Your network is your net worth. This is probably one of the most quoted sentences in business today, just as it should. After all, business growth is all about meeting the right people who can help you with your goals. There probably is no one who can attest to this more than the man called by CNN as the Father of Modern Networking, Dr. Ivan Misner. Notable as the Founder of the world’s largest business networking organization, BNI, Ivan sits down with Steve Farber to tell us his story of how he started the company and became an iconic global brand almost by accident. He shares the power that is in referrals and relationship-building through what he calls the VCP Process. Breaking the mold when it comes to networking, Ivan then shares the seven core values of BNI that make up the culture everyone loves and make the program prosper. Listen in on the Colonel Sanders of BNI and discover not a dog-eat-dog world but one where people actually help each other out.
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The Universality Of BNI’s Seven Core Values With Dr. Ivan Misner
A Conversation With The Founder Of Modern Networking
I’m going to share with you an interview that I did with my friend, Ivan Misner. I interviewed him originally for the book, Love is Just Damn Good Business, but I thought it would be cool to share that with you on the show. We had a great conversation. Ivan is the Founder of a worldwide organization called BNI. It is the world’s largest business networking organization. Ivan started the company in 1985 and it now has over 9,400 chapters through every populated continent on the world in 175 different countries. Don’t quote me on that number, but it’s ridiculous. They’ve generated $16 billion worth of referral business for its members. Every time I talk to Ivan, that number goes higher with every day that goes by. I don’t know how you are with networking. I’m not good at it. BNI is a wonderful structure where they bring people and professionals together in chapters around the world and they make sure that the professions don’t overlap in each chapter.
You’ll only have one chiropractor, one dentist, one insurance, one real estate person for example, and it’s a phenomenal model that Ivan started. You’re going to hear his story and how he started that company. My personal connection with him is we are both members of the Transformational Leadership Council, which was a group founded by Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame. Jack is one of the most prolific and successful personal development authors on the planet. He brought together people that do similar work. I’ve been a member of TLC and that’s where Ivan and I connected, and I love him. I spoke at the BNI International Convention. I mentioned it in the book. I wanted to pick Ivan’s brain because what he does is deeply based on values that people love.
Let me tell you a little bit about Ivan. His PhD is from the University of Southern California. He’s a New York Times bestselling author. He’s written 24 books with Who’s In Your Room as his latest. It’s a phenomenal book. He’s a columnist for Entrepreneur.com. He’s been a university professor. He’s been on the board of trustees for the University of Laverne, for example. He has been called the Father of Modern Networking by CNN and one of the top networking experts by Forbes. Nowadays, he refers to himself as the Colonel Sanders of BNI. He’s not the CEO of BNI anymore, but he’s still the face of the company and travels all around the world representing the brand of BNI and teaching people the power of networking.
He’s considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in business networking. He’s a keynote speaker. He’s been all over the place, LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, radio, TVs, CNN, BBC and Today Show. He’s been named the Humanitarian of The Year by the Red Cross. He does all kinds of great philanthropic work and charitable work through the BNI Foundation. He’s a wonderful guy. I love him. I hope you enjoy this interview. Read thoroughly because here’s a guy who built what has become an iconic global brand almost by accident. I bet that there are some great lessons here for you in your business. Here he is, Dr. Ivan Misner. Enjoy.
I’d love to start with you in familiar territory, telling the BNI story and from your perspective.
I’d like to tell you I had this vision of an international organization with groups all over the world. The truth is I needed some referrals from my consulting practice. I was a business consultant and I found that I got all my business through referrals, so I put together a small group of people I trusted and trusted me. We got together and we only take one person per profession even from the first group. We started referring to each other. Someone came to that first group and she couldn’t join because her profession was represented. She said, “This is incredible. I could get a ton of business out of a group like this. If you help me open up my own chapter, you can run two of these.”
I said to her, “This isn’t what I do. I’m a business consultant. I don’t run a network. I happened to run this group because I was looking for referrals.” She said, “This is consulting, it will help me with my business.” I said, “Okay, fine.” I opened it and when we opened that second group, two people came and couldn’t join because their profession was represented. Both of them said, “This is great. I could get a ton of business out of this. Would you help me open up my own group?” I said no to them. They made the same argument. This was January 8th, 1985 is when I kicked off the first group. By December 1985, we had twenty chapters.
