Networking. It’s a dirty, soulless word. Images of either stiff suits passing out business cards OR of data flowing across wires is conjured to the mind. Lets take the first image: the suits. Back in college I remember my university setting up networking events, and they were always the same; dressing up in a suit and tie and wandering around meeting people. It was a crap shoot. Rarely did any real connection ever get made. The second image is the data network: information flowing across circuits. This is closer to the purpose of networking so that data does flow, and freely.
As the founder of the Innovation Learning Network I was invited to give a tips and tricks of building a network last week to 150 of the nation’s top healthcare innovators at an event sponsored by the Federal Government. They were pretty shocked when I spent most of my time redefining the word. Really what networking means is building friendships. It means making real connections with real people by breaking bread, by asking about lives, talking about vacations and THEN exploring work. Dozens of the meeting attendees came up to say that they hadn’t thought of networking in that way. I blame MBA schools for this. They have stripped the humanity from a deeply human endeavor.
No sooner did I complete the DC talk, I found myself sitting on my United flight back to San Francisco reading the latest issue of Fast Company, and was floored by perhaps the most soulless new word: networthless: Any conversation you have at a conference that doesn’t involve networking, selling or closing. Do not make the mistake of making normal small talk. I love Fast Company and am a printed subscriber, and believe me that says a lot! But the word is an even baser variant of the word networking. Now it’s considered a waste of time talking to someone if they don’t increase your immediate value. How incredibly shortsighted!
We’re not robots who are data mining. We’re people who are multidimensional and deeply complex. Celebrate this, and you will find yourself at amazing dinners, tasting new wines, laughing about old exes, AND making a connection to get your latest idea launched. Life is sweet, and the most unexpected, serendipitous moments are the sweetest.