I took one of those networking meetings this morning. It was unusual because someone was seeking my help and advice, not the other way around. I hope I didn't damage her career too much, and at the end of the meeting, I offered her a deal which I call The Mukherjee proposition.
Back in simpler times, when I was in business school, I was at an event where an alumnus - a successful and charismatic guy named Mukherjee - proposed to the assembled MBAs a bargain. He offered each of us one free networking pass, he would call anybody or connect us to anybody he could one time, as long as we came back and offered the same bargain to future students. And then he said something odd. He claimed that very few of us would take him up on this offer. Not that we would ask him for a favor and never pay it forward, but rather that we would never take him up on the favor in the first place.
So far I haven't called Mukherjee, and I'm pretty sure that very few of my classmates have either. Indeed, I have taught a few classes and spoken to some groups where I offered this deal, and I have had very very few takers. As a marketer, I'd be fired for this kind of response rate. Why is it so hard to give away free help?
I guess some people might feel that the obligation to make the offer to future generations is too much, but it's not really verifiable or enforceable. My main theory is that the problem is that the phrasing of the offer "I'll make one call for you" adds some anxiety to the process. If they get just one shot, they'd better make it good. Like the get out of jail free card, some people might be tempted to hoard it. Unlike the card, the longer you wait, the less likely it seems you are to call in the favor because it feels more remote or that the person offering might not remember you.
Older and wiser now, I realize that if I had taken Mukherjee up on his offer in a reasonable time-frame, I probably would have been able to ask him for additional favors after building a bit of a relationship. So I try to pay it forward and offer up the bargain whenever I can. I wish I could redesign it to make it more likely to be used, but I'm concerned that if I offer a blank check, somebody will cash it. Maybe next time, I'll add an expiration date to the offer.
Until then, hit me up on linkedin. I'm still good for the original Mukherjee proposition.