From January to December 1985, you went from 0 to 20 chapters.
Without trying. What I found was that people desperately needed what we were doing, referrals. They loved the format. They loved the structure. I got that because I went to groups who I felt were incredibly mercenary. I went to networking groups, not BNI but before I started BNI, who I thought were mercenary and I’d leave those meetings. I felt like I’d been slimed.
What did mercenary look like?The best way to build trust is to help someone. Click To Tweet
“Steve, my name’s Ivan. Let’s do business. Let me sell. I’ve got a product. You need this product.” They’d be selling to me. I felt like I was slimed. I had to go home and get a shower. I went to these mercenary groups and then I went to these social groups. It was about happy hour. There was no business being done. Some people didn’t even wear a name tag and they don’t have business cards. I’m here to network. You can’t do that. I carry a name tag in my briefcase with me everywhere. When I show up someplace and they don’t have name tags, I pop my name tag on. I stacked business cards in various places in my briefcase. I put them in my wallet, in my left pocket of every jacket. You could go through every jacket in my wardrobe and in the left pocket are a stack of cards. They’re in the glove compartment of my car. I keep them all over the place. What I wanted was something that would take the focus on business but not be mercenary, and the focus on people but not be that social and merge them together and do it with our principle core value of givers gain, this idea of helping other people as a way of getting business for yourself. What I didn’t realize was that people loved that concept. I think BNI without that principle core value would be a shell of what it is in terms of success.
Givers gain is the whole philosophy on which you founded the company before you even knew you were founding a company. You were a business consultant in the early ‘80s. There wasn’t a lot of talk about that thing back then. Where did that come from for you?
I intuitively felt that if people were going to give me referrals, they had to trust me. The best way to build trust is to help someone. If you can help somebody and not ask them for anything, you accelerate the trust process, which I call the VCP process: Visibility, Credibility, Profitability. It’s the trust process. If you can accelerate the trust process, then they’ll refer you quicker. They want to refer you because you help them, whereas if all you’re trying to do is sell to them, you’re not going to get much business. I realized quickly that networking was more about farming than it was about hunting. It was about cultivating relationships. The best way to cultivate a relationship is to help someone. If you can help someone, all of a sudden they like you more. You build more trust. They don’t look at you like you’re only looking at them as a meal ticket.
This is true when you’re networking up. If you’re trying to network with somebody who you think is more successful than you, the worst thing to do is to try to sell to that person because you will do what everybody else does. We trained this from an early stage in BNI and people love that concept. They were looking for something different. They realized that it’s not about sales, it’s about relationships. Those relationships get you referrals and those referrals get your sales and people love that concept. We went from twenty chapters.
I finally created a plan, I’ll be spending several days off and I always reflect, “Where do I want to go? Where do I want to be in five years? Where do I want to be in ten years? How did last year go according to plan?” That year I said to myself, “What happened?” That was not in the plan at all, none of that. That’s when I realized I had struck a chord in the business community that people desperately wanted referrals. They didn’t know how to do it. We don’t teach this in colleges and universities anywhere in the world. This will help them do that. As a business consultant, and you know this more than anyone, I knew the core values were critical and that I needed to make the core values of the company part of the DNA of the organization.
I hammered home the seven core values of BNI, “Givers Gain,” being the principle core value, our philosophy. I’m a believer in Drucker’s, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and awesome culture. That’s why I love that slide of yours that you could burn down their building and they say, “Stuff happens.” If you can create that culture in people, you can make mistakes easier. If they love the business, if they love you as a business person, you can make mistakes and they’re way more forgiving of you. When you’re building a business, you need forgiveness a lot because you screw up, you make mistakes. You need to have people who have your back which goes, “That was stupid. I wouldn’t do that again. Where do we go next?”
That’s interesting because there’s the forgiveness factor, but there’s another element to that. It’s not just, “It’s okay, everything’s fine. I love you. It’s cool.” If I love and trust somebody, I’m going to call them on those things. I’m going to tell them when I think they made a mistake. I’m going to challenge them to do better not put on a happy face and pretend that everything’s okay.
I would say that love and respect are two parts of a symbiotic relationship. The respect comes if they love the business, they love you as a person and if they respect you, they’re going to talk to you. They’re going to have a conversation with you. They won’t throw you under the bus immediately. I got pulled back from minibuses by a lot of good people. You hear people talking about creating a board of advisors. I did it. In 1985, I created a formal board of advisors that have met multiple times every year.
