Networking Sucks, Build Communities Instead
Originally published March 21, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press
Preface: This article is one of a three part series highlighting the most meaningful ideas I discovered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.
Networking sucks. There I said it. You know why it sucks? Networking is self-serving, therefore when done in repetition, it grows tiresome for everyone involved. Additionally, networking (sucks) because it is designed around what we stand to gain from other people.
When I was perusing conference tracks for SXSW prior to my trip, “Networking sucks. Build communities instead,” immediately caught my eye. I’ve forced myself into networking for years. It feels like a rehearsed version of myself presenting to a rehearsed version of someone else and both of us are pretending to care about what the other is saying. If you’ve been that person, or if I’ve been that person to you, don’t worry it isn’t you; it’s networking.
This brings the question: What the heck is a ‘community’?
A community is a place where collaboration trumps competition and people get together with the intention of creating experiences with others who have similar interests. It is less transactional and more relational. The idea of building community turns networking on its head and makes the experience about the other person. It changes the above phrase to: “A community feels like a real version of myself collaborating with a real version of someone else and both of us are invested in a collective outcome.”
As a chamber, we have been banging our head against the wall as to why our networking events are not more consistently attended. Aren’t these type of events the backbone to chamber work? Or any type of work really? You guessed it: Networking sucks. That’s why people don’t attend networking events more regularly. It is time to start building relationships with people in a more meaningful and inclusive way. It is time to stop going into interactions with the hope of gaining something, but instead enter the conversation with the intent of giving back to a community that has given us so much.
You’re part of lots of communities already. You might have your gym community, your church community, your hiking community, your baseball parents’ community. And you have really good reason for belonging and enjoying being part of each of them. How might we transcend this idea into our work communities?
There is an organization called CreativeMornings based out of New York City. In 2008, Tina Roth Eisenberg started CreativeMornings out of a desire for an ongoing, accessible event for New York’s creative community. The concept was simple: breakfast and a short talk one Friday morning a month.
Every event would be free of charge and open to anyone. Its manifesto: “Everyone is creative. A creative life requires bravery and action, honesty and hard work. We are here to support you, celebrate with you, and encourage you to make the things you love. We believe in the power of community. We believe in giving a damn. We believe in face-to-face connections, in learning from others, in hugs and high-fives. We bring together people who are driven by passion and purpose, confident that they will inspire one another, and inspire change in neighborhoods and cities around the world. Everyone is welcome.”
Um, yes please. I’m not really sure how one goes about changing the tune an organization has been singing since its inception. My guess is sort of like one would eat an elephant. One bite at a time. As the chamber and the business landscape as a whole undergo many changes in the coming year, I hope you will change your mindset to one of inclusiveness from one of competitiveness.
I hope if you see a ‘community’ pop up that speaks to you, you will partake.
And I hope you do so not for what you have to gain, but for what you have to give.
Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.