I like reading Robert Crampton’s regular feature Beta Male in The Times Magazine on Saturdays. His brutally honest, self-deprecating, slightly quirky take on life as a chronic under-achiever is amusing and a constant reminder not to take life too seriously. I therefore read his other articles and features on a broad range of topics when I come across them. I was intrigued when he took vehement exception to Richard Stromback – who he described as “a venture capitalist and new technology guru sometimes called the best-connected man in the world” – apparently saying that:
- networking as a means of career advancement is dead
- making a good first impression on a potential boss is overrated
- seeking to meet influential or like-minded people — that’s overrated too.
Crampton’s snippet goes on, in true Crampton style, to expose why Stromback’s views are best ignored by those of us who are not (yet) as wealthy and well-connected as Stromback.
As ever, I was entertained by his thoughts but wondered how accurately he was representing Stromback’s views. I could easily imagine someone like PewDiePie – the 25 year old vlogger who makes £2.6m a year playing video games – might advocate these views, but not a 46 year old venture capitalist with a reputation for being the “unofficial expert on the Davos party scene”.
It just didn’t stack up so I decided to try and find the original comments.
Crampton’s article didn’t quote a source apart from attributing the views to Stromback but I thought I was fairly safe with an HBR article posted by Greg McKeown less than two weeks before Crampton’s piece entitled “99% Of Networking Is a Waste of Time”. Reading this it seems to me that Crampton may indeed have been guilty of misrepresentation. McKeown’s opening paragraph included a Stromback quote that seemed to directly contradict Crampton’s piece:
It may be an overstatement to say that relationships are everything, but not a huge one. The people we spend time with largely determine the opportunities that are available to us. As venture capitalist and entrepreneur Rich Stromback told me in a series of interviews, “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They are attached to people.”
It’s true that McKeown goes on to feature apparently counterintuitive advice from Stromback including some that Crampton also took exception to, namely: “Don’t care about your first impression”. However if you read past the emboldened subheading you can better appreciate Stromback’s point: “Everyone gets this wrong. They try to look right and sound right and end up being completely forgettable….” The point is less “Don’t care about your first impression” and more “Be yourself. Be authentic.”
This example illustrates a, by now, well recognised danger of the citizen journalism that digital technology has enabled. The cacophony of voices on an open, global platform on which all opinions are presented as more or less equal, can make it hard to identify the authoritative expert.
Robert Crampton writing as a professional journalist for The Times should, you might think, have more credibility than an independent blogger whose knowledge of and personal stake in a storyline is unclear. However, if that blogger is Greg McKeown for example, his background as “business writer, consultant, and researcher specializing in leadership, strategy design, collective intelligence and human systems” automatically gives him more authority on this subject than Crampton, even without the added gravitas of the HBR banner.
So, the lesson for all of us as consumers of opinion pieces posted on the internet is to be able to recognise genuinely authoritative, if sometimes unconventional, opinion amid the tidal wave of mischievous, lazy or politically biased misrepresentation of fact.