Add Value

“Enough about me, let’s talk about you.

What do you think of me?”

-Bette Midler

Content created by Darin Gerdes. Copyright Great Business Networking.

People often fail in their networking efforts because they’re fundamentally dishonest about what they are doing. At its core, networking is all about relationships, but when we convert it into a mercenary activity, everything changes. An other-focused activity become self-centric and the opportunity to develop a relationship is converted into a cold-call.[1] When you are only interested in what you can get out of the other person, you become needy and neediness is not attractive.
I was talking about networking with my MBA students a few weeks ago and I was describing my experience at Great Business Networking (GBN). I explained how networking takes time. It took a couple of months to see positive benefits from networking. But, after a while, referrals, leads, and contacts began to flow my direction. It took time and it took effort. The effort took the form of meetings beyond the networking meeting. After all, it takes time to get to know someone, what they do, what they need, and what they have to offer.  However, when you take the time to understand others, to expand your range. You become more capable of referring others to them.
When I attend networking events, I often receive quizzical looks when I introduce myself. Everyone understands the insurance salesman who is there to sell insurance and the realtor looking for homes to sell. Attendees have a difficult time trying to understand why I am there.
I attend these events as service to the community. At my institution, we are measured on community service, university service, teaching, and scholarship for promotion and tenure. How we choose to engage the community is largely up to us. I prefer to attend networking groups because I have found that those who attend business networking groups are hungry to learn and grow. It is like engaging a room full of “A” students.
If you know someone interested in going back to graduate school, I’ll be happy to help them think through the decision, but I have to admit that I have a deeper motivation than that. As a management professor, I’m well aware that I run the risk of isolating myself in the ivory tower. The antidote is staying connected to the business community. This is a blessing because it frees me to focus on adding value to others. It is my primary motivation, and I hope to convince you that it should be yours too. In Networking is Not Working, Derek Coburn explained:
So many people approach it with a ‘What can you do for me?’ mindset. If your primary focus is on adding value for your existing clients and others in your network, but you’re interacting with folks who are primarily looking for business, there will be a disconnect. You have to be sincere about wanting to help the people you know and trust—and every member of your group will have to be equally sincere about helping the people you’re about to connect them with.[2]
What Does it Mean to Add Value?
Allow me to pause here for a brief economics lesson. In the simplest terms, economic growth is a function of greater production and free trade. Greater production is easy to understand. If it took you ten hours to build your product, but you figure out how to build it in five, you can produce twice as many machines in the same amount of time, significantly decreasing your labor cost. The benefit of free trade is little bit more difficult to understand.
When I want something you have and you want something that I have, we may decide to trade. Most often, we do this by trading something for money. Sometimes we trade one item for another item. As long as the trade is voluntary, we only trade for something that we consider more valuable than the thing that we currently have.
For example, if I have a dollar and you have a candy bar to sell, when we trade, both parties are better off. Objectively, that candy bar may have been worth only sixty cents of raw materials to produce, but it provided at least a dollar’s worth of value or we would not of traded. The difference between the raw ingredients and the final product is the value that they added by producing the candy. According to Investopedia, “Value-added describes the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers.”[3] This also applies to the value that people bring to each other as they network.
Value vs. Cost
Do not confuse the value of the thing with the cost of a thing. I worked with a great instructor named Ed Soto number of years ago. Ed is one of the smartest guys that I know. He left the institution where he taught, and was between jobs. I knew that my institution (at the time, Liberty University) was hiring so I connected him to the right people. It cost me about fifteen minutes of my time, but it was invaluable to Ed and he still works there.
Evan Parker was one of my roommates while I was in graduate school. He was a great guy and a loyal friend. When I completed my doctorate, he gave me a clock and pen stand for my desk inscribed with: “Dr. Darin Gerdes.” Its value to me is much higher than its objective cost or resale value. It was the first gift I received after I completed my degree, and it was from a friend. It sits on my desk today. Though we live hundreds of miles apart, I think of him regularly. The gift added value because it was personalized.
