i) First Principles of the Network
Creating a new venture of any kind is always a difficult undertaking; like any experiment it could fail. To reduce this risk as much as possible entrepreneurs must use all of their resources with maximum effectiveness. Nothing can be wasted, not their time or energy, not their financial capital, not their talents and expertise. And most certainly they should not leave idle their access to a network of mutual support, a resource that is as critical as any other.
Exactly what should a network provide for the entrepreneur. It should offer information, advice, encouragement and further access beyond itself to other networks and individuals. But is that not just what your friends do for you? So does that mean a network is no more than trendy jargon for a bunch of friends and acquaintances? No. A network is much more than some good friends playing tennis together.
For a group of persons to be a network they much be aware of themselves as a team, aware of their capabilities. They must understand what the team - the network - can do for them and what they can do for the team. Each member must be actively and consciously willing "to network", to mutually share information, insight, talents, advice and encouragement. Each member must see the network as an entity and as a direct means to furthering that individual's own goals. And a healthy, dynamic network is always alert for new members to complement and expand the range of its capabilities and resources.
There are those who will object strenuously that this advocacy of networking represents nothing more than a glorification of the old-boys-network of the past - an institution to be destroyed, not encouraged. They will point out that these old networks were tightly closed circles of friends from common backgrounds who traded favours and opportunities among themselves, who often discriminated on the basis of religion, race, gender or income and who were determined to defend their privileges and block the advancement of others. Of course, such sleazy networks existed and to some extent still do. But fortunately these old networks grow steadily more obsolete and the new network of which we speak is entirely different.
The old network was inward-looking, exclusive, stifling and ultimately self-destructive. The new network is about advancing new ideas, not defending old ideas or existing interests. It is outward looking - for new ideas and new members. It is driven by a strong spirit of accomplishment which demands the full use of human talent and energy, not its suffocation in a fortress. The new network is a band of brothers and sisters out on an adventure. Or at least it should be.
Notwithstanding this orientation of the new networks, others will still object on grounds of morality. They will argue that the point of participating in the network is that the individual expects something in return. Instead of helping your friend, just because that person is your friend, you help because it is to your advantage to do so The networker is dedicated to "using" people, helping only when an exchange of value is possible. And this, they say, is morally unacceptable.
There are two counters to this argument. First, while it is obviously one's ethical duty to help a perfect stranger without thought of reward, the network in no way discourages this. Even the most ardent supporter of networking would not suggest that the network is intended to dominate every aspect of your life. Second, all relationships, whether between lovers, spouses, friends and participants in the marketplace, involve give and take, exchanges of benefits. One helps one's friend partly at least because of what you owe him or her for past benefits received. The sense of exchange is not altered even if the benefit received was merely the pleasure of companionship. Yes, the network is premised on people "using" each other. But most human interaction necessarily requires that we use each other.
The real moral issue involved in the network, as in all human relationships, is whether the individual intends to give as well as to take. Are you purely selfish or are you willing to give fair value in return? There is no doubt that networks do attract some persons who intend to drain the network of all possible benefits and give nothing in return. That certainly is morally unacceptable and when the network identifies such a parasite it has the right to spit the scum out.
Because an essential attribute of the network is access, to itself and to the contacts of the network members, an issue of fairness must be addressed. In spite of the outward-focus of the new networks, there still are de facto acts of exclusion. What would an outsider think if he knew you, using your contacts, had secured a appointment with a vice-president of research and development to discuss a new product idea when he, the outsider, who also has a new product cannot even get a reply to a letter. There is something about this that seems unfair. Should we therefore refrain from using the network to avoid taking unfair advantage of those less fortunate? Hard reality suggests a different answer.
In our dynamic world a seemingly unlimited host of ideas, information and people compete for any individual's scarce attention. For persons of responsibility and accomplishment this demand for attention from all sources can easily be overwhelming. For many it would be a physical impossibility to see all those who ask for appointments or to think about all the ideas that might be presented. In these circumstances a person has no choice but to be selective, to exclude arbitrarily some approaches. One does this by first listening to those persons one knows, to those you already have reason to believe will not waste your time. With a network you can gain access and introductions; without it you are often left out in the cold. That probably is not fair but there also does not appear to be a viable alternative. To refrain from using the network is equivalent to refraining from using your mathematical ability because everyone else is not similarly accomplished. The civilized person of course minimizes the unfairness of exclusion and tries to the greatest extent to be open to the approaches of those outside his or her immediate experiences.
Given that active networking is appropriate behaviour, we need to make clear the many kinds of assistance that it can render. It can provide information and skill. For some ventures the "free" information and skills which are made available make the difference between success or not. And on some occasions it can provide information that is not available from any other source, regardless of price. The network also offers advice on a myriad of subjects, honest advice that is often not possible among close friends. What person can easily tell that special friend that his or her long-sought dream is an impractical fantasy. Network members, less close than good friends, can. Finally, there is the access to the contacts of all the network members; it is in this way that the reach' of any network can be measured and it is this reach that can cut years off the realization time of your venture. The right appointment with the right person can transform a situation within hours.
Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that the network cannot produce miracles. It will not facilitate contacts if you blow your chances with poor preparation or follow-up. It will not continue to render advice freely if you seem incapable of digesting anyone else's opinion but your own. The network increases your likelihood of success, but it does not guarantee that success.
ii) How to Build Networks
Note: Whether you are gregarious or not, network building is a skill you require to increase your chances for success.
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