I recently had the opportunity to attend a business networking event. Let me say right up front, that I am not really a fan of networking. I have a mature business, and a stable revenue stream. Going to events to drum up customers and pitch my services and products isn’t a primary motivator anymore. Even when my business was new, I found myself resistant to networking as a tool for growing business. Time is precious and while I am keen on relationships, I tend to like mine on the deep side. Most networking events are transactional at heart, and not really conducive to building enduring genuine relationships.
The guest speaker at this particular event was poised, energetic, and credible. But still, l found the subject matter to be superficial, and the tone somewhat condescending. She offered advice on how to get the most of networking, focusing on the theme of building connections. The advice itself was sound, although the key message seemed to be that most of us don’t really know how to build and develop connections effectively and efficiently, whereas she did, and has the expensive car to prove it. I felt chided for not making the strategic most out of my meetups.
Perhaps social media is partly to blame. The Internet offers us a limitless pool of potential connections without the barriers of time and space. Via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn we can network 24/7. Online sales gurus would have us make millions by simply showing up, being ourselves, and digitizing our sales funnels. (Firstly though, we must buy into theirs.) A media colleague and I recently had a discussion about this. He called it the “Levi Strauss approach”. During the gold rush, the ones who really made a killing were those selling pans, pickaxes, and pants.
Personally, I like to take my time getting to know people. I’m motivated to connect by the simple human desire to belong. The contacts I have nourished, both online and off, are a treasured part of my world, a rich vein that runs deep and influences my life experience and my work. Connection means much more than an opportunity to sell and be sold. I can’t view human relations as transactions. The fast food friending frenzy of the Internet can be a kind of fool’s gold. Shiny and bright, but potentially worthless. The real gold is found below the surface and we need to work for it.
Perhaps it has to do with age and stage, but I am fussy about where I spend the currency of my time and attention. I find myself drawn more and more to small personal gatherings, tea with trusted friends, time spent in nature, and the shared satisfaction of successful creative work. If we must network, let’s do so knowing that we can mine for the real gold, and let’s ask those that seek to guide and lead us, online and offline, to bring us the real thing.