- Phil Libin, the autocrat in charge of Evernote, could care less about the telephone. The former computer programmer has banished landlines from the company’s offices.
Want to talk to Phil or one of his people? Good luck. Better have a cell phone number. Or, be patient (or desperate) enough to click through a bunch of links and what-have-you that take you to…well, you get the idea.
Ironically, it’ll be relatively easy to mail Phil a note…provided you have a postage stamp and still know how to write. The company’s California snail mail address is in plain view. Maybe it’s meant to facilitate Amazon deliveries.
How does a rainmaker make it rain? How do these dinosaurs manage to walk into a room and suddenly, magically seem to own it…and leave with a satchelful of new clients?
First, there’s nothing sudden or magical about it. In all likelihood, it has taken:
- Years of hard work. Mike O’Horo, Malcolm Gladwell and lots of others have spoken about the years of constant practice it takes to master anything — including business development.
- Vulnerability. Along the way, that means kissing a lot of frogs. The typical rainmaker has become conditioned to dislike taking the hit (at least a little) and doing it anyway.
There’s more. And, sure, there are the exceptions, the tireless extroverts who edited the law review, thrive on rejection and delegate easily.
A silver bullet?
For now, however, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s no silver bullet. It’s not, as O’Horo and Dave Waldschmidt argue, about working smarter. “To grow your book,” Mike wrote, “you must get out there and compete.”
Which brings me to Frank Bruni and Phil Libin. The former writes for The New York Times, and the latter is the autocrat founder in charge of Evernote, a company that peddles note-taking and archiving technologies.
Mr. Bruni recently noted that under-25s had better pick more marketable college majors and get some help making the mountain of debt many take on look more like a molehill. Otherwise unemployment or underemployment in their ranks will continue to top 50 percent (according to the Associated Press based on 2011 data).
What he and his hundreds of commenters (as many as I had time to read) failed to mention, however, is that finding work also takes time, hard work and a bunch of flexibility. Especially the most rewarding kinds of work.
As for Mr. Libin, he boasts that he banished landlines on a whim when he set up shop in Mountain View, Calif., in 2008. (The company also has an office in Austin, Texas.) He says,
We thought, why do you really need a phone? If you have a phone at your desk, it’s just sitting there and you’re kind of encouraging people to talk on it. Everyone’s got a cellphone, and the company pays for the plans. There are phones in the conference room. We’re not a sales organization, so we’re not making a lot of calls, either. If you’re at your desk, you should be working. And that’s actually worked really well. I don’t think anyone misses phones. Even though it’s one big room, it’s actually fairly quiet because no one is sitting there talking at their desk. The culture very much is that if you want to talk, you go 10 or 20 feet in some direction to a quiet area.
Hey, I have news for anybody who buys the bit about we’re not a sales organization. We’re ALL sales organizations.
First, we all have relationships inside and outside the company with people we’d better be treating as if they were our customers…or, we’d better be OK kissing those relationships good-bye. And second, no one can express or accurately read the range of emotions it takes to sustain a relationship without hearing a voice and, even better, seeing a face…in person. At least occasionally.
Add these up and you get sales.
Ramping up to a point about competitive advantage
Banishing landlines — and the conversations that they nurture — is nothing new or surprising. Mr. Libin just happens to be one of the more flamboyant examples of the digitally cocooned of our times. (He also deploys a robot surrogate with telepresence when he’s not in the office.)
In a recent article, Sherry Turkle recounts a scene in a Boston law office described by a senior partner.
Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.
Ms. Turkle, an MIT professor and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, also notes that we “seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”
As Ms. Turkle notes, “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.”
The silver lining in this cloud (finally!)
In a world that texts and wears headphones (or earbuds), fortune favors the exception, anyone willing and able to pick up a phone and carry on a conversation.
So, that’s how. That’s how (OK, one of the hows) a rainmaker gets to be (and to stay) a rainmaker.
PS: If you have some thoughts about how, I’d love to know. Call me.