Warren asked a great question in his comment to the last post. Is “Networking” even the word we should be using? In this Constant Networker blog, I use the word “networking” to ensure that we’re talking about the same activity, and then I tear apart everything we’ve been taught about networking.
One time I sat on a panel about Networking. The panelists were me and another woman. She began to lay out her plan for networking your way to desirable clients. As she spoke, my skin began to crawl. Find out where they grocery-shop, she said. Run into them in the grocery aisle! Find out where they play – run into them at a kids’ soccer match. Now just how creepy would it be to run into a prospective vendor at your kid’s soccer match, and ask them “So, does your child play on this team?” “No, I just figured I’d run into you here.” What the heck! Why not just sit on the sidewalk outside my house, in that case? That is not networking; it’s stalking, and it’s illegal.
Way back in 1979 when I came to Chicago as a punk rocker/conservatory refugee, I had a problem: no degree. I had two years of sight-singing and dictation and French for Singers under my belt and I needed to finish up and collect that sheepskin. Luckily my employer was willing to fund the rest of my BA, at Mundelein College.I took classes at night (before dashing over to the after-hours club Medusa’s to dance) and on weekends (on my way to whatever street fair or festival was going on that weekend). It was a great thing. I got my degree, but along the way, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary forced me to read this book, Beyond the New Morality, in a Business Ethics class.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version of that book: people are valuable in and of themselves. It’s always immoral to use people as a means to an end. That’s what predatory stalker-networkers do. No good. People can help and uplift us in a million ways all on their own; they don’t have to be part of our Quarter Three Business Enhancement Plan to do that.
I still cling to the word “Networking” because it’s how we think about meeting one another and cultivating business relationships. But Warren is right: that word has acquired some baggage. It’s tainted. Can we un-taint it? That’s the question.