"Networking is Dead Says Best Connected Man"
The headline in this morning's Times newspaper seems to herald the death of networking, the last rites being delivered by an unimpeachable source.
As is so often the case, however, the article that accompanies the sensationalist headline, offers something quite different.
The opening words of the article firmly establish the perception of 'networking' held by the journalist, Will Pavia. He's clearly not a fan and he's not alone. Most articles I see in the mainstream press seem to disparage networking, which is ironic considering the difficulty you'd have making your name in modern media without a strong network to support you.
Pavia tells us that, "They were words that would have sent a chill down the spines of consultants, social climbers and hobnobbers across the world." He has set out his stall, networking is not for normal people, just those we look at with disdain.
Every article that reinforces the belief that networking is the preserve of a few people, painted as characters you'd actively cross the room to avoid, does damage to the standing of one of most important activities anyone can pursue to develop their career or build their business. And it is these characters who feel the brunt of many such pieces.
Painting a similar grubby picture in a recent edition of The Economist, their columnist Schumpeter initially makes the point that "networking is not just for the elite" but goes on to describe networking as "schmoozing" and advises readers to "abandon all shame", flatter those you target, "pretend to disagree with your interlocutor before coming around to his point of view; that gives him a sense of mastery" and "be calculating, ruthless and shameless".
The challenge with both articles is that they suffer from the same basic misunderstanding of what networking actually is. They perceive networking to be based around events where people trying to climb the social ladder run around desperately trying to engage the attention of those a few rungs above them.
No wonder they have such a dismal view of networking! And perhaps it's no coincidence that both articles centre themselves around Davos. I've never had the dubious privilege of attending the World Economic Forum but I'm sure there is no end of career climbers to choose from, all stalking their prey and clutching at Schumpeter's advice, desperate to get their business cards into the paws of the great and powerful.
Networking is not about events, conferences and star studded parties though. Sure, they provide opportunities to get in front of influential people but you'll struggle to grab a meaningful conversation or develop a relationship with the rich and powerful in such environments.
The Times article actually has some good points to make, they're just hidden behind the hype. Rich Strombeck, the 'Best Connected Man' referred to in the headline, says that people should stop trying so hard to make a strong first impression. "The shared struggle to look and sound right had made everyone deeply forgettable", he said."I'd almost rather make a bad first impression and let people discover me over time than go for an immediate positive response."
I've constantly battled against the standard 'Networking Dance'. The exchange of 'what do you do' and elevator pitches preceding every exchange of business cards that never get followed up. As Strombeck says, "Nobody wants to have a networking conversation....they are hungry for real conversations and real relationships."
This obsession with Davos as the pinnacle of networking is dangerously distracting us from the reality of relationship building and development of networks of people who support, champion and challenge each other.
Every day, every minute, all over the world, people are networking. Yes, they are meeting each other at networking groups and on networking sites, in their local coffee shops as much as in the higher echelons of power. But they're also networking on a smaller scale, in small groups or one to one.
They are finding out what they have in common, developing rapport, establishing relationships and building trust. They are learning about each other and learning about themselves. They are offering and receiving support.
This is happening constantly. Since the financial crash even more people have recognised the importance of building their profile beyond their immediate colleagues, finding new sources of information and protecting themselves from redundancy and unemployment.
Internal networks are growing inside large organisations; companies are starting to understand the power of breaking down silos and sharing information more widely; individuals are connecting online and face to face.
With the growth of small and micro businesses, entrepeneurs are busily building strong networks who will talk about them, help them overcome their challenges and connect them.
Far from being dead, networking is alive and kicking.