The Evils of Networking

I’m lucky to know lots of great people. I enjoy that feeling of connectedness, and most of us could probably use more of it. That said, a sure way to make me cringe is to call me a “networker,” or worse still, ask me how to “network.”    (M38)

I hate “networking.” I don’t think anyone should do it.    (M39)

I sometimes enjoy meeting people for the sake of meeting people, as long as they’re interesting and I’m not in the middle of one of my many introverted moments. I love meeting people who are passionate and who make me think. I learn a lot from these folks. Lots of other good stuff sometimes happens from knowing these folks, some of it career-related.    (M3A)

Then there are folks who have no interest in two-way conversations. They just want to be heard, or they’re trying to sell something. I avoid these people like the plague.    (M3B)

These people are networkers. Networking, to me, implies meeting as many people as possible in case they might be useful to you later. I never network.    (M3C)

A more accurate description of this phenomenon is Drive-By Networking. I first heard the term at Matt Homann‘s IdeaMarket last October. It describes people who approach you for the sole purpose of getting your business card so they can annoy you later.    (M3D)

If you’re feeling disconnected, I have three pieces of advice.    (M3E)

First, avoid Drive-By Networking.    (M3F)

Second, approach people because you’re interested in learning, not because some self-help book says you need to know more people in order to succeed.    (M3G)

Third, seek Authentic Conversations. The key to Authentic Conversations is to focus on listening, not on being heard. If you focus on the former, the latter will usually follow. If it doesn’t, then simply move on.    (M3H)

Something Special in St. Louis

There’s something special brewing in St. Louis, and it ain’t Budweiser. My side of the story begins in the Bay Area. We’ve got this special culture here in California. It’s a culture of openness, of collaboration, of entrepreneurship, and of tolerance. Combine that with a wonderfully diverse and intellectual community, and you get a tremendous amount of good vibes and innovation. The Bay Area is so wonderful, most of us don’t see any need to go anywhere else, and those who do often experience severe culture shock. Yes, Virginia, not everyone is like us Californians.    (LBJ)

In some ways, that’s a good thing, but in many ways, it’s sad. True, California is beautiful. True, the people here are brilliant and wonderful. But, there are brilliant and wonderful people who live outside of California, and there’s no reason why those folks can’t enjoy the same community vibe that we do out here. The Internet allows us to transcend geographical boundaries and form a virtual community with a similar vibe, but it still pales in comparison to the experience of being physical immersed in this type of environment. The barrier to this sort of vibe emerging in a geographical community is usually culture.    (LBK)

Is it possible to shift the culture of a community (or an organization) to be more collaborative, more tolerant, more innovative? Absolutely. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and like all great things, it starts with great people, and it has to start small.    (LBL)

St. Louis has these ingredients as well as a growing consciousness about what is possible. The right people are there, and they are starting to discover each other. If this growing community fosters these opportunities, a wonderful prairie will emerge.    (LBM)

This past Wednesday, I did my part by co-facilitating the first gathering of the St. Louis Collaboratory, which was formed by Kellee Sikes and three of her colleagues (Mark Richman, Donna Mickens, and Valerie Hartman). (Pictures from the event.) The gathering was modeled after the “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” (TCC) workshops I co-organized with Jeff Shults earlier this year in San Francisco. Kellee attended our second workshop, and enjoyed it so much, she decided to try and bring a similar experience to her community in St. Louis.    (LBN)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/92/273875599_bd3b84ff7d_m.jpg?w=700    (LBO)

Kellee, Mark, Donna, and Valerie recruited a fantastic and diverse group of participants. We had folks from both non- and for-profits, from large and small companies, from technology, health care, and organized labor. These people were thoughtful and open-minded. They came into the workshop with a healthy dose of skepticism, but also a willingness to play. What surprised me the most was that several of them had thought as deeply about collaboration as anyone else I’ve ever met.    (LBP)

I learned a tremendous amount listening to this group and watching them work. I could write 50 blog entries about the things I learned, stories I heard, and insights I gained. (I’ll be happy if I manage three.)    (LBQ)

At dinner later in the evening, I told several people that it would be a travesty if they did not continue engage with each other. You can do amazing things in a day. My goals were to expand their consciousness, to make them aware of each other, to start seeding Shared Language, and to give them an opportunity to experience a different kind of collaboration. We met these goals, but they barely scratch the surface of what’s possible.    (LBR)

The opportunity is there. Kellee and company are planning another workshop in January, and hopefully some of the participants from this week will play a more active role in designing the next event. Moreover, there are complementary events cropping up in St. Louis.    (LBS)

Through a serendipitous conversation with Jay Cross last month, I discovered Dave Gray, the founder of St. Louis-based XPLANE, which does visual modeling and facilitation. Dave introduced me to Matt Homann, a lawyer by trade who recently formed a company, LexThink, to organize more collaborative gatherings. Matt has been experimenting with a different kind of networking event in St. Louis known as Idea Markets, and the second one just happened to be this past Tuesday. It was an excellent event, and I’d encourage people from the area to go. This style of event is a dime a dozen in the Bay Area, but we rarely see the mix of people that Matt managed to draw.    (LBT)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/91/273871891_6afb850afc_m.jpg?w=700    (LBU)

What’s different about St. Louis Collaboratory and events like Idea Markets is that they’re not about Drive-By Networking. They’re not about, “What can you do for me?” They’re about, “What can we do with each other?” That, my friends, is what collaboration is about. I’ll be watching these developments closely to see what emerges.    (LBV)