Everyone accepts the importance of networking. Many of us get our best work through personal introductions, or hire our best people on the basis of a personal recommendation. We know the power of word of mouth.
Today, when a rumour or chance remark can make its way round the world in seconds, you might think that social media would have enhanced that power. But does it really matter how many Twitter followers you have? Does your mastery of social media supply you with productive ideas or help you win contracts? In many cases, I suspect that a blur of activity masks an absence of any meaningful communication.
The real networking challenge is to meet the right people in the right context. Are you reaching decision-makers? Are you meeting the people who can help you make decisions? Are you in the right networking environment? And there's one more vital question: are you equally ready to listen as to talk?
Think for a moment about the kind of networking most people do. Almost everyone has a LinkedIn profile, follows Twitter even if they don't actually tweet, and has a presence on Facebook. On top of these virtual connections, most bright managers and ambitious executives spend a certain amount of time at conferences and seminars where they meet more people and make sure they keep up with developments in their industry.
Doing the same thing
The trouble is that everyone else is doing the same thing, with the result that too many people spend too much time talking to people like themselves. This is a problem not just for individuals, but for organisations which are not as receptive as they should be to new ideas, observations and experiences from the front line.
If it's high-level networking you want, you might think the answer would be to wangle an invitation to Davos, the Swiss ski resort where the World Economic Forum meets every January. But apart from the fact all the most important and influential people tend to work to incredibly tight schedules that leave almost no time for casual conversation, I don't think this is the right approach. Effective networking is not about trying to hobnob with the big guys.
It's about meeting the people you need to meet - and these may not be the people you think they are. The first essential is to know where to ask, and who to ask. Because once you find out a few things, you may realise that the gatekeeper or intermediary, or even the internee, may be the one to point you in the right direction or make that crucial introduction.
When you are on home ground, it's not so difficult to make these vital preliminary enquiries. But if you're exploring a new market, especially abroad, there is so much you won't have had time to research.
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