Many of us often dread going to networking events, yet see it as a necessary evil. The popular adage it isn’t what you know but who you know seems to command attendance. The organizers of the events have the best of intentions, and even though participants seek out similar opportunities there is a level of discomfort. This is in part explained by a study in a forthcoming issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, that shows that contrasted with the spontaneous social ties of friendship, instrumental networking makes individuals feel dirty. However, the question does not have to be, “To network or not to network”, but how and where to do so.
By scanning the plethora of networking tips available online, one could easily walk away with the idea that “networking” is an activity that only takes place at specified events. This overlooks the endless opportunities that exist everyday to connect with the people around us. This is exemplified by Pedro Medina who shows us that we can meet people in the least likely of places, from the elevator to the public transport. In Serendipity as a Style of Life, Pedro shares his methodology for meeting amazing people everywhere he goes. An implicit element which leads to Pedro’s success in building relationships is that he is not seeking out some and ignoring others, he is genuinely interested in getting to know the person he is talking to.
It may seem counterintuitive to remove the instrumental aspect underlying our traditional understanding of networking, but by doing so you can build more relationships, and better ones too. Stop networking and start talking to people around you, wherever you are. Too many times we overlook the people sitting right next to us, and thus miss out on opportunities to meet new and interesting people. If you do go to a networking event, don’t fall into the instrumental trap. You’ll feel better about it and so will they.