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.