Adrian Miller, founder of sales consultancy Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington, NY, says she’s always been a networker—but not always for her own good. In 2008 when the economy took a turn for the worse, Miller became nervous about the future of her business and went into extreme networking mode. “I started going to events morning, noon and night for five days a week hoping I would meet new clients,” she recalls. “I did it for months and was getting overwhelmed and just exhausted.”
On a vacation to Istanbul, Miller started thinking seriously about all the time she had committed to networking. She calculated how much revenue she’d gotten out of months of running around exchanging business cards and realized it was next to nothing. “When I saw I wasn’t getting a return on my time, I knew I had to get the compulsive behavior in check,” she says. “I had turned networking from a pleasant activity into a nightmare.”
While career coaches and success gurus expound on the virtues of networking—especially in a down economy—some professionals take it too far. Management and addiction specialists say they are seeing more people compulsively networking, obsessively growing the number of their connections online and wearing themselves out with little too show for it.
“Initially people want to promote their careers, but it can become obsessive,” says Dr. David Sack, an addiction psychiatrist and head of the Promises Treatment Centers in California. “Some people are looking for validation and recognition. It may be partly a self-esteem issue that gets gratified by numbers.”
Yet the compulsive pursuit of more and more connections will not ensure better networks. In fact, it will degrade them. “There’s an upper limit to the number of connections you can maintain of around 150 people,” says Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath, noting that many people too aggressively pursue initial connections without investing the necessary time to strengthen and maintain those relationships. “In whatever format, more than 150 and the relationships are impersonal and the connections are weak.”