When you think of ‘networking’, many images spring to mind.
A salesperson, suited and booted, knocking on your door with their best smile on. A crowd of self-conscious university students clutching handfuls of freebie canapés and glasses of lukewarm white wine, trying to look like they know what they’re doing. Or, you might picture the more intangible networks of social media; a flurry of memes, emojis and 40-character declarations.
Networks take different forms and have done so throughout history. But, our Showcase last week, facilitated by our Business Development Director, Nab, revealed that there are common threads that make all networks meaningful, and essential, to human interaction.
Whether it’s a global trade route like the Silk Road, professional organisations and unions, or even the networks of neurones in our brains, connectedness is something fundamental to our lives. What’s different today, as Nab demonstrated, is that new networking tools and technologies are developing at an unprecedented speed. In the last 10 years alone, more information-sharing technologies and platforms have been developed than in any other period. The advent of smartphones has only helped to accelerate this process – it’s almost hard to believe that the iPhone was first released in 2007, given the rate of change since.
The question we were all asking was whether these new technologies have improved our networks, diminished them, or just made them different. Critics of social media often make a distinction between quantity and quality – you may have 1,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook, but how many of them are really your friends? The reality is that many of our human interactions today take place ‘virtually’ on social media platforms, through a variety of visual and textual forms. Are these interactions necessarily superficial? Probably not. The networks that people build online are as important, influential and meaningful as those that were previously lived out in person. They can even form the basis of peoples’ careers – think of the sponsored stars of Instagram. What is more likely, is that our concept of ‘networks’ and ‘friendships’ now have different meanings than they did 30, or even 10 years ago.
Nab argued that networking is fundamentally about connecting experience. This concept is not less, but even more relevant in the age of social media, where experiences drive meaning and engagement. The ways in which we get the most out of our networks also remain much the same; we need to put in time, effort and sincerity to make the best connections. We also need to be attentive to the abundance within networks in order to differentiate amongst others, as well as the need for reciprocity and giving without expectation. These all help to build trust, which is the foundation of a true and strong network.
Although human interactions still seem to rely on certain principles, like trust, technology has certainly had an impact. The six degrees of separation theory is ever more relevant in an age of globalisation and digital communication – a recent study by Microsoft, based on 30 billion electronic messages, showed that we are all separated by precisely 6.6 degrees. So, if networking is a way of connecting experience, what impact does our increased connectedness have?
Better or worse experiences? Or, just…different?
What we do know is that there’s more to networking than mingling over canapés – we may even be doing it without realising.
Loulwa Al Rasheed-Wright