From the Founder


Rules, Rules, Everywhere a Rule

By: Ivan Misner, Ph.D
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    From the Founder

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    Ivan Misner, Ph.D

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Sometimes I hear people say that BNI has a lot of rules.  We do have rules.  I believe we have the rules we need to run a successful global networking organization.  By the way – ALL the BNI member policies were created and/or approved by our International Board of Advisors made up of BNI members from around the world.  Members created all of our member guidelines and polices.

I can tell you that having hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs meeting every week all around the world is a little bit like herding cats.  Business people hate rules.  I get that.  But rules serve a purpose.  Hockey without rules would be boxing on ice.  BNI without rules would be a coffee club around tables.  Rules exist to support a process and structure to help the team achieve the results that they are striving for.

If you want to run a successful weekly networking program, there has to be a structured system in place.  In my book, Masters of Success, we interviewed many highly successful people and one of the consistent themes expressed by these individuals, was that successful people put systems in place to help them achieve results.  BNI is a “system” that when done right, yields amazing results.  It does so because of the structure, not in spite of it.

I think the application of the rules is worth further discussion.  I’m a believer in following a system and process (i.e. policies) but we don’t have to apply the policies like Fascists!   Some might think I’m saying that sometimes it’s ok to look the other way, but I’m not. I’m saying that we have to practice “tough love.”

We need to be caring, truly caring, about the way we apply our structure and system.  We need to treat people more like Mandela than Mussolini. Instead of telling a member, “you’re doing something wrong and you’re going to be removed,” I suggest that chapter leadership be clear that a change is necessary. Then ask that member, “how can we help you achieve that goal?” Hold that member accountable in a caring and supportive way.  But accountable nonetheless.

Why accept mediocrity, when excellence is an option? Excellence is an option in BNI.  We can achieve that excellence through tough love in a group.

By the way, if you believe your chapter leadership is too tough or too lenient, volunteer for a spot on the leadership.  Being caring and requiring accountability are skills that take time to master.  Help your chapter leadership be the best they can be by supporting them, doing what needs to be done and/or volunteering to participate at that level.  Criticizing without supporting is destructive.  Supporting without criticizing is constructive.

The consistent application of policy is incredibly important.  Take a moment to watch this very short video about fairness.  It is absolutely hysterical, and right on the mark for the rest of my discussion.

This video is a great example of why policies need to be applied consistently. While people aren’t Capuchin Monkeys, I would argue that people respond to inconsistent rules in the same way – they get mad.  Really mad.

If your group has not been following the program, my advice is to start fresh.  Come clean, tell everyone you recognize that the group hasn’t been following the system and that it might be a reason your group is not achieving the success you’d like. Tell them in order for your group to achieve the success you want to achieve, you’re going to turn the ship and start following the process. Most importantly do so with a supportive attitude.  Be there for those who need and want help. Bring in your Director team to help you make the transition.  Even if you’re in a great group, your BNI Director can help you achieve even greater success.  Above all, consistently hold all your members accountable in a caring way.

Every now and then, I hear some other networking organization say something like, “We are BNI without the rules.”  I LOVE those organizations.  Let the Hockey/Boxing begin!  The rules, when applied with caring and support, are the reason for our success.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author.  He is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization.  His new book, Avoiding the Networking Disconnect can be viewed at