05/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Networking: Careful Use of Social Capital

I am currently writing a new book, The Skinny on Networking, and in preparation, I am reading every book I can find on the subject. One of the best is Keith Ferrazzi's, Never Eat Alone.

Ferrazzi's premise is that the way to build a network is to help everyone you can achieve their goals. In this way you create a group of people who are then going to want to help you. While that general idea is hard to dispute, I think he misses the mark when it comes to a use of social capital.

Here's a set-up from his book:

Ferrazzi wants to meet an important person in the entertainment world. Ferrazzi finds out that someone he knows (but barely) is friendly with this entertainment VIP. He asks the guy he knows to make an introduction. The guy refuses, telling Ferrazzi:

"Look, I only have so many favors I can ask this guy. I am not going to use one of those asking him to meet with you ... I need to preserve my favors."

Ferrazzi is not happy. He feels the guy he knew should have reached out to the VIP and made an introduction. I disagree.

I am all for helping people and agree with the general premise that this policy can help build a large network. But, I also feel that there are times when you must preserve your social capital.

Social capital is what you earn after you show people that you are honorable and trustworthy ... and deserving of their friendship. Social capital is hard to come by and should be expended judiciously.

The guy Ferrazzi asked for help said "no" because he wanted to preserve his social capital with the entertainment VIP. Was this wrong? I don't think so.

Lots of people were trying to get to the VIP. Ferrazzi barely knew the guy he asked to make the introduction. How about building up a little social capital with him first? What's more the guy who said "no," was protective of his friend (the VIP). He was not going to make an introduction for everyone who asked -- that was not fair to his VIP friend. And, finally, we can only impose on our friends for so many favors before we begin to wear out our welcome. The guy saying "no" made a judgment that the introduction to Ferrazzi was one favor he did not wish to ask for ... in my view, Ferrazzi should have walked away saying "thanks anyway, I understand." Instead, he made the point in his book to explain how the guy saying "no" never had a successful career anyway -- presumably because he didn't help when asked.

Jim Randel is the founder of The Skinny On book series - what many people are calling "unique reading experiences." His latest book, The Skinny on the Art of Persuasion, will be released in one week. Early reviews are outstanding.