With the same people?
It changes over time. We have some who have been on for ten years, the longest might be fifteen. It’s evolved and it’s gotten much bigger over time because now with technology, we don’t have to get people together. We can do it via webinars so we opened it up to the world. These are people that love the business and they respect you enough to give you their honest answers. Both of those are important. Culture critical, Givers Gain critical. When you have people that love the culture, the business is way more successful. We’d like to stay and be united. These guys bleed burgundy which is one of our corporate colors. They love BNI and they love what they do in BNI.
What are the other values? Givers Gain is the core of the core values. What are the others?
There are seven core values in total. Let me give you all seven of them. The next one is building relationships. It’s all about relationships, it’s not about the transactions. One of the reasons we meet every week is we know it’s about building relationships and that we experimented. Here’s one of the screw-ups I made early on. We let people meet every other week instead of every week. They passed 52% fewer referrals when they didn’t meet every week. The relationships are key. We’ve had anecdotal evidence of this from the beginning. I published my article mentioning this on Entrepreneur.com. It talks about how long does it take to create a friend. This is beautiful stuff. This is based on a journal of sociology and psychology. They published this study and found that it takes about 50 hours of time with someone to become friends.Networking is more about farming than about hunting. It is about cultivating relationships. Click To Tweet
You don’t just click it?
No. Facebook has redefined what a friend is. We’re talking about real friends, not Facebook friends. Fifty hours can come through group meetings. We’ve known each other through TLC and although I’m not sure we’ve ever spent 50 hours face-to-face, we’ve spent more than 50 hours through TLC bumping into each other at the sessions and building the relationship where I feel comfortable enough to refer you to come to speak at the convention. Believe me, I don’t invite everyone. It took time to build that trust. Fifty hours for a casual friend, 90 hours for a friend, and 200 hours for a close friend. Two hundred hours doesn’t mean you will become close friends but it takes 200 hours to create a close friendship.
That totally lines up with what we’ve experienced in BNI. Less than a year, you’re not going to get a ton of business and that’s roughly 50 hours. Ninety hours is over a year. All of a sudden in that second year, we see it over and over again. Referrals start going up. Two hundred hours, close friends and you’re talking about two years in BNI and now you’re generating a lot more business. That face-to-face connection, that time together is critical. Relationships are the core value number two. Lifelong learning is number three. From the beginning, we realized we’re not teaching this in colleges and universities. We got to teach people how to network and they’ve got to all be on the same playbook. Did you ever play sandlot football?
Do you mean in the backyard? Yes.
I did too. The most common play was you block, you two run out there and I’ll pass the ball. That was the most common point. That’s the way people network. They wing it like sandlot football. What we found was you got to have a plan and you’ve got to have a playbook. If everyone’s reading off the same playbook, then you execute that plan. You’re going to generate a lot of business. That’s critical. Lifelong learning is important. We used to call it training and education and we realized entrepreneurs don’t like to be trained but lifelong learning, who doesn’t want to do that? That’s why we spent a lot of time training people. We spend 200,000 person-hours a year on leadership team training. We spent six figures creating a website called BNI University to teach people how to be a good member, how to run a great chapter. There are hundreds of hours of content at BNI University. That’s number three.
Number four is traditions plus innovation. I wanted to put them together, not separate them out because they go hand-in-hand. I believe, and I’ve never seen anyone else write about this but I did a blog on it. When you’re starting a business, you’re busy to say, “These are my seven core values.” I had 1 or 2. The way I developed the rest was I looked at my traditions. What were the traditions of the organization? What were the things we were doing that were working? Those traditions became core values. Most people won’t talk about that. Traditions come before the whole list of core values. You might have a couple but the traditions come before the core values because it’s about your behaviors not your words.
The traditions are those behaviors they get repeated because they work.
It was within those first two years that I created most of the list of core values because it was based on the behaviors and those behaviors were our traditions. There’s a fantastic book that I highly recommend by Tom Connellan called Inside the Magic Kingdom. It’s about Disney and one of the things they train on is traditions. If you are living in your traditions, you’re living in the past. Traditions tell us who we are as a tribe, but they don’t tell us where we want to go. I remember seeing a competitor once at a networking event who’s speaking and she said, “It’s been ten years and we haven’t changed one thing that our founder has created.” I remember sitting in the audience thinking, “I hope they continue with that strategy.” We are going to blow them out of the water. We are going to be way more successful than they are. We now have thousands and thousands of chapters more than they do.
