Virtual (and real) Friends: Importance of Authenticity

A common mistake people whom I mentor make is thinking that it’s them — and not their big-deal job, the company they work for or the access to others they possess — which is attracting people to them. Granted, sometimes true, authentic friendships are forged in business, but I’ve worked with people again-n-again that take it personally when people have no time for them once their connection with that big deal job ends or the incentive for others to come after them dissolves.

Same thing happens virtually. This is increasingly problematic as more people invest their personal value into blogs, podcasts, vlogs, social networks and other places where seekers congregate. Instead of people being attracted only to those in big deal jobs or with big deal or hot companies, it’s now increasingly your big deal value or thought leadership attracting others.

For example, I’ve had people connect with me and “pick my brain” over some initiative they’re undertaking. I enjoy these connections and often receive considerably more than I give. But I have a finite amount of time each day and I charge top tier hourly rates for that time. When people ask me how long it took me to learn all of the stuff I know about technology, media and the internet, my reply is, “more than 25 years.” I’ve been doing this all of my adult life and I can give all of my time away for free…but it has tons of value and I’m not a non-profit.

I’ve been with wildly successful companies and had big deal jobs within them. It was actually fairly easy to discern who had inauthentic and spurious motives or who I was actually connecting with as a human being. For the former, I’d be gracious but not personally engaged. For the latter, I still have friends from my first tech sales job that I talk to frequently.

Since I’m pretty outgoing and gregarious, I seem to connect with others that are the same. Because of the acceleration in internet connections you and I are living in today, I’m now connected with people at every level (from programmer to CEO) all over the world. Much to my delight I have four or five discovery or exploratory conversations and meetings every week. Most of these happen virtually and it’s getting harder to discern the authentic people from those just interested in sucking me dry of knowledge without giving anything in return.

What’s intriguing to me is that the number of people interested in “picking my brain” (for free) is going up. Sometimes there’s reciprocity (they give me value back, engage me in online forums or other quid pro quo value exchanges) but much to my surprise the number of one-way value transfer (me to them) is rising fast. Much more so than I’ve ever experienced in meatspace life — over a long and varied career — and is disturbing (NOTE: some of the coming-out-of-the-woodwork people leapt forward in a huge way after I published the free “Rise of the Participation Culture” report).

I’ve wondered why this is…and whether I’m too open as a person, too giving, and too willing to help. Maybe. Or possibly it’s that my old nickname, “Idea Boy”, is starting to get found out in virtual space (in every exchange I have with people, my synapses fire like crazy and the ideas just appear in my brain and then pop out of my mouth). Or perhaps it’s that virtual, I’m-probably-not-gonna-meet-him-in-real-life distance that gives people license to be takers rather than givers?

For those of you who are takers…if you only take and don’t give, I guarantee that your reputation for that behavior will come to haunt you as time goes by. You won’t even know how many opportunities, possible assistance and other benefits you miss out on since you’ll never even be aware of them. It’s funny how the universe, karma or whatever you believe works for those who are positive and are givers.

Here’s my mentoring advice for those of you trusting, giving souls who are side-by-side with me pushing against the membrane of the future and trying to connect with other thought leaders doing the same: just be a teensy bit cautious as you act and position yourself online as a trusting, authentic and giving participant in the accelerating internet sphere.

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  1. Mario Gastaldi on December 24, 2006 at 9:08 am

    Steve, we met in Boston – CTC 2006 – some months ago.

    How do not agree with your thinking about this issue!
    Sometimes it is strikingly true how takers take advantage of the passion people put in topics they master….

    Have a Nice Christmas!

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.