Oftentimes I hear people talking about networking. Networking events are now very common, and it is easy to find articles and even courses that discuss how networking is the key for your professional career. I thought that, as with many business catchphrases, I will end up getting used to it, but it has been impossible. It really bothers me. Is it ok to treat consequences as purposes? Have we become so boring that things only matter because of the (planned) outcome they might have? Having a great network is the result of meaningful human relations and interactions with others; it should not be a purpose in itself. It is the effect of other objectives, like exchanging ideas, trying to find business opportunities, or simply wanting to have a nice conversation. I believe that treating consequences, such as a strong network as purposes, destroys the core value of our actions and limits their possibilities to produce the best results.
Making “network growth” the main purpose of your interaction with others implies that it will only be positive if it delivers exactly that, if not, it is a waste of time. Conversation becomes then, an artificial exercise of empty exchanges, where the networking “agenda” shadows any honest interest for others. If your purpose is, instead of networking, the opportunity to listen to what others think, there will be some value to the exchange regardless if it ends up growing your network or not. This pattern is common with many other things in our daily life, like salaries or profit. Salary is the (great) consequence of doing good work and adding value to society, but it is not the reason why that work exists. Likewise, in companies, profit is the consequence of providing a product or service that others need, but it is not the purpose of the existence of that company.
In addition to this, defining consequences as purposes usually delivers worst results than using more genuine purposes. It encourages behaviours where the true elements that build up real relations are replaced by the network interest. I would much rather keep in contact with the person that gave me a good idea or said something interesting, than the one that “networked” me. Similarly, couples that would like to be married are more likely to be successful if their purpose is to build a meaningful relation. They can recognise marriage as a possible consequence, but are not acting for it. Marriage should be the consequence of an extraordinary human relation, but not a purpose in itself. This continues even when people are already married; if staying married becomes the purpose, the relation will probably be quite a boring one.
It is easy to fall into this trap because consequences like a strong network, a salary, profit, good marriages and others are not only wonderful but also absolutely necessary. The problem is that, because they are so gratifying and provide us with so many great things, we think they are the reason we did things in the first place, but most probably they were not. If we treat consequences as purposes, we will probably get results, but not the best ones. I am sure networking events have delivered value to many, but I believe it is because the power of human interaction is stronger than a poor name or design of an event.
Having a society that is innovative, that learns and where extraordinary things can happen relies on this logic. When you are truly innovating you don’t know what the outputs are going to be, but you are driven by a belief. Innovation requires a sense of direction, a purpose, a vision, and most importantly an honest ignorance about the result. It is then a matter of following your purposes, and loving the consequences.
De acuerdo en que no es correcto planear “tener mas amigos o contactos” sin embargo me parece que los ejercicios de networking y el hacer que las personas tengan la apertura a conocer a otros e intercambiar ideas, aun cuando se tenga como objetivo principal agrandar la agenda, permite que muchos de los participantes se abran y desarrollen otras habilidades sociales que por el contrario tardarian en aparecer. En otras palabras, a pesar que el networking puro y crudo como su definicion lo describe solo busca un interes predefinido, creo que el mismo tambien deja cosas buenas como personas menos timidas, mas seguras en si mismas y por ultimo acorta los tiempos para que algunos contactos se den de forma espontanea.
Gracias por el comentario George! Muy buenos puntos. Creo que ejercicios bien diseñados para conocer gente pueden funcionar muy bien y ayudar a muchas cosas. No estoy seguro que se les deba llamar networking, pero sin duda traen beneficios. Saludos.
Very interesting Mr Fergusson. It seems networking events are designed as an aid for people who do not find it as “natural” and easy to do outside a “safe” environment. The question is then, should we create a fictitious and safe place for those who are not ready for the real world? Or should we follow a “survival of the fittest” approach and let only the “natural born networkers” enjoy the wonders of social exchange? In a world seeking to give equal opportunities to EVERYONE, it seems that networking events, relative good salaries for all, and marriage counseling helps those who are not particularly good, or naturally gifted, for such social aspects. However, allow me to highlight the inconvenient fact that nature seems to be quite successful promoting the complete opposite attitude. I’m afraid I do not know which path is better.
Thanks for reading JP! It is interesting that your comment as well as the one before discuss “artificial” vs “real world” events, which I didn’t had in mind while writing, but consider very valid. I do believe certain “artificial” events can be of great value for people to socialise and meet. My contribution is highlighting the fact that the purpose of such events is meeting people, not a bigger network, which is a consequence. For me, there is a big difference between meeting someone, and “networking” someone.
But the entire purpose IS a bigger network. It is not to make friends, or to get know other points of view. Network events are just for knowing who is doing what and thus, allow for some not-so-famous to get “in the loop” of the more fortunate ones. This in turn will become new job opportunities or access to more information, or things of the sort. You can meet people in lots of places. Networking is just that: building a greater network in order to know who to call in the future (and maybe get to know them then).
JP, I thought that the system quite wisely (maybe tired of us) was not letting me respond directly to your last comment 🙂 , but now I see it comes out right. You say the entire purpose IS networking, but remember we are talking about an “artificial” event so the purpose IS (with capital letters as you say), whatever you define it and design it to be. Off course you can design an event with THE purpose networking. My argument is that the sessions will be better and drive better results if they have other purposes. This does not mean that you should deny or pretend to ignore that consequences like networking exist; that is why I say “love” them – recognise and celebrate them. In some cases (like salary and profit) they are absolutely necessary consequences and we want lots of them, but I don’t think the best results are achieved if we act and live by them… I am missing this good debates face-to-face, hope we can continue it with a beer soon!