At that time, we didn’t. It’s traditions plus innovation. You always have to be looking at how you can improve what you’re doing. I’m not talking about technology, although technology certainly is a big piece of it. I’m talking about the processes that you use beyond technology. That’s number four. Number five is what surprises people, a positive attitude. It became one of our core values. You got to have a positive attitude. That doesn’t mean you can’t critically look at issues. It’s almost like Jim Collins’, “You’ve got to face the ugly facts. Face the ugly truth.” That’s important. You’ve got to face the ugly truth, but you have to have solutions. It’s Mark McKergow 101. Did you ever meet Mark?
I did. He’s cool.
Solutions Focus is his book. It’s McKergow 101. If all you do is focus on problems, you become an expert at the problems. If you focus on solutions, you become an expert at solutions. I’ve done multiple surveys over the years and published them in a couple of my books as what’s the top ten characteristics of a great networker? A positive attitude always comes in number 3 or 4. The last time I did it, we surveyed 4,000 people. It was number three on the list of what you want in a list of characteristics with somebody you’re networking with. A positive attitude was one of them. When I first started BNI, I wouldn’t have guessed that. I wanted that but I wouldn’t guess that everybody else wanted that. It became one of our core values. That’s number five.
Number six is accountability. One of the strengths of a network is that most of the members are friends. One of the weaknesses of a network is that most of the members are friends. Friends don’t like to hold friends accountable. The thing is we’re not a friendship organization. We’re a referral organization. We understand that you got to help if you like each other, but it’s about accountability. Hockey without rules would be boxing on ice. You’ve got to have rules. If you want to be successful at networking, you got to have rules. There’s got to be accountability.When you have people that love the culture, the business is way more successful. Click To Tweet
Number seven is recognition. You’ve got to recognize people who have done the things, the behaviors that you’re looking for. That came right from my doctoral work. Frederick Herzberg’s How Do You Motivate Employees? He wrote it in the Harvard Business Review in the ’60s. He said, “You can’t motivate anyone. You’ve got to figure out what they want and they can motivate themselves but you can create an environment for them to motivate themselves.” One of the key elements he found in his research for people to motivate themselves was recognition. It’s Ken Blanchard 101, catch people doing something right and recognize it. We have in our systems ways to catch people doing things right and then to recognize them publicly in that process.
You had that in your systems. Give me an example.
A great example is our notable networker badges. They’re blue badges. We tell directors to go to a meeting and catch someone doing something right, not wrong. “Here are the things that we want you to look for, but you pick whatever you want, catch them doing something right, then stand up and recognize them.” A good example would be testimonial. We have found that if an individual can stand up and say, “I’ve done this with Steve and you should do business with Steve,” then go into some detail as to why. That great testimonial can be better than one referral. A good testimonial can lead to multiple referrals. We’ve got lots of experience where we’ve seen that thing happen. What we do is we train the directors. Go to a meeting.
If you see someone rock the house with a great testimonial, what you want to do before the meeting ends is you want to stand up and say, “I’d like to recognize Steve for having done a fantastic testimonial. If you looked it up in an encyclopedia, it would be a picture of him. He nailed it because he said this and so on. I want to give him a notable networker badge.” They’re blue badges that we have that are different than everybody else’s badges. “We want to give him a notable networker badge for having done a great job on a testimonial. Thank you. Please applaud with me.” That’s the recognition. That’s an example of one of the things that we do. There are many things built into the system.
In that instance, in BNI chapter, you’ve got an insurance agent, an attorney and a real estate person, professional people. I’m picturing some corporate attorney being given a notable networker badge and completely lighting up. It’s like getting a gold star in kindergarten. It hasn’t changed. Nobody is immune, in other words.
Some people are impressed more than others. Here’s the thing, a genuine heartfelt compliment does not fall poorly on anyone. If it falls too unbelievably well, the range is nice to fantastic. A well-placed compliment, nobody is immune to that. I’m certainly not. When somebody compliments me, I feel good. I’d like to think I’m not highly motivated by that. That feels good.