Adding Value May Cost Very Little
Adding value to others does not have to be costly. In When to Rob a Bank, economist Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner offered a great example of adding value. They talked about the Tropicana save the rainforest initiative.
A few years ago Tropicana sold orange juice cartons with a message about saving the rainforest. Those who purchased the juice could look under the cap, go to a particular website, and enter the code and Tropicana would purchase a ten by ten plot of rain forest that would be saved from development in perpetuity.
I’m not exactly Captain Planet, so I was not naturally drawn to this marketing scheme, but it illustrates the idea of added value nicely. It does not cost very much but it provides a great deal of perceived value, particularly to environmentalists who feel great intensity about environmental issues. Value after all, is in the eyes of the beholder. One hundred square feet is not a lot of real estate, but our estimation of value is impacted by our experience.
The authors estimated that one hundred square feet of undeveloped land in the city might be worth one hundred thirty dollars. Based on other environmental projects that buy up acres of rainforest, one hundred square feet may be worth only eleven cents on the open Market.[4] I have no reason to doubt that valuation. After all, Steven Levitt is an respected economist at the University of Chicago.
Eleven cents sounds so small, but part of that is because our culture now places a premium on rainforests (and therefore we attribute greater value to preserving the land). We used to call rainforests “jungles.” They were viewed as scary places where no one wanted to live because they didn’t want to be eaten. Now they are thought of as the primary combatants of carbon emissions since trees soak up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.[5]
A small sample of estimates of the actual value of the saved land ranged from five dollars to twenty dollars. This was far less than the one hundred and thirty in the city, but it’s disproportional to the actual monetary value of the land (from forty-five to one hundred eighty-one times the actual value of the land). This created quite a bit of perceived value for very low cost.
Let me offer one last example of the low cost of high value. When I was growing up, we had a mulberry tree, two blue berry bushes, and mint growing in our back yard. I recently visited my parents and my dad helped me gather some Peppermint and Spearmint cuttings to take home to transplant in my back yard. Mint is an interesting subject in terms of adding value.
Mint is fragrant. It provides a clean, fresh smell. I enjoy drinking mint tea. Mint naturally repels a number of insects.[6] Most importantly, it literally grows like a weed. It spreads through an underground root system so powerful that at my parent’s house, it traveled from one end of the concrete sidewalk to the other. I have a brown thumb, so I appreciate anything that is difficult to kill.
But that is not the only value here. My dad came out to help me pick it. I could easily have purchased mint at Home Depot or Lowes, but this mint has a certain extra added value. It is from my childhood home. Will it smell or taste any better than what I could have purchased from the store? I doubt it, but it comes with a certain additional psychological and emotional attachment that makes it far more valuable and it cost my parents almost nothing. How can you add this kind of value too others?
How Do You Add Value?
You can add value to others in many ways. You are limited only by your imagination. Think in terms of things you do well—areas of strength—that others find difficult. That is your easiest route to adding value to others. Do you have knowledge? Share it. Do you have a large contact list? Ask yourself who would benefit from an introduction. Do you love numbers? Someone you work with probably hates them as much as you love them. Are you a people person? You get the idea.
In creative followership, Jimmy Collins tells the story of his experience working with S. Truett Cathy, the Founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A. Collins rose to become the president of Chick-fil-A by finding out what his boss did not like to do and then making it his mission to do that thing. He added tremendous value by eliminating pain points for his boss.[7]
Perhaps you do not think that you have much to offer or maybe you feel that you have been defeated so many times that you don’t have value to offer to anyone. Even your defeat is valuable to someone. Think about the possibilities that arise from your struggles: a) A story of perseverance, b) A cautionary tale, c) A redemptive account of God’s grace in spite of your choices, or d) Maybe you have just identified all of life’s land mines the hard way. Napoleon Hill wrote: “EVERY ADVERSITY BRINGS WITH IT THE SEED OF AN EQUIVALENT ADVANTAGE.”[8]  I am not sure that this is always true, but in my experience, it is true if you are willing to learn from your experience. If you are interested in adding value to others, allow me to offer a few suggestions:

