The Nest is a nifty little innovation–a digital thermostat that requires no programming to learn your family’s heating and cooling habits, uses WIFI and a smartphone app to allow you to adjust your home’s temperature while away, and provides you with energy usage history to boot. What does the Nest have to do with Relationship Economics? More than you might think. Let me make the case.

Your family home is a living, breathing entity, and so is your portfolio of relationships. They take care and feeding to produce the end result you’re after. What innovations like the Nest do is to take some ordinary little “nuisance” aspect of life, like managing your home’s heating and cooling, and automate it in a way that amazes and delights. By treating your relationships like the Nest treats you, you can achieve the same thing the Nest does—efficiency that amazes and delights.

Let’s take three of the Nest’s benefit claims from a recent advertisement and see what relationship tips are “nested” inside this clever device.

1. “Requires no programming.” Thermostats control half of your home’s energy—if correctly programmed, they can save you 20% or more on your heating/cooling bills. But you have to program it to achieve that gain. The problem is, too many of us abdicate our relationship with technology.

Now let’s translate that to your relationships. What is programming? It’s a set of actions. What set routine do you follow to keep contributing value to your strategic relationships? Don’t abdicate that relationship. Just responding to LinkedIn connection requests won’t cut it. Your Facebook updates don’t equal you being in touch with me. Tweeting your arrival at the conference hotel doesn’t make you a connector.

Start seeing your social platform as program designed to keep your strategic relationships informed and in touch with ideas and people they care about. That’s what the Nest does—it adds value without added effort. When you first install the Nest, it spends a few days learning your household’s schedule and programs itself. Likewise, you can learn what your strategic relationships are interested in, and respond with content they’ll value. “NEST requires no programming” means you build and nurture relationships in intuitive ways that don’t reflect “one size fits all” rigidity.

2. “Gives you information you never would have had access to before.” Each month your Nest sends you an energy report tallying your kilowatt usage and comparing your experience to aggregated data from other Nest users. Owners see information that can change behavior and save money and energy. You may get a “Kudos!” if you did something great, and with one click share your “kudos” on your social media.

Are you sharing information with your strategic relationships that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to? One of the greatest values you can bring to your relationships is your candor. If you see me repeatedly doing something that harms my relationships with others—if I use language that is demeaning or belittling, for example—you do me a great favor when you candidly tell me so. We all need to bring that kind of candor to our relationships. Increase the value of your strategic relationships by sharing information others’ can’t get any other way.

3. “Has WIFI that enables you to tweak things from afar using a mobile app.” Nest owners use the app to connect with their thermostat. If you’re getting home early, you can start cooling or heating your home so it will be comfortable when you arrive.

Are you tweaking your relationships from afar? We all have dead time scattered throughout the day. You could use that dead time to tweet or post to your social media, but how about making it a more personal touch? Can you just call someone for a few minutes and share a thought or suggestion? Email is one-dimensional. Phone conversation is two-dimensional—I can judge your tonality better. In-person is the three-dimensional—the richest form of contact. Nothing will ever replace interpersonal interaction; nothing contributes to your relationship with me as powerfully as you and I spending three days face-to-face working together. But in a time-starved world, between the projects that bring us together for collaboration, “tweaking from afar” helps keep your relationship bank filled with currency. Each personal touch that adds value for a strategic relationship is another deposit in that bank.

“Tweaking from afar” with the Nest is about resource utilization—making sure your home conserves when you’re away and meets you comfortably when you return. It doesn’t leave your relationship stagnant. The lesson in this: don’t “go dark” on your strategic relationships. Otherwise they will cool off and you’ll have to turn up the heat to re-engage them.

If you’re like me, you’ve known plenty of executives who are in a job transition and network like mad. What happens when they find a job? They get so buried in the minutiae of the next job that they lose touch with everybody who helped them get there. Nothing wrong with focus, but three years from now when they call you back, what do they want? They’re in another transition for another job. They’re takers, not investors.

That’s three lessons on relationship economics from one little thermostat—conceived by the same Apple executive who conceived the iPod, by the way—a thermostat so desirable and intuitive that it makes home energy management exciting. Apply these lessons to your relationships, “rinse and repeat,” and you will efficiently and continuously amaze and delight your strategic relationships.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. Establish routines that allow you to nurture your relationships in intuitive ways that don’t reflect “one size fits all” rigidity.
  2. Share information your strategic relationships can’t get any other way. Your candor delivers value.
  3. Keep making deposits in your relationship bank by “tweaking from afar”—using idle moments to make personal touches that are customized and relevant, but brief.
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