Sunday, June 23, 2024

Networking Pt. 1: Why I network

by BIZ Magazine

I am a strong believer in the value of networking. Meeting new people. Learning new cultures and perspectives. Hearing stories. It helps one to develop and grow into the better person. And, I think, networking does the same for everyone.

Networking most of the time is associated with business. However, I do networking not only for that, but quite the opposite actually. I seriously enjoy meeting new people, exploring ideas and opportunities. Learning something I would never learn if not for that person. Coming up and developing ideas which might not be born any other way.

Some might think that networking for either personal or professional reasons could be a waste of time. So, to prove myself either right or wrong, I decided to do some research, the results of which you can read below.

So, join me in this journey involving the cumulative experience of hundreds of people who realized the value and joy of meeting new people.

We are all interconnected: people, animals, nature, technology. We support and benefit one another for the greater (better or worse) progress and future. That is why the concept of networks and networking is hugely important to understand and for people to be part of networks, to feel comfortable there and be successful. As humans, we crave connection.  We seek out friendships and romantic relationships as a way to validate our existence, our ideas, or our way of life.

Onega Ulanova

Business relationships are no different.  Being successful is as much about whom you know as what you know, and while that fact can be a little frustrating for some, accepting it and ultimately using it to your advantage can open up a completely different level of success.

Despite this fact, many people view networking negatively – a necessary evil to get ahead in a career – which is a hugely wrong mindset.  With such a mindset, folks will force relationships and they will feel inauthentic and exploitative, and as a result, the not-believer will undoubtedly make fewer and weaker connections.

Most people have a dominant motivational focus — what psychologists refer to as either a “promotion” or a “prevention” mindset. Those in the former category think primarily about the growth, advancement, and accomplishments that networking can bring them, while those in the latter see it as something they are obligated to take part in for professional reasons.

In laboratory experiments conducted in the United States and Italy with college students and working adults, and in an additional sample of 174 lawyers at the firm studied, the group of researchers documented the effects of both types of thinking. Promotion-focused people networked because they wanted to and approached the activity with excitement, curiosity, and an open mind about all the possibilities that might unfold. Prevention-focused people saw networking as a necessary evil and felt inauthentic while engaged in it, so they did it less often and, as a result, underperformed in aspects of their jobs.

Thankfully, as Stanford University’s Carol Dweck has documented in her research, it’s possible to shift your mindset from prevention to promotion, so that you see networking as an opportunity for discovery and learning rather than a chore.

Consider a work-related social function you feel obliged to attend. You can tell yourself, “I hate these kinds of events. I’m going to have to put on a show and schmooze and pretend to like it.” Or you can tell yourself, “Who knows — it could be interesting. Sometimes when you least expect it, you have a conversation that brings up new ideas and leads to new experiences and opportunities.”

If you are an introvert, you can’t simply will yourself to be extroverted, of course. But everyone can choose which motivational focus to bring to networking. Concentrate on the positives — how it’s going to help you boost the knowledge and skills that are needed in your job — and the activity will begin to seem much more worthwhile.

In the business world, networking refers to the formation and maintenance of relationships that can be used to further your career. The idea of using people to fulfill professional ambition strikes at the heart of why some people find networking to be distasteful. It all feels a bit too calculated, too Machiavellian.

In my world, though, I see networking as a way to increase the likelihood of an advantageous connection. The story of one such fortuitous connection follows:

United Way Worldwide has done great things for humanity, and the most caring and influential people sit on its board to make a huge difference in so many lives. But little do we know that, once upon a time, Mary Gates sat on the board of United Way with John Akers, a high-level IBM executive. At the time, Akers was helping to lead IBM into the desktop computer business. Mary Gates talked to Akers about the new breed of small companies in the computer industry, which she felt were underappreciated by the larger firms with which IBM traditionally partnered. Maybe she changed Akers’s vision of who to go to for the new IBM PC’s DOS, or maybe her comments confirmed what he already knew. In either case, after their conversation, Akers took proposals from small companies, one of which was Microsoft. The rest is history: Microsoft won the DOS contract and eventually eclipsed IBM as the world’s most powerful computer company. Without Gates’s potent network, a sensational new operating system might have faded into obscurity.

Onega Ulanova | Co-founder, LA New Product Development Team

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