Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Network is a Home

First published in 2008

A good network is built like a good house. One would like to have it structurally sound and purposeful. The difference lies in the currency: For the house it is money while for networking it is time.

Getting to know your resources!
The rooms in a house are like people in a network. The study could either be all the business and techie people, arts and crafts people, or both – depending on how you use it. All the people you are socialising with are making a great sitting room, as for the kitchen one would gather everybody who knows about inside maintenance and housework, and to build a garage people who are skilled in DIY, garden and outside maintenance would come handy.

Well, let’s not get deeper into the matter of whom one would like to invite to create the bed room - well, I guess George Clooney would be a definite 'Yes!' – ... moving on: Guest rooms are very interesting as they may change their purpose quite frequently, so in our networking home they would be made up by groups of people we are rather loosely connected to.

Sometimes we build our house from scratch. These are wonderful houses, although they cost a lot of time and effort. However, they have all the rooms in the right places, and to use it is like running a clockwork. A lot of us have been faced by this when leaving our parents house to go to university or to take on a new job somewhere else. This is always a bit of a scary option - to be alone and having to find ways to connect to people, but on the other hand you don't have to stick with people only because they are friends of friends. It is much less time consuming to buy a house. One might quite like it, but usually bits and pieces are missing, it needs a bit of decoration here and there and some of the rooms need to have the purpose re-allocated. In networking terms that would mean, that there is a base of people (family, friends, neighbours, work) on which one can build upon, a solid base to use for network extension.

Wishful Thinking!
There is just one thing that we need to accept – there is no 'perfect multi function room'. That is what we all would like to have, don’t we?

A joker, the one thing that becomes whatever we need it to become. Imagine your kitchen is a mess and you quickly need a coffee. You open the door to your Joker-room and there it is: The perfect kitchen unit with a coffee machine and a clean cup.
The next time you want to do some gardening, but can’t find a thing in your shed – off you go to the joker room, and you would wish to do so when your computer is breaking down, your marriage is at stake or you need help with organising something.

Do you know what? We ladies tend to think that we have something like that in our network!

We call it friends!

We have this fairytale idea of unconditional friendship in our heads. This best friend who is there for us whatever we are up to, the one with whom we share everything. Sometimes, very rarely we are lucky to have such a friend – most of the time it’s a person from childhood days. Once we’ve grown up, it hardly happens that we can build such a friendship again. That might be the reason why all these online networks are so successful. They all give the opportunity to re-kindle old school relationships.

It's all in the head!
Although we have grown up and know a bit more about life now, we still have the old patterns in our heads.
Who doesn't feel a bit guilty when bonding with somebody else not including the old friend - let's call it the best-friend-syndrome. And who doesn't feel a bit guilty if not responding to a friends request with 100% commitment - let's call that the chicken-out syndrome. Well, and finally who on the other hand wouldn't feel a bit disappointed when a friend shows signs of chicken-out.

I believe that this is a typical female way of seeing things. Ask a guy what he knows about his best friend: good soccer player, name, degree, size of the house and type of mortgage, type of car now and 10 years ago. That’s about it, and probably in that order.

Ask a women: she will tell you the story of her friends life in detail!

Guys seem to gather information to network, girls seem to gather information to bond!

Bonding is nice and well: That is why we are rather good in certain areas of networking. However, we are rather crap in others.To be really good in bonding we have to take things emotional and personal. Hence the best-friend syndrome. It means that we need to maintain the bond - it's in the meaning of the word - and that is time consuming. A network under bonding constraint has to be small, otherwise guilt will be eating our minds and energy.

We don’t have to lose the bonding bit altogether – we are much to good in it to abandon that skill. However, we have to accept that some bonds have to be let loose if the time comes. We will have to understand that we will have to build new ones, and that it is okay to do so. We have to understand that building a new part of a network is no deceit to the old relations.

Let’s go back to the image of the 'perfect multi purpose room': What happens if we are...

Using friends as jokers?
Be honest: How often did you feel disappointed by a friend because you asked for something you were passionate about, only to see that they didn't share your passion and chickening-out was clearly on the agenda.
Imagine you are organising a trip to Tate Modern and you need to fill the group with one more person to get the cheaper tickets. So you are asking your garden freak friend to join. The scenario most likely would be:
  • Friend responds positively as helpers syndrome kicks in - we are friends after all. And if you are really passionate in your explanation friend might even really believe that it is a great thing to visit this museum.

  • Once the dust has settled and after you've parted, friend realises that you are - well, friends - however... hmmm, well, c'mon Tate Modern - and my hedge needs trimming and I have to... and this and that, and ...

  • Then: A phase of trying to avoid each other - one of them sensing that the response was not entirely genuine, while the other one didn't find a good excuse yet.

  • As more time goes by the possible excuses become lamer and lamer, until - with bad feelings on both ends - the whole thing goes bust.
And now be even more honest: How often did you behave that way when used as joker? We just have to accept that there are aspects of each others lives which we do not share, and it is okay that way! Otherwise we would have clusters of people who are all doing the same. We have to have crossovers of interest to keep this globe rolling. Hence it is fair enough to find other people to cover the areas our friends don't.

This is called 'Networking'
Our fellow gentlemen usually handle things that way intuitively while we ladies need to learn this way of networking'!

Get to know your people, and then use them accordingly.
This has two huge benefits: Firstly, you will gain time! You won’t waste a lot of time nagging and making yourself and others feel grumpy, which is a very inefficient mode to be in. Time which you can well spend to expand your network to find people to cover the aspects of your life, your friends are not able to.
Secondly, you will be able to keep your friends! You will have a lot of fun doing the things together which are in your both interest and thus deepening the bond rather then stretching it.

The aim has to be:
Create Win-Win situations
avoiding bad vibes and building good ones,
for yourself and for your network,
using your currency (time) smartly.

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