Source: Allen Gannett for The Next Web
Imagine a world without networking.
A world where someone introducing himself at a conference isn’t trying to invade your Rolodex.
A world where people try to form relationships with you, not just because you can help them find a “rockstar CTO,” but because they want to be your friend or share and build ideas with you.
A world where endless “networking events” are replaced with mixers and mingling, where panels on “how to network” are erased from conference programs, where books such as Networking Like a Pro have been burned and relegated to the ash heap of history.
The networking needs to end
Sometime in the last five years, people decided to take career advice far too seriously and center their professional lives around this oddfangled concept of “networking.”
The technology world is particularly guilty. With entrepreneurship and (especially) fundraising being such connection-driven activities, there are countless events designed to give techies networking opportunities. Go to one of these events and witness attendees accosting others they barely know: “Can you intro me to Dave McClure?” “I hear you brunch with Fred Wilson?”
Stating your desire to network with someone is a bald assertion that you seek a transactional relationship. You want to leverage their business and personal contacts to your advantage. It’s explicitly manipulative.
There shouldn’t be barriers between professional and personal relationships
Some of this stems from our general awkwardness around professional relationships. We tend to keep the people who we meet through work in a bucket we call “professional relationships.” We create a false barrier that prevents connecting with them personally, other than idle banter at the start of a conference call.
In fact, the people you meet through work are perhaps your best pool of potential friends. You have a shared interest with them, spending a substantial part of your day working on similar problems. Placing them off limits as friends because they are “work contacts” is a false and unnecessary restriction.
The utilitarian would ask, “What’s wrong with doing business or networking where there is a mutual benefit?” However, business deals done with bad people never end well. If someone is not good enough to be friends with, then why do business with them? Ultimately, humans are responsible for implementing business contracts and partnerships. If you can’t trust the person on the other end, then why do it?
We Need to Start Treating People as People
Being technologists often means that we spend a lot of time interacting with systems: Engineering is a system, digital marketing is a system, venture capital is a system. Systems abound. Yet we need to stop trying to manipulate human interaction as if it was just another system. Our connections with people, even in our work life, should be based on relationships of genuine humanity, not shallow tit-for-tat interactions.
Maybe it was just that we misheard the career advice. Somewhere along the line we thought that building relationships with other people meant simply getting their email address and guilting them into responding. But we’re missing the point. These pseudo-relationships aren’t fulfilling. They end the day you stop providing material value to the other party.
The line between personal and professional relationships should be blurry. We should do business with good people, and we should be friends with good people. Creating mental dividers is neither necessary nor desirable.
Instead, we should focus on people above business. Think about that first time you met your significant other’s family. You had a lot in common (i.e., your shared appreciation of their son or daughter), but at the same time knew very little about who they were as people. You don’t enter these relationships seeking to leverage them, but rather with the understanding that these people may be future family. You seek to understand them as people, and embrace them as people—not just “connections.”
Try viewing other people in tech the way you view your potential in-laws. You share a love with other techies, but it’s of technology and innovation. What’s wrong with valuing your other techies as people and getting to know them as people, rather than viewing each as just another node in the system?
Let’s not only imagine a world without networking, let’s live it. Let’s embrace friendships within technology, not just LinkedIn connections and AngelList introductions. Let’s stop reading those HackerNews pieces on “Hacking the Social Graph.”
Let’s ask people to hang out on weekends, not just grab coffee to discuss work.
Let’s go on a mountain hike, not just smile across the room at another techie happy hour.
Let’s never have to get invited to a “networking event” again.
Let’s end networking.
I agree, to an extent.
We need events to take ourselves away from the keyboard, to meet the faces behind those RFPs and Invoices bubble wrapped in passive-aggressive emails.
What needs to happen is a fresh look at Networking 2.0
That was the title of my post-graduate dissertation, examining the relationships built between entrepreneurs in the Web2.0 industry and providing an alternative view of how start-ups interact with large enterprises (a published study titled “Dancing with Gorillas” had made strategic ties seem clumsy and impossible).
A great deal has changed since I sweated over my own War and Peace. Namely I would expect a new study to include a look at start-up incubators like Y Combinator.
My hunch is relationships forged in an incubator between companies will be considerably stronger than otherwise. I sincerely hope that working at an incubator is akin to joining a close-knit community.
If each day slipped by with incubator members sat in total silence – as though stood awkwardly in an elevator with total strangers – that would surely negate any advertised benefit to owning desk space there.
The in-laws analogy is tight. Give everyone you meet the best possible impression of yourself, and put their needs first in a genuine way.