In my experience, a lot of times, people that appeared to respond neutrally or even negatively to a kind or positive word or compliment, it’s not because they don’t want it or don’t like it. It’s because they’re not used to it. It can mean the opposite. It means it appears to me that I don’t want that, but what it means is I need more of that so I can get used to that.
If you’re talking about an individual compliment, I agree with that. When you’re talking about a compliment in BNI, it’s part of our DNA that I don’t think that happens much because you can see it. When someone’s complimenting another person, you see people in the room going, “That’s true. That’s him.” That’s it. When you see that happening, people might be embarrassed but I don’t think they say, “That’s not me.” They accept it. For me, this is how I created love in BNI. It was through my core values. If people can embrace the core values, they understand the culture. When they understand the culture, they love the program and they bleed burgundy. Core values were the key for me to get people to love the program.
What I find interesting about that, if you look at those values, there’s nothing in there that overtly says get business. Yet you measure the number of referrals, the dollar amount of business that gets generated through those referrals.
I could tell you the exact number. As of the last trailing twelve months, it was $13.6 billion. That’s twice the gross domestic product of Lichtenstein.
Maybe Lichtenstein needs a couple more chapters.
It’s a small country but isn’t that amazing? We generate twice the GDP of a small country.Traditions tell us who we are as a tribe, but they don't tell us where we want to go. Click To Tweet
You’re focusing on those elements that people can fall in love with and the result of that is the business, the numbers, the profitability, etc.
I gave you old information. The trailing twelve months is $14.2 billion. That’s from December of 2018 through November 2019. Here’s how I would equate it. You’re a business consultant. When you’re working with companies, you tell them one of your key success factors is your gross revenue or how much money you made. Your clients could give a rat’s patootie how much money you made. What they care about is the quality of service and the experience they have. Although one of the things you want to measure is the number of referrals and the value, the culture is that more esoteric piece of the equation because if the culture’s working right, the final result is what you want. I would equate it to a recipe. I’m not a great chef, my wife is, but if you take all the individual ingredients, they’re individual ingredients. When you put it all together, that’s when you get this incredible dish that is awesome. That’s $14.2 billion.
You get that $14.2 billion because this is the recipe. These are the things you do. We’ll give you a strategy but this is the whole culture eats strategy for breakfast because the strategy is key. If anyone could do the same strategy, I do and they do. People do it. They go, “I can do this. We get people there, they do open networking, we introduce each other.” He can’t patent that. I got so many competitors, Steve, but nobody even has more than 500 groups. The average number of chapters a competitor has is five. We have 8,807. It’s the culture, and the culture is what creates passion and passion is what creates a love for a business in my opinion.
You are a franchise organization. There’s one thing for a chapter to be underperforming and you have to cut them loose or whatever. I imagine that happens as it does in any franchise.
One franchise operates multiple chapters.
Over the years, have you ever run into a scenario where somebody was performing well but doing it in a way that wasn’t congruent with your values? Has that ever happened?
When you run a franchise and you’re dealing with entrepreneurs, it’s like herding cats. They need redirection and coaching. Sometimes it’s not a good fit. In those cases, we do our best to coach them. Coach them up or coach them out, those are the choices. We’ll take anybody and coach, help, support, give you love, care and attention to help you become better. If that doesn’t work, we’ll help coach you out because the numbers aren’t working.
What if the numbers are working?
I cannot think of one occasion where that has worked as a long-term strategy. I’ve been doing this many years now. I can’t think of one where people did it differently. I don’t mean the structure, but the culture and survived because you could almost always look at the numbers and tell whether they’re implementing either the culture or the strategy. If you look at the numbers, they’re either not doing the strategy right or they’re not doing the culture right every time. You don’t even have to look at the numbers. You get complaints. I’m visible on social media. The complaints come right to me. Some guy in India that’s not following some piece of the culture, I get a personal message. Anybody who’s with BNI for any length of time knows I was going to see this stuff. It doesn’t last long. It may take a long time to turn somebody around but we know who they are. I can tell you who’s not following our program culturally.
Mike is building on the values piece a little bit. I don’t have another question for you. In my experience at the conference in Bangkok, you had told me this before and then you demonstrated it to me. When you got up to introduce me, you asked the group, which was nearly 3,000 people from 75 different countries, how did you ask the question?
In two words, what’s the philosophy of BNI?