  • Trade something of lesser value for something of greater value
  • Provide knowledge or advice.
  • Synthesize two ideas or provide perspective.
  • Provide leverage or show others how to gain leverage.
  • Make a connection for others.
  • Do what others find difficult or distasteful.
  • Fix a problem.

When You Have Lemons
While we are all equal in God’s eyes and before the law, we are not equal in talent, looks, financial resources, educational attainment, etc. Some people are born with advantages. Others have worked hard to overcome their deficiencies. Either way, many of life’s disadvantages can be overcome.
When you have lemons, turn them into lemonade, lemon zest, lemon sorbet, lemon bars, or lemon tarts. If you have a lot of lemons, distill them into essential oils and charge outrageous prices for it. Think in terms of value added. You just have to identify the value and the people who can benefit from what you have to offer.
Sometimes life deals you a bad hand. Our football team at CSU won the Conference Championship last year and they were ranked 7th in the nation in the FCS poll, but that was not always the case. Five years ago the team was 0-11.
At the time, I remember a colleague asking who would want to be the coach of the football team. I said I would. I could certainly improve on that record, or at least I couldn’t do any worse. The new coach came in and added tremendous value. I know that they did not pour significant amounts of money into the program, but Coach Chadwell transformed the program in spite of the difficulties he faced.
You can only play the hand you are dealt, so what if you are dealt a bad hand? Add value. Ever heard of the West Coast Offence? It was quite an innovation in football. If necessity is the mother of invention, problems are its father. In The Score Takes Care of Itself, Coach Bill Walsh described how he invented the West Coast Offence.
The West Coast Offense, considered by many to be one of the most dramatic changes in football during the last fifty years, was nothing more than my attempt to make the most out of what I had to work with as quarterback coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. And what I had wasn’t much—a recent expansion franchise with perhaps the least overall talent of any team in the AFL (soon to merge with NFL).
Among other things, the Bengals absolutely could not move the ball on the ground, because other teams were just too strong for us. That left the pass as our only option. Unfortunately, our quarterback, Virgil Carter, wasn’t much of a passer in the traditional sense of having a strong arm capable of throwing deep with accuracy. In fact, somebody told him, “Virgil, if you want to throw the football more than twenty yards you better fill it with helium.” (After he was released by Chicago, we acquired Carter on short notice to replace Greg Cook, a young quarterback with tremendous potential and a great arm. I have seen very few quarterbacks with his talent. Sadly, Greg tore his rotator cuff during his first season with the Bengals and never fully recovered.)
In studying films of Virgil and watching him in practice, I determined that while he didn’t have much of an arm, he was composed under pressure and could read defenses and was nimble physically and quick mentally. Carter was very intelligent—a Scholastic All-American while at Brigham Young University. Additionally, he was able to throw short passes pretty well. But dependable long strikes? No, that wasn’t him.
Virgil’s skills weren’t considered premium assets for an NFL starting quarterback, but that’s all there was. Consequently, I began creating plays that tried to make the most of Virgil’s “limited” abilities—first one play, then another and another.
What I came up with called for Carter to throw lots of short, quick-release, timed passes to any one of multiple receivers running exact routes, usually within twelve yards of the line of scrimmage. No helium was required, because Virgil seldom had to throw the football more than fifteen yards.
In designing appropriate plays I was constantly choosing and mixing receivers from a choice of running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. While each individual receiver’s running route was not complicated—simple, by position—collectively it was complex and made almost dizzying to the defense by the fact that over the years I eventually began “hiding” the same play cosmetically by altering our formation at the line of scrimmage.
Thus, receivers for the Bengals (and later the Chargers, Stanford University, and the 49ers) could line up in different spots before the snap but run a route to the same location and be ready for the quarterback’s pass, whether it came from Virgil Carter or Joe Montana. When you do this for scores of plays—and nobody in the NFL was doing it, in part because of the difficulty in creating, teaching, and executing the complexities of the system—you have an almost exponential multiplier of factors and “fool ers” the defense has to figure out instantaneously; often they would think they were seeing something brand new while the quarterback was, in a sense seeing something “old”: his receivers in the same places seconds after the ball snap, even though the basic formation and routes run were quite different. (Conversely, I would also have receivers run routes to different locations off the same basic formation at the line of scrimmage.)
