Last week, Dr. Ivan Misner, the Founder of BNI, paid a visit to Toronto and held an ATF (Ask-The-Founder) session over breakfast. The following are some highlights we noted from the discussion.
Buggy Whip Business
Dr. Misner recounted a recent experience when his interviewer referred to BNI as the "buggy whip business" of the networking industry. We have all witnessed the rise of social networks like LinkedIn, but technology does not replace networking face-to-face or vice versa. It is not a case of "either or " but "both and."
Technology has been a tremendous complement to BNI rather than replacing it. The Internet has helped its growth, flattened communication hierarchy, provided more access to Dr. Misner, and enabled more international communication which is especially noteworthy because BNI's phone bill was the #2 line item on the expenses in 1985.
Attracting the Next Generation
They don't teach networking in college or university. BNI can fill that void with all of its resources to show people of all generations networking and referral best practices.
Millenials are cause driven and would likely find BNI and its Foundation aligned with their values. That means BNI needs to be more involved in charitable efforts or give great emphasis to the foundation and charitable efforts but not at the expense of its core focus.
Business Voices can be helpful to get BNI members involved in the Foundation and, coincidentally, Canada has its own Foundation. "You can't make the world different, but you can make a world of difference."
Resources and Best Practices
We were reminded of just how prolific a writer Dr. Misner is and the extent of the resources available to BNI members to ensure their success within their respective chapters.
Many in the audience chuckled when Dr. Misner said, "If BNI were a cult then everyone would do what I tell them." On the contrary, he was very candid when he described that they did not have all of the answers in the early days of BNI. They made lots of mistakes. It was only over time that they learned what worked and what didn't. For example, chapters who met every other week consistently underperformed when compared to the chapters that met every week.
Good is the Enemy of the Great
Dr. Misner shared the plans for BNI's future which include substantial growth with the existing membership. Such growth cannot happen without ensuring that chapters avoid a "good enough" frame of mind. Striving to build chapters of the optimal size with highly engaged members will deliver results, reduce churn, and increase the likelihood of renewal. The needle does not have to move that much to have an impact. Just a 5% improvement in retention would grow membership by 35%, thereby increasing the net gain of each member, experiencing full-value from their BNI experience.
Flame or Wax
"Entrepreneurs are either working in their flame or in their wax." How can BNI help entrepreneurs work more in the former than the latter? Can BNI help members surround themselves with support networks that can help them focus on what they love and find help for the things they don't? If members flourish, chapters flourish, and ultimately, BNI flourishes.
It was a rare opportunity to hear about the history, the philosophy, and the future of BNI directly from the Founder. It was a great opportunity to be inspired and find renewed focus.
As the session drew to a close, many took the opportunity to speak to Dr. Misner one-on-one and, where possible, grab a picture with him. He's quite adept with social media so grabbing a selfie with him was not unusual.