We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.
The breakfast club
@wedge recently tweeted a list of UK conferences for intranet folks. Great, conferences are awesome and always an opportunity to network right? Well, er, yeah. Except I am an introvert. My idea of hell is a ‘networking drinks event’ – even if the canapés are awesome. Just writing this post is making me clam up and feel socially inept. Thankfully, I am not alone and greater minds than me have written on this topic and offer advice, which I will try and share.
Note: Throughout this post I refer to introversion – this is a complex and hotly debated subject which I am not going to get into. For this post we’re looking at those of us that become easily ‘drained by social pursuits’. More info on Introversion
Also, in writing this blog I realised there are actually two posts I want to write here. One on networking for introverts and another on the challenges of managing an intranet as an introvert. That latter one will be have to wait. For now, lets talk networking.
Why do we need to network?
The threat to us all in the future is automation of roles, tasks which can be automated will be, and so to succeed in the future we need to be able to do work which is difficult to automate. Creative work – work which is often central to knowledge workers roles, is something which cannot be easily automated. Great creative work relies on networks, learning from and inputting to idea generation. This is why crowdsourcing works, its why those hit US comedy shows with writing teams work – they have a diverse network of individuals collaborating together. It’s why organisations need intranets which are more ‘social’.
“We have to learn how to cooperate in networks. Start right now in engaging in diverse professional learning networks. Put yourself out there, for in this new world of work, you are only as good as your network.”
Harold Jarche, Personal Knowledge Management
Information flows faster through networks, they filter information better and innovation flows faster through a network (P.Hinssen). So in the information age, with the focus on innovation, a solid network provides strength. So, with many arguing that business success in the future is dependant on your network, it pays to understand how us introverts can ‘hack’ this networking malarkey.
“If you understand networks, you will understand the future.”
Peter Hinssen, The network always wins
Reading ‘the network always wins‘ by Peter Hinssen, it struck me how vital networks (in all their guises) and networking is and how my own networking skills need to improve.
So how do you network if you’re an introvert
Well firstly the good news. I believe that because introverts have to play a more active role to maximise their networking they are likely to make some strong and effective connections. Afterall, an introvert isn’t going to be ‘ that guy’ at the conference giving his business cards out to everyone and collecting hundreds from all the delegates. Maybe they’ll get one good contact, which will blossom. Also, an effective network is large and loose. So you don’t need to be networking 24/7, just making sure that you keep the connections in place. Online social tools make this much easier than ever (though they can’t take the place of face to face events).
Let me start with my progress and what is helping me. For years I’ve had the same feedback from line managers, basically ‘I need to network more’ but this was never explained in the right context. I always questioned, why would I need to ‘ chat’ with people not directly related to my work. What purpose does that solve? A big barrier for me was, is, the idea of networking as being about ‘selling’ yourself or ‘being political’. As an introvert these things don’t fit my personality, so I avoid.
However, a few things made me review and change my thinking. In 2014 I completed a Coursera course on Social Network Analysis (which I totally recommend), this gave me some basic understanding of network dynamics in a broader sense. I was able to internalise ‘networks’ and grasp simple terms like nodes and edges etc. This course, when added to the Personal Knowledge Mastery course I took later the same year, also enabled me to focus on and visual my networks, see gaps and the potential.
Then, a leadership course I took in 2015, tied all this up by discussing ‘social capital’. This is what I was lacking in some areas. So we have networks, where strength can be seen as having strong diverse connections between nodes. We have a personal network map – looking at the diversity in your network and then we have being socially savvy – understand how you can work with those in your networks for mutual benefit. All this made me more concious of my network and, more importantly for me, my responsibility to manage, engage and participate within it.
So what does good networking look like?
I wish I knew! Networking can be seen as making connections and making sure the connections remain. Having diverse connections in your networks to ensure you are working from information across a wider spectrum gives you strength. It’s about knowing who you are and sharing that, understanding that you often have a unique perspective on things and sharing that. It’s about taking a place in your networks. Allowing your input and ideas to be discussed, edited, amended or discarded as fit by your network. It’s about finding common ground and areas where we can learn from each other. Networking is about helping and being helped.
Start by taking a look at your network. How diverse is it, both in terms of demographics but also knowledge? Where are the gaps, who could help you fill these gaps. I now look for ‘hubs’ – people who are super-connectors and can help me connect into a new group. A simple ‘I am crap at networking, could you introduce me to a few people’ can make all the difference in breaking the ice. I have also found that these hubs are often the best advocates for an introvert.
Introverts tend to prefer small groups rather than large ones (hence networking events not being fun). Use this to your advantage. Plan time to network more one on one. Coffee or lunch. Plan, research and have a goal. A 2 way goal. Who can I help and who can help me. Plan ahead and set yourself a few goals if you are attending an event. Finally, and this is something I still need to work on, its removing those ‘introvert behaviours’ which kick in. Disappearing to the bathroom, checking your phone, rushing off to ‘catch your train’ when the ‘networking’ happens.
So after all this, will I be attending any conferences in the coming months. Errrr no, partly because I am unavailable – the ‘Intranet Now’ unconference was one I was hoping to attend. Living in the Netherlands makes it a little harder to get to the UK events – but we have some good conferences over here as well. So hopefully I will be attending more in the future and who knows, maybe you’ll see me there. Please say hi, even if my body langauge is screaming ‘not available for conversation’. Use this blog post as an ice breaker and let me know what you think.
Some further reading
- Networking for introverts – Dorie Clark, Harvard Business Review
- How introverts can network without changing their personalities – Lisa Evans, FastCompany