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 ( I predict the same will happen for networking and referral marketing with organizations like the Referral Institute (

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!

18 thoughts on “Networking a Soft Science? Only to College Professors!

  1. Ivan hits the nail in the head with this article. It is amazing to me how incredibly bright individuals come into the work force without the slightest clue about how to behave around people. It’s so common to see the great workers watch others who don’t contribute as much getting promotions, just to sit there bitterly complaining about it. You may be a great “worker bee” but without those much needed people skills, you may just be confined to being the greatest working bee for a looong time.

    Great article Ivan!

  2. Great article Ivan. When I left the coaching profession I used the principal of word of mouth advertising. I went into the insurance profession with the idea I could talk to many of my ex players and ask them for other people I could talk to that might need my services. I build a large client base with that tool. It worked a lot better than cold calling. Now with my BNI groups I stress the Givers Gain attitude and help one another succeed. It is by far the best marketing tool in existence. I can understand why college professors would not be able to teach it. Thanks.

  3. Dr. Misner has really hit home here, it is unfortunate that some Educators can’t see outside the typical paradigm and look to what challenges business owners today are facing. I guess that is why I am so involved with BNI and recommend it to every client I talk to. After working for several years in industry sales, some employers spend a lot of money on training when what they really need to do is utilize a {Sales training organization }called BNI. Not that BNI is totally a sales training organization but one 3 hour session at Member Success Program 2.0 and I would of paid around $1000 for the training I received that day. Today, I am a Director in BNI Eastern, Central and Southwestern Wisconsin and feel that the ability to grow as a professional and business owner with all of the support and training we get from BNI and the Region is invaluable and equivalent to an advanced degree which could easily be several high level courses offered at a University. Dr. Misner and his vision for the growth of BNI is remarkable and I would challenge other University officials to think outside the box. BNI is a vehicle business owners are using to grow their businesses and help their employees evolve. Great work Ivan!

    Can’t wait for your next article,

    Ron Miller
    Madison, Wisconsin

  4. Great article Ivan, and Ron is right on! I have been in my BNI chapter for almost 6 years. I had a 1 to 1 with another member this morning and we were discussing the benefits of membership. The growth in our businesses was certainly a factor, but the training (mostly through structure) was more than worth the price of dues! I’ve seen many members that could barely speak to a group become “networking animals”! Their people skills and communication abilities have improved dramatically, and this is all due to the processes put in place by Dr. Misner’s organization. As Ivan said, if the business schools don’t do it, the private sector will step up, and they already have! Thanks Ivan!

  5. Hi Ivan, The best article I have yet read on the subject of networking, word of mouth and referral marketing. You are right on the mark with your statements on some of the most important aspects of business and social communication.

    I believe you cannot start early enough teaching networking, people and leader skills in children’s development, from very soft teachings at a primary stage, to a more comprehensive professional level for students.

    I was commissioned some years ago to conduct a workshop on networking and people skills to unemployed senior IT executives and managers, who were seeking to get new jobs or starting their own consultancies and going into other businesses. I was very shocked that most the delegates, many of whom had several degrees to their name, were so poor in their basic people skills and professional and social networking.

    There was a general great reluctance with most delegates to see the need in proactively meeting people and building relationships. The classic mistakes were also being made by delegates on talking about themselves too much with minimum interest in the people they were meeting.

    It was interesting that in the workshop feed back, ALL delegates stated that the subject matter on networking and people skills was a MUST factor that had to be included in all school and university courses.

    I was very gratified to hear from many delegates that their new founded networking and people skills had helped them to win new jobs, successful start in business, with many of them also stating it also greatly improved their family and social relationships.

    Not bad from sharing basic, common sense ideas that should have been taught many years ago.

    This article is a “Mini Classicâ€? Ivan and I will copy and retain it for future best reference.

  6. This article by Ivan hits at the absolute heart of why so many business owners fail in their first two years. They beieve, probably because their university professor has told them, that they are accademically qualified to run a business without actually understanding any of the fundamental personal skills that are required. “Soft ” they may be , but they are absolutely essential and any business person believing that they do not need to master these is doomed to failure.

    The reality is,that even in this advanced technological age that we live in, people still do business with people, and more importantly, with people that they like.Often , building a relationship takes time and again some people seem reluctant to invest the neccessary effort to establish a meaningful base on which to build. Again they are missing the point, looking for a quick fix will rarely bear fruit and will seldom reap long term benefits which are generally the most profitable for any business.

    I recently read a terrific article by Sir Ken Robinson suggesting that schools were killing creativity in children, I also believe like Ivan , that they are also doing a great disservice to our children by not teaching them the importance of developing strong networking skills.

    The upside of all this is, of course, that BNI will continue to flourish around the world, wherever people want to develop and grow their businesses.

