So I was at this networking evening, and someone asked me what the difference between art and design was. Off the top of my head, and rather flippantly, I said: "Design is art with an obvious purpose. Art is what you can call it when it doesn't make sense." * Thankfully the recipient of this profound uttering considered me to have made an interesting contribution to the conversation. Thinking of what I'd said later, it struck me that although it didn't cover All of art (thank goodness) and is actually a bit of an insult, it was interesting to think of it in a networking context.
I have come across two main ways to approach networking: the art and the by design.
1. That which is planned. Networking 'by design'. Think 'target list', people I would like to meet, people you 'need to know'. While this is effective in focusing on where we are going, and promoting efficiency with time, as soon as a whiff of 'target people' gets out, the word 'use' floats around like a stink bomb. People don't like to be used, especially if it's to get to someone else who will be disappointed that they betrayed their trust. Those who are the movers and shakers set up all sorts of protection to prevent this sort of person, because they appear fake. Protection like PAs.
And with too much focus, you let the good ones slip away. I rile against targeting people as a rule, as I believe genuine relationships with lots of different types of people is astonshingly good for us, even when we are 'very important'. By separating the list from the non list, you are separating wheat and chaff, sheep and goats, when actually you just need to adjust your conversation topics. And when you need a plumber, I would rather call someone I know, than use the guy down the road because he is cheaper.
2. That which is art: Networking without a design or purpose. Design is very effective when it is good, it works and it makes people happy. But going to a meeting, an event, where you know no one, you entertain art, you allow a spontenaity which can lead to unrivalled beauty. Going without expectation, you have nothing to lose. Yes, perhaps there won't be anyone that will be able to get you to where you want to go. But you might help someone else, and I guarantee you'll meet a few friends along the way. Anything can happen.
I found that you can hold the important people in your head and yet be free and easy with people because the list hasn't become a 'driving' agenda. Because you're not on a 'do or die' mission to tick off everyone on the list. The list is simply there for reference. I was at my first tweet up (Twitter offline meetup) event and asked to be introduced to someone - someone who became a close colleague and friend, because her boss was on my 'list'. I treated her the same as if she hadn't got that boss. Otherwise it just won't work.
So you see what I've just written proves to any artists still reading that I don't mean to slag off art. Quite the contrary, it brings beauty and with beauty sense. A combination of knowing the best people to talk to, but allowing yourself an 'anything can happen' mentality, your networking could take some unexpected turns.
*It may not have come out of my mouth as smoothly as that.
PS. Emilie Wapnick over at Puttylike has written a great post called: How to Break Through Small Talk and Talk to Strangers if it takes your fancy.