Thousands of people say, “Givers Gain,” without any hesitation. It wasn’t two words, it was immediate.A genuine heartfelt compliment does not fall poorly on anyone. Click To Tweet
Here’s the beauty of that, Steve. You can be trapped in on a chapter anywhere in the world and say, “In a couple of words, what’s the philosophy of BNI?” I promise you, in 99% of the chapters you dropped into, you’d hear them all say the same thing. When I talked to people about this, I want them to think about that. How does that happen? I tested this once at a convention, I wouldn’t use these companies, but use whatever other companies you want. Before I even said BNI, I said, “What’s the core philosophy of McDonald’s? I count to three, I want you to all yell it out.” You know what you heard. “Maybe there was McDonald’s.” “What’s the core philosophy of Coca-Cola? I’m going to count to three.” I did one other company and then I did BNI, it was clear. How many companies can you name in the world where you ask not the franchisees, but you asked the employees and the customers of the franchisees because that’s who you had in that room? You had all of them where you hear the same two words. That comes, when I say the giver’s gain is part of the DNA of the company. I mean it and that’s the beauty of creating an organization where people love the organization.
That’s the traditions part, the future as you look ahead. For you personally, BNI is your legacy or is a big part of your legacy. Not your entire legacy but a big part of your legacy. Over the last few years, you’ve taken in partners and you’ve changed your role.
I’m the Colonel Sanders of BNI.
As you look ahead from your perspective, but also from the perspective of the organization, given what you know about how powerful the culture is, how effective this giving orientation in networking is, what do you see for the future of the company? What is the innovation side of the equation?
I’m thinking about whether I want it public. Let me be tactful with it. As an organization changes, it can deal with the complexities of change when it is always true to its core values and to its culture. Change is always painful. It doesn’t matter what the organization is. If the organization is true to the core values, the change is received a little bit easier. There’s going to be change. We’re looking at ten years down the road, we’re going to see a massive change in networking. I’m getting controversial, my company’s going to either be disruptive or it’s going to be the leader of a disruption. I want my company to be the leader of disruption. I don’t know how that’s going to look exactly but I have a sense.
My sense is that it’s going to involve technology and it’s going to involve mixed reality like virtual reality. I believe the future of face-to-face networking is online. It’s going to be like the Jedi Knights in Star Wars that there will be some form of mixed reality, whether it’s a holographic or virtual and physical reality where there are people in the room and there are people who are not in the room and they’re interacting, networking and connecting. When my people hear this, it scares them because we have local groups and I always felt face-to-face is better and it is. I would urge people to continue to do face-to-face but we live in a society where we’re traveling a lot.
If we can provide opportunities for people to be physically face-to-face most of the time and occasionally face-to-face through mixed reality, that’s inevitable, like it or don’t like it. I don’t want to be Sears. Think about it, Steve. Sears was Amazon. A hundred years ago, who do people go to? They went to the Sears catalog. Sears did not make the transition to online effectively. They may have gone online, but they didn’t do it effectively. Sears couldn’t be one of the largest companies in the world. They filed for bankruptcy. I don’t want to be Sears. I want to be Amazon for networking. That’s the future of the business and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen in my lifetime. I wrote an article on that too if you want it.
The other thing that’s struck me about your company is the cross-cultural universality of it. I said I was reviewing some of the footage. I got it from the keynote. It’s great stuff. The production team did a great job.
You did a fantastic job. When Graham Weihmiller, the CEO, comes up to me and says, “He was the perfect speaker. He was exactly what we needed,” he’s only done that twice for four years. An international convention, national conference, he’s only done that twice. Mike Rayburn was the other. When he comes to me and says, “He’s exactly what we needed,” you should feel good.
I said this to the group when I first started my keynote because it was already apparent to me within the first ten minutes how extraordinary a gathering that was because you had people all over the world who are united around a core value. Coming from different cultures, different religions, different traditions, different this, different that, different parts of the world, different everything united around a core value. When you dig deeper into that, it’s not because there’s an intellectual understanding of Givers Gain because they love it. It’s the level of the heart that draws people together. From my perspective, it was gratifying because I’ve spoken in various parts of the world, Singapore, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China, South America, but a piece here and there and every culture is a little bit different. They all resonate with that love is just damn good business. That was the first time that I saw that response simultaneously from all these places around the world. Those two things are congruent. That’s why they resonated with it but the universality of those values gives me a lot of hope, accomplishes as human beings.