  7. Just recently I had a very similar conversation with the Dean of the Business School where I earned my Master of Business Administration degree. The Dean asked me what I thought the Business School could be doing to give the graduating students a competitive advantage. When I said include “networking and word-of-mouth marketing” as a component of the courses being taught, I received a less-than-enthusiastic response. Being both a BNI Executive Director for the Shenandoah Valley in VA and an adjunct instructor at our local Community College, I know the importance of networking and word-of-mouth marketing and I teach it to my students in my Small Business Management classes. I left with the Dean a copy of Dr. Misner’s book Business by Referral. It is my hope that the Dean has read or will read this book and begin to bring the Business School courses into the 21st century. My community college students are already there!

  8. It is such a shame that it is not taught because in business and in life, you only function through communication. I find it facinating that courses are taught on body language, yet that is not a “soft-science.”

    The ability to interact with individuals whether it be through networking or another face-to-face platform is essential for any individual to succeed in business and in life. Learning how to ask for what you want and overcoming the awkwardness of “small talk” is things I believe most individuals wanting to succeed are looking for. They are essential tools in your buisness arsenal.

    Great article and again showing there is a need for such programs.

  9. WELL SAID!!! With an undergraduate degree and an MBA in Business I have had to unlearn much of what I was taught in order to be a successfull small business owner. In business schools, students are taught how to run multi million/billion dollar companies through the “case method”. Small businesses do not have the same resources available to them and when people come out of school to start a business they begin to run their zero revenue company like a multimillion dollar company and obviously the resources are not there and thus… The staggering failure rate of start up companies. How you grow a fledgling company with a limited or non-existent advertising budget is via Word of Mouth not by investing thousands of dollars in Marketing and Advertising. Let’s generate some word-of-mouth around teaching word of mouth to those who are responsible for paying the largest percentage of taxes in the country – Small Business!!!

  10. Great article Dr. Misner! After reading this article, It is fair to say that ” those who can do, and those who can’t teach”

  11. Great article, Ivan. I’m sure many would agree that even when colleges do recognize and begin teaching basic networking skills, they will be unable to provide an environment for students to practice and hone those skills. How effective is education without results-driven systematic application?

    Networking companies, like BNI, will continue to flourish because their goal is to educate members AND provide a friendly environment to practice and perfect those skills.

  12. It’s frightening that our institutions of higher education are so far behind the real world! Is it any wonder that so many entrepreneurs fail within the first five years? What can we do to change this? I would love to get your article into the hands of the business school at the University of Massachusetts. I have built my business on networking. It’s been five years since I started, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I would be working for someone else today if I had to rely on print advertising to get new clients. Students are paying high tuition to learn saleable skills. They deserve to know how to network effectively.

    Beth Sobiloff

  13. Fantastic article! As a to be PhD student, the thought of professors aloof about reality always scared me. Soft science….gee…networking can be easily quantified just by breaking down to actions and keeping track of their results as much as possible. If networking is such a soft science I guess lots of social sciences should be not taught as well. Thank you for the great article!

  14. “Soft Science’ is no excuse. Advertising and branding for all of history can be categorized as a soft science since there is not necessarily a 1:1 correlation between outlay and income. Skills that get results are what is necessary in any market. Whether it be networking, Internet Marketing, Social Media, Product Branding, or “what have you”. Unfortunately most academics have a very myopic view of the world that filters out a lot of practicality in favor of theory.

  15. You make a valid point here Dr Misner. In fact, this was one of my main concerns about working on my PhD at a traditional university. However, after extensive research, I found a true leader in education where I am currently studying. They have allowed me to build my survey instrument through mediums such as BNI (piloted study) and LinkedIn where I hope to prove this medium to be an even more powerful tool to collect both qualitative and quantitative research data when I report my results in my dissertation later this year. Both of these methods for data collection have been scrutinized but my results so far are proving that both social media and networking can be great places to collect meaningful research that contribute additionally to theory, while helping solve a real world business problem. Isn’t that what undergrads, MBA’s, PhD’s, etc are supposed to do, solve problems? Perhaps, more traditional universities should step outside their silos and take a lesson or two from some of the less traditional schools (those that many also scrutinize). Whether they want to admit it or not these less traditional schools in my opinion are producing more meaningful studies and contributions to the field “Business” and others, by having students and faculty that think outside the box with real world experience. None of that I read it from a book crap! Like you mention, someone has to start somewhere and I would like to believe that online and non-traditional schools (both accredited) will be the ones do so. Your thoughts? Let’s face it… You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it, unless they are dying or you prove that they are in need of the water. Thanks for sharing

  16. Actually, the director of a graduate-level program training students in the work my business does has a specific emphasis on networking. She urges them to join professional groups and she takes them with her to regional meetings.

    I’m planning to approach her in the near future about hiring interns from her program. One of the benefits I hope to offer her is the promise that I will take interns to meetings of the various groups I frequent, buying them breakfasts and lunches and introducing them to people there. If business faculty are not teaching these skills to undergraduate and graduate students, then those of us who hire interns from their programs should make an effort to model networking habits while the pups are in our employ.

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