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Networking: Supporting learning and creativity in the workplace



HR Zone member Jackie Cameron examines the advantages of networking for sharing knowledge and encouraging creativity at work.

As a strong advocate of networking – face-to-face, using social networking sites and blogging – I could tell many stories about how an interaction with another person has given me an idea which in turn I could use to the benefit of my business and to me personally.

This was summed up rather neatly in an article by Ryan Healy, where he talks about the difference between strong ties (family and close friends) and weak ties (through social networks) and the impact of this on creativity.

He quotes this from Wikipedia:

“More novel information flows to individuals through weak rather than strong ties. Because our close friends tend to move in the same circles that we do, the information they receive overlaps considerably with what we already know. Acquaintances, by contrast, know people that we do not, and thus receive more novel information.”

I am not writing here to take sides in the Facebook at work argument. What I do want to do is highlight the benefits of networking generally.

“I enjoy getting out and meeting new people. I always come away with something – maybe a new idea or contact. It keeps me fresh and informed.”

Before I start though, I want to comment on the impression held by ‘networking’. The first time I remember attending a ‘networking’ session it was to learn how to network. This was defined as meeting someone, listening a little to what they had to say, telling them what you do/sell, and making sure you exchanged business cards before you left, following up that conversation the very next day… you get the picture.

The presenter of this session was paid handsomely to do so – and all credit to them for that – but after a while I realised that, albeit in a less focussed way, most of us are doing it all the time.

My own – now elderly – parents have a wide social circle. When I think back we were never short of a plumber, electrician or supplier of any other services when I was young. They always knew someone who knew someone. They have no notion of what networking is – but they are doing it all the time.

Then I thought about people I know and how I got to know them. Try that with your Christmas card list – it can be very illuminating. How many people do you know now who was introduced by a classmate/associate/colleague.

I enjoy getting out and meeting new people. I always come away with something – maybe a new idea or contact. It keeps me fresh and informed. I meet up with people in the same sector as me, or for a common purpose, to learn something new, or just to catch up. This does not mean that I am out every evening, although I was once accused of being willing to turn up to the ‘opening of an envelope’.

Although I am an independent consultant now, I also did this when I was an employee. Some colleagues found that baffling. Why would I spend some of my valuable personal time on what they saw as business-related events? I guess the difference for me was that I realised that both the business and I could benefit.

The benefits to you

Those of you who are members of professional bodies already have a network of similar professionals who share the same qualification or technical experience. Of course the network is made up of people – different personalities, interests, ways of learning, ideas etc. How easy is it for you to connect with, at the very least, the publications from your professional body to see what is going on and what is new?

“I network widely through blogging. There are great blogs out there on any subject you can think of and there are no geographical barriers to sharing ideas.”

Then, of course, most will have a website – perhaps even an interactive one – and in many cases there will be local branches which hold occasional events. Add to this meeting and chatting with people from outside your profession and you have the potential to become a very attractive employee. I network widely through blogging. There are great blogs out there on any subject you can think of (and possibly would rather not) and there are no geographical barriers to sharing ideas.

So when you are ready to move to a new and more interesting job or want a promotion, or when redundancies are likely, you have even more to offer and a better idea of how you might make use of what you know.

There will be benefits to your employer too

It is particularly difficult for employers to justify rewarding employees differently if they are all doing a similar job. Might that be less of an issue if you could prove that in fact you are adding more value for them? In addition, think of the benefit you could bring if your network extended into your current or potential clients’ sector.

Imaginative employers might also see the value in encouraging networking to allow them to create new projects or as a way to ensure employees stay engaged on current projects.

As a proposition, it probably comes down to the big question of whether you see an encouragement to network as encroaching on your personal time or an opportunity to continue to develop.

Is networking just socialising in another guise? The definitions I found had ‘meeting people’ in both, but it went on to say for networking:

  • Meeting people

  • Exchanging ideas

  • Interacting

And for socialising….mixing and mingling! So maybe, as a start, if the idea of ‘networking’ is a step too far, you could just add a little of the exchanging ideas and interacting to your socialising and see where that takes you.

Check out Jackie’s blog at:

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