Networking not working?

Recently I was invited to speak at an Alumni dinner at my Alma mater (University of Karachi). There were several speakers from the corporate sector. Some spoke about what they had achieved in their professional careers and wanted to rightfully acknowledge with gratitude, the contribution of the faculty present there, for shaping their careers.

Some were totally incoherent. It was obvious that either they had walked up to the rostrum quite unprepared or it was due to the stage fright they were suffering from temporary memory loss. Regardless, to say the least, they made no good spectacle to watch or hear. However, even the best public speakers have butterflies in their stomach before a speech, so there’s nothing too bad about it.

I was listening with rapt attention and concentration to a young lady, introduced as a former student and now a highly successful entrepreneur. She had worked in the corporate sector for about a decade and over the years. The young lady said, “I lost interest in a nine-to-five environment of imprisonment”. She further said, “I was sick of its monotony”. Obviously, she was bright and intelligent and one could easily make that out. In her extended discourse, lasting around fourteen minutes, she continued and constantly repeated the word, “networking”. She just picked upon the term, from where the predecessor speakers too had exhorted on the ‘virtues of networking’- with people, industry and academia. But her comments took the concept of networking to its zenith. A few minutes into her speech, I started counting how many times the word “networking” was being mentioned by her as the only tool of being successful in life, and not just professionally. In 12 minutes, “networking” was mentioned 31 times! While listening, I was reflecting if the word and concept of “networking” was being misused to connote as the “Only” route for making headway in life. In fact, the lass goaded the audience and repeatedly asked, so what is important? “Networking”, members of the audience responded. This was done oft during those 14 minutes.

So, dear readers, what is networking? How does it happen? And where can it take you in your bridled or unbridled ambitions, quest to, be known, to be rich and famous?

This journey is risky. One is always prone to the risk of being connected to the rich, who may be so, because the wealth amassment is through illegitimate means; and the famous, could be for reasons of being infamously famous. The money-laundering model is famous, too. It is a perilous quest. Many young executives believe that to be “alive” in the corporate world, they have to be seen and get noticed at all kinds and types of functions. What to mention the youth; haven’t we all come across people who attend “funeral prayers and burial” for purposes of networking. For many, a mourning gathering is a social occasion for exchanging visiting cards. I have seen it happen. I am certain, you have too. How misplaced can “networking” be!

Even the literary festivals and moots being frequently held, to the extent of causing fatigue, across various cities, have acquired a reputation of being a “center for networking”. The organisers are lured by self-projection of their insatiable and inflated egos; the speakers look at these events as launchpads. The real intent of promotion of the habit of reading is lost in the literati glitterati.

Is networking important? Yes, but with a long list of conditionalities, which must be met. Networking creates opportunities for being known and recognised. Networking and boot-licking are not synonyms. Nowhere near it. So, to network, there is no need to bend backwards. With the spine in its naturally erect position, learn to network.

The conditions that precede networking must include a recognised talent, skill or expertise that has been acquired through hard work, application, dedication and honesty. If these basic elements are lacking, networking will be good, only in the short-term. Over time, the lack of professional abilities will emerge and the individual will get exposed.

I have a friend, who loves to brush shoulders with the corporate elite and is never wanting or shy to hit the listener, by dropping heavy names on them. Over the years, I have witnessed how he was used, abused, and cast away, once his business chips were down. His pride of being part of the powerful “network” came crashing down.

Every single day, we witness the demise of illogical, unrealistic and incompetent networking between politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, bankers, and other corporate executives. The short life of networking between the incompetent and the corrupt is played out every day in our living rooms through the medium of investigative journalism, voiced through the idiot box and the print media. The board of directors of ENRON, were all well connected (through networking) but none could help them, for their complicity in the later discovered accounting fraud.

The deadliest combination is where there is excellence of talent that is linked to the right circle of influence. It is only in such cases of networking, that success will find permanence. Negatively speaking, the concept of networking is another name for having a large circle of fair weather friends. Where the raw material of networking is dishonesty, you should know its eventual end. Networking has the potential to hide a dirty hand by its clean glove. The overdoing of networking is a case of “self deception”. In consequence thereof, in its arena, divorce is also a rampant phenomenon too- the philosophy being, a tissue paper once used, must be thrown away. Networking in such situation comes to an end. Networks die too. Prosperity has numerous friends and it makes you member of all known networks -it is without quest; you actually get ‘invited’ to be part of it. In adversity, the ‘network’ takes the first flight out of your life.

I belong to a discipline where networking acquires an unreasonable importance. As a misnomer of basic understanding, many believe that business is only received through networking. Incorrect. Absolutely preposterous. Highly presumptuous, is this view of thought. Most untrue. Networking at best can be a door opener; it can make it ajar -but once you step in- the evaluation will invariably be based on pure economic benefits accruing to the counter party. So, if you don’t have a unique proposition to put on the table, the networking would be of no help and if it does come to your rescue then remember and know full well that you have transgressed the boundaries of uprightness and legitimacy -and a new file at an accountability agency, has been opened. The file may rest for sometime on the shelf, but it is only natural law, someday, somewhere, somehow; the file will leave the shelf and arrive in the courts and media.

Networking is not about cutting corners with regulation, rules, procedures, practices or governance standards. It has to be more about being guided, ’righteously’ for acquiring knowledge on how to honestly and judiciously conduct transactions.

The first networking effort of a wise person will be to forge an alliance with his/her own inner-self. The inner psyche must be a prominent role player in the making of your network. It is that guiding light that knows no corruption, for this voice is blessed with divine attributes. The networking between the conscious mind and the subconscious is critical for goodness of thought, deed, and action. The academia must concentrate on passing this attitude on to their young students. Tell these young men and women that networking has durability only in good weather, while in bad weather, sans ability to requite, you are always lonely and almost alone!

If networking is about compromise of your values, then you are good even as a loner. Networking per se will not beget you success; but hard work , talent, skill and nobility of cause and purpose, will surely lead to enduring success.

Readers, especially the young executives and students, network to promote your honest dealings, your moral conduct and your values and basic ethical standards. This type of networking will outlive your life.