see emerging entrepreneurs who’ll be equipped with another strategy for success in business. We will see networking utilized at its fullest capacity, and we will see business schools actually teaching a subject that the business practitioner says is important.

If that doesn’t happen, the private sector will once again step up to the plate and fill the gap for the lack of practical education provided by universities. Just look at sales training. Colleges totally miss the boat on this subject which has created an “after degree” market in sales training done by people like Brian Tracy (briantracyuniversity.com). I predict the same will happen for networking and referral marketing with organizations like the Referral Institute (referralinstitute.com).

By the way, at the end of the conversation during that lunch, I asked the dean about courses on leadership.  I said, “How are courses on leadership any less of a soft science than networking?”  He didn’t have an answer. What a surprise.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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