When I first started networking back in the ‘80s, a 22-year-old fresh out of university, the hardest part was knowing where to go for help and support. In those early days of my career, networking was more about hanging out with your crew from work at a nearby bar. If you were lucky you’d be invited to some company or industry function, you’d pull on your power suit of confidence and off you’d go armed with a wallet full of business cards and a 30-second elevator pitch. The goal was to swap cards with and chat to as many people as possible.
This was relatively easy, albeit a little nerve-wracking, though the cheap wine helped. The follow-up involved a phone call, or maybe a hand-written ‘nice to meet you’ note sent by snail mail, with the business card you’d just collected filed in your plump Rolodex or a plastic sleeve in a Filofax.
These days, we are bombarded with multiple networking groups, industry-specific events and meet-ups through friends, colleagues, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, you name it. There’s even speed networking – an event designed on the format of speed dating, where you have a set period of short time to strike up a ‘connection’ before you have to move on to the next person.
This begs the question: Are we really connecting?
There is no doubt the explosion of social media has turned the world of face-to-face interactions upside down, with options that we never thought possible now opening up opportunities and new ways of connecting with our friends, peers, existing and future clients, and complete strangers worldwide – all at the touch of a button. We are more connected than ever before through our smart phone, the internet, instant messaging, social media and face-to-face.
According to statsita.com ‘the power of social networking is such that, the number of worldwide users is expected to reach some 2.95 billion by 2020 around a third of the Earth’s entire population. It’s not surprising with new social networking sites popping up every minute, and sites such as LinkedIn growing by two new members per second.
In the book Alone Together Massachusetts Institute of Technology and social psychologist Sherry Turkle PhD argues that our relentless connection to the digital world is actually driving isolation. She says, on the whole, we are ‘more lonely and distant from one another … This is not only changing the way we interact online, it’s straining our personal relationships, as well.’
It seems to me that we are more disconnected than ever before and something about how we are networking right now just isn’t working.
Social media encourages one-way communication. Status updates and shout-outs, overloading and oversharing of personal information and hashtags – #kidspam, #foodenvy, #bestdayever, #grateful, #inspired – that make us look ‘good’, but feel ‘bad’ and add very little actual value to our lives.
In reality, our conversations are fleeting, brief, and superficial. Scan any café, restaurant, mode of public transport or footpath and it’ll prove we’re more interested in what is happening on our screens than with the people next to us, including our children who are now babysat with Peppa Pig on the iPad.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of facilitating a full day of business planning with some of the country’s leading female business owners and corporate leaders. Women from different industries with varying technical skill and speciality, individually facing differing challenges for 2017 – expansion, consolidation, mergers and acquisition, capital fundraising, resource restructuring. What became clear is that there was no superficial, surface level connecting going on. In that room there was genuine connection, contribution of ideas, exchanging of value from one leader to another as insight and knowledge were shared with an over-riding deep sense of care for each other’s success. And with inspiration from two fabulous female speakers sharing their individual thought leadership and experience all from a place of service (huge shout out to Gabrielle Dolan and Margie Warrell), yesterday was an example of real connection and real collaboration.
It made me think about this – if the number of connections we have on social media and in our database were all that mattered then every one of us would be basking in unparalleled success just from the sheer number of opportunities we have to connect …but as we know that’s simply not the truth.
We are currently doing it all wrong. Our obsession with quantity over quality, with width versus depth, with transactional connecting versus building connections that transform is leaving us feeling overwhelmed, over exhausted, over stretched and over it.
Dame Anita Roddick, founder of cosmetics giant The Body Shop once said: We entrepreneurs are loners, vagabonds, troublemakers. Success is simply a matter of finding and surrounding ourselves with those open-minded and clever souls who can take our insanity and put it to good use.
This encouragement and support is exactly what gets you to where you want to go in life and that simply cannot be done on your own.
We need to shift the focus and build a ‘Network of You’ – one that really works collaboratively to support your growth and future success.
I’m super excited to be launching my new book ‘It’s Who You Know – how a network of 12 key people can fast-track your success’ in April 2017. Watch this space – I’ll be taking pre-orders soon.