A professor explains why networking is a waste of time and what you should be doing instead

College freshmen are lectured about it on their first day of class. Young professionals race to one more boring party so they can be seen and shake hands with someone that might be able to help them — just like the business books and podcasts have instructed. Young musicians are chronically obsessed and depressed with their number of likes, views, and followers on their social media.

Today, for almost any definition of success we might identify, there is one common path to achieve it that is being shoved down our throats. That road to success is called networking. Networking is defined as the cultivation of relationships that can help us advance or move to a higher position. The message gained from this is that anything valuable in life which involves relationships — be it business, marriage, charity work or entertainment – is only attainable by networking.

There are serious problems with this single path to success. Of course, we do need others — “real” relationships and collaboration are so important. So how can we cultivate those, and bypass all the ineffective networking garbage?

The answer is serving.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Anybody can be great because anybody can serve.” Even music business super-manager, Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber) says: “Don’t live for yourself. That is too easy. You will gain nothing from that endeavor. Live for others…That is where you will find true riches in life.”

See, the “heart” of networking is rooted in selfishness, taking and using; while the great leaders all teach us that true success comes through serving — giving generously and loving others without reservation.

So what happens when you focus on serving instead of networking? Here are five key things:

1. Serving erases conflict

When your work is done with care, compassion, and humility — conflict evaporates. As a music business attorney, I sometimes find myself in tough negotiations with some pretty arrogant attorneys who cause our dealings to turn “heated” and get “personal”. Many of them tower over me with wealth, intellect and recognition — so it can be easy to get intimidated. But I have learned over the years to respond to them by serving, not by throwing more heat on the fire or putting on my boxing gloves. Humility, genuine interest, and compassion for my opponent are the mighty equalizers. With those, “my” heart changes toward them — “their” heart changes toward me — and the logjam is supernaturally removed — often immediately.

2. Serving creates purpose

When you work is centered on others — purpose is found. When my son Harrison turned 16, we handed down to him my Black 1989 Range Rover that we affectionately call “The Beast” — and he and I started talking about potential summer jobs that would help him pay for his gas and other costs. I began naming a few places he could apply: Chic-fil-A? “Boring.” How about that new Publix? “That would be really boring.” How about the Juice Bar. “Nah, kind of boring.” Finally, I stopped him. “OK, enough with the “boring.” I want to help you get a fresh vision and purpose for your first job. You must see this first job (and every job) as a place to serve others — not as a place for you to get your emotional needs met.” If you ask the question, where is a place that is filled with people that need me and need my gifts — then step into that place desiring to bring life and joy to customers and co-workers — then you will have a true purpose that enables you to get through the tough days at any job. It’s important to remember: There is no dream job, but serving can create purpose and contentment that can make the most difficult job feel like a dream. Oh, by the way, he nailed a job at Starbucks!

3. Serving creates value for you and for others

We live in a world where you can be famous for being famous. The popularity of social media faces like the Kardashians is misleading us. What have they created? What value have they brought to the world? So, it’s easy to buy into the promise that “If you want to attract new clients, or build something, you have to make yourself visible.” A few years ago I booked a flight to Austin to spend a week at the South By Southwest music festival — hundreds of bands — with my sole purpose of finding new band clients. I spent loads of money, handed out lots of business cards, shook hands and met so many people. I came back to Nashville and never received one single new client from that trip. What happened? On reflection, I realized I missed so many opportunities to love and serve others that week, because my focus was only on me, my needs, my business, not on the needs, brokenness, and businesses of those with whom I was rubbing shoulders. You see: “I was trying to make myself visible, SERVING is about making ourselves available.” Giving Value Lasts.

4. Serving creates a provision for you and for others

Serving gives and attracts while Networking takes and repels. “The Best Marketing Plan” for your product or business comes through genuine love, generosity, and care for others. When you build relationships on those themes — without strings attached — you open up a stream of a provision that flows both ways. I have given free legal work to a client who could not afford to pay and then watched him become my highest billing client a few years later. This is a spiritual principle on which you can stake your business, your relationships, your life. It never fails. The world calls it karma, but God calls it planting and harvesting.

5. Serving changes the world because it changes others

We all want to leave a mark. But sometimes our dreams seem so out of reach — they are beyond our education, beyond our age, abilities, resources and our networks. What is the key? Start small. When I start getting frustrated with my impact on the college campus where I teach, my wife Carol always reminds me: “It’s one student at a time.” Find someone who is lonely — someone hurting — shine a light on that person. Just change one. Then do it again. You don’t need a license to change someone, you just need to care.

In a world filled with hate and disconnection, SERVING astounds the world. A few months ago, the comedian Sarah Silverman did just that. She had a Twitter troll lash out at her with a strong hate remark. Instead of ignoring his bait or fighting back, she publicly tweeted back with compassion and concern for his emotional needs and back pain. Their conflict evaporated. And thanks to Sarah’s response, in short order, there were doctors lined up to help treat this man’s back disease.

Life moves pretty fast. We must make every conversation count.

Be real. Be truthful. Be sensitive to the needs of others! Our days are limited.

Mark H. Maxwell: Entertainment lawyer and music business veteran

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