Oftentimes, when I go to another country and I’m speaking especially in Q&A, they’ll say, “This BNI thing is so American.” I’ll say, “This is the least American thing I’ve ever done.” They’ll be like, “What? How could that be? Stand up and talk about yourself.” I said, “When you think of American companies, do you think of cooperation or collaboration? Givers Gain, let me help you. You help me.” “No. You think of dog eat dog. I’m going to put that guy out of business. You’re fired. This is what you think of when you think of American companies.” They all laugh like that.
I said, “I’ll tell you what this is. This is entrepreneurial. What we teach transcends cultural differences because there is no country around the world we’re helping other people. Trust and relationship building is the key to referrals.” What we often think of cultural differences in terms of an American versus Thai, but I would suggest that there is a culture that transcends many cultures. That’s the culture of entrepreneurism. What we have tried to do in BNI is to put an overlay on top of all of the cultural differences that may exist. We don’t work outside the culture unless you come to an event as you did. 99% of our meetings are within the culture. We’re not trying to change the culture. We’re putting an overlay or a system or a process or structure on top of the existing culture.
I would say that I picture it differently, metaphorically. It’s not so much that you have an overlay. It’s more like you’re putting something in that brings out the best in that particular culture. It’s because you’re not imposing or superimposing something on it.
We are imposing a structure.
It’s the values that are bringing out what’s already there and structures the way to ample.
Every country we go into says, “We’re different than those Yanks. We do it differently than you do.” One of the things that we learned over time, I’ll give you away a trade secret here. When we open up some countries, like when we opened in Australia, at first there was a lot of pushback that we’re different than the Americans. We realized we were hitting them out of an American manual and they use Queen’s English. The manual was small many years ago, maybe 350 pages. We changed the entire manual to Queen’s English. Instead of organization, it was organisation. Instead of, “Good morning, everyone,” it was, “Good day, mates,” and stuff like that. That’s what we changed. We made 450 changes, 350-page manual.
When we kicked off the next chapter, we said, “You all know this started in America. This is no longer an American program. We want you to know that going out. From the beginning, this is now an Australian program. Here’s the Australian version.” I swear to you, Steve, the people looked there and are like, “This will work. This will go well here.” Rather than try to argue with cultural differences, we just said, “There are cultural differences. We get it.” Here are our core values and those core values transcend cultural differences. It’s a whole different ballgame implementing BNI in new countries now when we use that approach.
This is great stuff. Thank you.
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Ivan Misner, the Colonel Sanders of BNI. Every time I talk to Ivan, I feel inspired. Here’s a guy who’s built such an incredible empire that started with a simple idea and almost fell into it by accident. It’s quite amazing. It makes me wonder what happy accidents might be around the corner for all of us as well. Thanks for reading.
- Love is Just Damn Good Business
- Transformational Leadership Council
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
- Who’s In Your Room
- Article – Ivan Misner’s article on The Steps You Should Take If You Want to Build Business Off Referrals
- BNI Foundation
- Inside the Magic Kingdom
- Solutions Focus
- How Do You Motivate Employees?
About Dr. Ivan Misner
Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. Founded in 1985 the organization now has over 9,400 chapters throughout every populated continent of the world. Last year alone, BNI generated almost 12.3 million referrals resulting in $16.7 billion dollars worth of business for its members.
Dr. Misner’s Ph.D. is from the University of Southern California. He is a New York Times Bestselling author who has written 24 books including one of his latest books – Who’s in Your Room? He is also a columnist for Entrepreneur.com and has been a university professor as well as a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of La Verne.
Called the “Father of Modern Networking” by CNN and one of the “Top Networking Experts” by Forbes, Dr. Misner is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on business networking and has been a keynote speaker for major corporations and associations throughout the world. He has been featured in the L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York. Times, as well as numerous TV and radio shows including CNN, the BBC and The Today Show on NBC.
Among his many awards, he has been named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Red Cross and was recently the recipient of the John C. Maxwell Leadership Award. He is also proud to be the Co-Founder of the BNI Charitable Foundation. He and his wife, Elisabeth, are now “empty nesters” with three adult children Oh, and in his spare time!!! he is also an amateur magician and a black belt in karate.