To make it all work, I “stretched” the field horizontally to create more room—used all available space from sideline to sideline—to avoid bunching our receivers and their defenders just beyond the line of scrimmage. (The width of a football field is much greater than most fans appreciate—53.3 yards. I used all of that width, slightly less than half the length of an NFL field, in designing plays, thus turning the approximately 15 yards of depth—Virgil’s most effective range—and 53.3 yards of width into a wide-open war zone being hit not by long bombs but short ones. At least, that was the plan.)
Over the years, I created an array of pass options that the defense had to figure out, usually in less than 3.5 seconds. Often it was over–the lightning quick short pass completed—before they knew what hit them.
Because the passes were often just beyond the line of scrimmage, slower linebackers and safeties were forced into coverage against quicker running backs whom I “converted” into potential receivers. This was a key to maximizing yardage on our pass plays, because I counted on the backs and tight ends to run for yardage after they caught the ball.
In the middle of this seeming bedlam, the quarterback’s job—and Virgil was the first of them—was to immediately scan the field, locate an open receiver among up to five possibilities amid an attacking pack of rushers, and throw a precise pass. Not an easy task.
Of course, that’s where we capitalized on Carter’s “limited” skills: great composure, nimble feet, good ability to read defenses, ability to throw short passes with accuracy. The skills necessary to run my offense were not lesser skills than those of the traditional strong-armed quarterback; they were different skills—equally valuable, perhaps more so, and uncommon. No strong arm? No problem. Perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, Joe Montana, carried a résumé that lacked mention of a powerful throwing arm.
Of course, my many short-pass plays and their cosmetic variations—“looks” would open up running and downfield passing opportunities, which we exploited. Ideally, we would present an ongoing assortment of plays that kept the defense off balance and vulnerable….
And here’s an interesting but very irritating footnote: For my effort in coming up with a successful new way of doing things, I received the disparagement of many in the NFL, especially old-timers who dismissively called it the nickel-and-dime, dink-and-dunk, fancy pants, or finesse offense—even the swish-and-sway. Their condescension stemmed from the fact that my approach didn’t reply on the traditional brute force, grinding ground game, or spectacular “long bomb” pass of old-time NFL football. It wasn’t physical enough for them.
Mine was a different approach to gaining yardage, controlling the ball (and clock), and scoring touchdowns. In a sense, the naysayers were seeking victory, but only if it came the old-fashioned way. They were locked into the past and unwittingly locking themselves out of the future. Leaders do this to themselves and their organizations all the time.
My new system eventually became the media’s vaunted West Coast Offense because it defined our teams in San Francisco and five of those teams won Super Bowl championships. However, a more accurate name would be the Cincinnati Offense, the Walsh Offense, or perhaps the Lemonade Offense—my response to being given lemons in the form of a team with no ground game and a quarterback without a strong arm.
Ironically, in San Francisco’s first Super Bowl appearance we played Cincinnati. Their quarterback, Ken Anderson, threw for 300 yards with twenty-five completions, two touchdowns, and a 73.5 percent completion rate. Both the number of completions and percentage rate set Super Bowl records.[9]
In spite of Virgil Carter’s limited range, he added value with his “great composure, nimble feet, good ability to read defenses, ability to throw short passes with accuracy.”[10] Coach Walsh also added value by working with what he had, developing new plays, and ultimately, he used this strategy to win multiple Super Bowls. How do you overcome obstacles and add value to others?
Actionable items:
What do you do that adds value to others?
How can you add value to others at work? How can you add value to those in your network?
End Notes
[1] Coburn, D. (2014). Networking is not working: Stop collecting business cards and start making meaningful connections. United States: IdeaPress Publishing. (p. 28). IdeaPress. Kindle Edition.
[2] Coburn, D. (2014). Networking is not working: Stop collecting business cards and start making meaningful connections. United States: IdeaPress Publishing. (p. 102). Kindle Edition.
[3] Value added (n.d.). Investopedia. Retrieved from
[4] Levitt, S. D., & Dubner, S. J. (2015). When to rob a bank: … and 131 more warped suggestions and well-intended rants. New York: William Morrow.
[5] Oxygen Generation. (n.d.) Millson Forestry Service. Retrieved from
[6] Patterson, S. (n.d.). Mint: A natural insect repellant. Retrieved from
[7] Collins, J. L. S. (2013). Creative followership: In the shadow of greatness : my journey to President of Chick-fil-A. Decatur, GA: Looking Glass Books, Inc.
[8] Hill, N. (2004). Think and grow Rich! Aventine Press.
[9] Walsh, B., Jamison, S., & Walsh, C. (2009). The score takes care of itself: My philosophy of leadership. New York: Portfolio. (pp. 41-44).
[10] Walsh, B., Jamison, S., & Walsh, C. (2009). The score takes care of itself: My philosophy of leadership. New York: Portfolio. (pp. 43).