Monday 5 December 2016

Get ahead by learning to love networking

Kingsley Aikins

Published 01/12/2011 | 05:00

The reality is that in this much flatter world, where billions are connected with smart devices and the old rules don't apply. Now, it is not who you know, not even what you know, but who knows you
The reality is that in this much flatter world, where billions are connected with smart devices and the old rules don't apply. Now, it is not who you know, not even what you know, but who knows you

NOBODY is born loving you or your organisation. You have to bring them on a journey and this can be done in a structured way.

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It involves applying a process that has four phases: research, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. Companies can and should do this in an orderly way.

A recent study by Duke University in the US found that while immigrants make up an eighth of America's population, they founded a quarter of the country's technology and engineering firms. The role of Indians in Silicon Valley is stunning in terms of start-ups and connecting back to their home country.

As Ireland continues to reach out to her massive diaspora in innovative and creative ways, the potential is obvious.

Just as many countries are looking to learn from Ireland's experience, so we in Ireland have much to learn from others and particularly the 'big four' -- Israel, India, China and Taiwan.

In fact, this writer believes Ireland has the potential to become the best in the world in this space and networking the Irish diaspora can become a key piece of Ireland's economic recovery.

Specific strategies in trade and investment, education and culture, sport and tourism can leverage off existing programmes and reap relatively quick returns.

Technology and communications are making newer and faster ways of connecting with the diaspora more possible and available. For the first time, geography does not dictate identity and we can now see ourselves as a vast dispersed but connected tribe of 70 million rather than an 'island off an island' of five million people.

The key to all of this is networking -- not the old backslapping version, but rather a more thoughtful and sincere approach that is all about integrity, mutuality and sustainability.

It is about building long-term hearts and minds relationships and these take time. Once forged, they can last a lifetime.

We live in a world where the central elements of exchange are relationships, rather than transactions, and the glue that keeps everything together is trust.

Trust is not an event and is not even deserved. Trust is earned. The recent history of this country has seen trust lost by a series of institutions. It can take ages to earn and can then be lost in just a second.

The reality is that in this much flatter world, where billions are connected with smart devices, the old rules don't apply. Now, it is not who you know, not even what you know but who knows you.

This poses opportunities and threats. We all struggle to keep up with the avalanche of 'friends' on Facebook and LinkedIn. Technology has moved on but our cognitive systems haven't changed much in thousands of years.

Professor Dunbar of Oxford University has attracted a considerable number of followers to his 'Dunbar Number' concept -- the notion that we can only handle a maximum of 150 relationships (including friends and family) at any one time.

Idea

This seems self-evident and, indeed, somewhat reassuring. However, this idea has to co-exist with the 'power of weak connections'.

We need to build large networks of very loose connections that one day may become part of our Dunbar Number.

It also has to live with the notion of 'funnels of serendipity', which is the idea that random chance can happen in a non-random way if you take certain actions and behave in certain ways.

Despite all this, most businesses don't know how to use networking as a business tool. Companies have strategies for advertising, marketing, PR and communications but not for networking, and yet networking is the key.

Companies tend to prefer to just 'let it happen'. Some people are naturally good at it, they reason, and not everybody can be engaged in it. The truth is that we all can and must make it part of our personal and business lives. Consider that the vast majority of good, well-paid jobs are not advertised. How do you expect to get your next position?

The simplest reason we should embrace networking is that it is a competitive advantage, everybody else is doing it and it becomes more critical in recession.

In the Celtic Tiger era, business flowed in, we all became order takers and the focus was all on the transaction.

Those days have gone and will not be back any time soon. Now the focus has to shift to the relationship as the differentiating factor. As the old Texan proverb says: "You need a relationship before the ox goes in the ditch."

Networking is also about building social capital. It is about you and what you stand for, your values and beliefs.

Integrity, mutuality and sustainability underpin it. It also suits our national characteristics and is a competitive advantage when we travel and do business internationally.

Kingsley Aikins, who is founder of Networking Matters and Diaspora Matters, is speaking to over 350 Irish CEOs at the Enterprise Ireland and Deloitte Chief Executive Forum in Dublin Castle today

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