I hate networking.
Don't get me wrong, I think that having a varied, stimulating network is the key to achieving amazing things in your career and when embarking on a venture - it's essential.
I just don't feel that organised networking events are places where the most inspiring collaborations are born. I’ve thought this for a long time but could never put my finger on why this is. It's not because interesting people don't attend these things, oh no, these rooms are usually filled with incredible people with amazing achievements… it’s just that they’re not saying much to each other.
I believe that by allocating a time slot and labelling it as "networking", these ambitious brains of ours panic and feel like we need to meet as many people in the room as possible to seize as much opportunity as possible, Carpe Diem, etc... and oh my god the clock is ticking.
So what do we do? We start assessing whether the person in front of us is providing life-changing stimulation in the first five seconds of conversation otherwise they're not worth wasting time on when there's so many people to meet. No pressure, then.
And we do this time and time again, coming home with pockets full of business cards that might as well have contact details for Pingu on them (although, I’d love to get together with Pingu sometime, when I have a minute). I’ve been thinking about how to break this cycle and my first instinct was to forget organised networking and to focus on the real world and see what opportunities were out there.
It worked beautifully. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend the prestigious St Gallen Symposium as a Leader of Tomorrow - a gathering of some of the most brightest young minds I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. That week was a real mix of talks, workshops and debates, along with plenty of time to exercise the open bar…
No prizes for guessing when I made the closest contacts during the week. My hypothesis was proven by this very week as I made the most valuable and rich connections while I was just getting to know people, with no panicked agenda. One morning, I was lost trying to find a bus stop to take me to the University and a super helpful guy helped me find my way and we took the bus together. During our chat, I discovered that he’s a lawyer. I happened to be looking for one that I trusted, so we continue to do business back in London.
Stories like these made me feel like I didn’t need organised networking events, but the reality of a fast-developing start up means that I can’t rely on everyday chance to get the best talent supporting me as soon as possible. Starting better conversations with the people I chance upon in life would only get me 50% of the way. Where can I go to meet a bunch of exceptional, and more importantly, relevant individuals to help with my venture? We’re back at networking events again.
While networking culture isn’t going to change overnight, I’m going to strive to make the events I go to work for me, by approaching them differently myself. We are so much more than the jobs we do, so instead I’m going to see how many people I can find who share the same values as I do, so then when I need help or advice, I know we’ll already be on the same page.
So, while I’m not going to stop going to networking events, I’m going to change my approach to them and I’m also not going to rely on them as the sole source of my valuable network. Who knows what opportunities are to be found by asking richer questions in my everyday life.