Networking Nightmares and how to solve them.
For someone like me who loves to get out and meet people the idea of networking can still be a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong. I find the idea of going out and connecting with new people several times per week exhilarating – as most extroverts do – but despite the enjoyment I derive there is still something in my systems thinking heart that cringes. The nightmare is twofold. First that we think that getting together over drinks is going to help us make deep connections when often people split into groups they already know or breeze through as many conversations as possible to ‘do their job’ for the night. Second the idea that surface level conversation can possibly develop a relationship that can challenge the deep issues in our society is simply incorrect.
From my perspective, when I’m trying to ‘fix’ a problem or design solutionary change I often turn to the natural world, a practice know as biomimicry. When I think of a natural network I imagine all pieces actively supporting each other on a regular basis. While the network develops over time and based in place, no living being is left out, even when some are more supportive than others.
In the forest of my community I like to be the Hawk, able to see things from the big picture to share with others. In a healthy system each individual takes on a role that is as natural to them as waking up in the morning. What is as important as what it looks like is what it doesn’t look like – plants and animals don’t gather in a clearing and try to make friends. By going about their day they engage in life sustaining activities during which they make natural connections to each other.
But our system is broken. The human sphere is detached from this natural flow. We occasionally stumble into more connecting activities that networking tries to provoke like conversation around existing projects provoking solutions and possibility, or asking trusted mentors. In my experience the more typical (and scary to many) networking experience is to show up at a place where people are drinking and give you only enough words to hand you their card and keep moving. The functional skills necessary to the development of a group of people who can support one another during times of growth is not present in this atmosphere.
I propose another way: let’s behave like the natural world. Imagine walking into a room knowing that your value lay in your being rather than who you knew, where you worked/ went to school, et cetera. You would move around the room at will drawn to the activities that provoked your mind; playing short games, participating in problem solving activities, and having the opportunity to work hand in hand with others that you might not have known before. A playful networking session which feels like a time for discovery of skills, creation of genuine connection, deepening understanding of the people in your area.
The point of the networking would be to BUILD the network. The growth of capacity and skill. Fun interacting with people you might not otherwise really meet, much less have fun with. As a society right now I see great need in problem solving for issues of environmental justice, sustainability, economic flourishing in all communities, and many other topics. I can’t imagine standing in a room handing out cards with surface level conversations will help inch us closer to World Peace. And no I don’t think it is naive to think that our day to day actions could beneficially influence society.
Inspired? Let me know. Perhaps together we can re-imagine the network and create some deep connections in our communities.