by Caledonia Skytower
Part 5. Building a network
I was reminded recently of the importance, value, and challenges of building a network when trying to conduct any endeavour successfully. I could drag out the platitudes, “no man is an island” and all that. The reality is that no one achieves success on solely their own efforts and merits. No one. You need connections: internally to support and keep you honest to your intent; externally to extend your reach and maintain a beneficial presence. Through the relationships you build, your endear establishes its reputation and gains strength. It becomes a part of the greater community it inhabits, not just a landmark feature of it.
I use the term “build” deliberately. I know that the term “grow” is more in vogue, and it works to illustrate more organic developments. Relationships, however, are hard work – constant work – “one bolt at a time” work. Each one of them is different, and must be handled based on its individual merits. Some are consumers, some are collegial, some are resources. The list of possibilities continues.
Social media and networking gurus like to use neat images of connected concentric circles, or human-like figurines in one-size-fits-all uniformity with orderly straight lines to illustrate networks. I believe that human networks look less like a circuitry plot, and more like the work of Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky.
In Kandinsky’s abstract work, slashes, circles and other geometric shapes overlay and intersect in what seems like a chaotic clamour. What really exists is a delicate balance of colour and geometry – the like with the unlike – the complementary with the contrasting. Each intersection is totally unique. I think that’s what a network of relationships really looks like.
A successful network is a wild mixture of all the connections you need to thrive viably, and/or sustainably – whichever you desire. You need:
- Black – relationships that are solid and the foundation of your work within, and your presence without. These are the true believers who “get” what you do, and support you absolutely.
- Blue – relationships that connect you with valuable resources and people of influence in your area of endeavour. These are people you can learn from, and go to when you need insight and advice.
- Yellow – relationships with people who you just like. They do great things, and you can’t help but want to be around them, or associated with them because you admire their spirit, creativity, energy, whatever. They make you feel good.
- Red – relationships that challenge you. These can be some of the hardest relationships to make and maintain. None of us does our best unless we are stretched a little. Establishing a good, respectful working relationships with people whose ideas push us to be more than we might be otherwise are invaluable.
These relationships all look different. Some will be inscribed boldly, and others will be faint washes across your canvas. All of these have value, and play a different role in the overall composition of your network.
To move from the esoteric to the concrete we need an example, so I’ll use Seanchai Library. When the library was just a kernel of an idea, nine years ago, founder Derry McMahon did not just jump into terraforming a parcel and designing a logo (which we all tend to do when we get excited about an idea – guilty!). She took time to visit different libraries around the grid, and get to know the people involved with them. Her connections in her professional life helped this – the person who introduced her to virtual worlds was a friend and colleague.
She also took the time to observe. She asked herself key questions about what she observed. She specifically asked herself what would serve residents in a manner that was not already being provided for. A library of the spoken word was a gamble, and some days it still is. It involved all sorts of different relationships inside the library community, and outside of it.
Today, Shandon Loring and I maintain relationships for Seanchai with a wide variety of people and organizations. Some are ongoing relationships that are engaged all the time, and some come and go as opportunity and mutual needs dictate. They vary widely from connections in the literary community, the arts, bloggers and media, land developers, educators. We need each and every one of them to stay dynamic and viable.
These key questions will help you assess a potential relationship:
- What do you have in common?
- What do you have to offer?
- What would benefit you?
- What is the risk, if any?
One absolute requirement of these connections, or any relationship for that matter, is that they be 100% genuine and based on mutual respect and benefit. You must have something to offer each other – something to exchange as equals. Anything less and the connection is one-sided, and ultimately will collapse.
As hard as building connections is, so is admitting disconnects. We all want things to work out – the “win-win.” I am not sure that is always possible. Life has a way of changing the stakes when you least expect it, and a once viable connection may fade or morph over time. Expectations must be adjusted to suit those changes. There are also some relationships that look like they have potential, but which end up just not being a good fit. It is in your best interest for these to be handled as “no fault” situations. Not every glass slipper fits on your foot, or even looks well there.
I strongly urge you to learn to weather these comings and goings with good grace. It’s a big grid, and there should be plenty of room for everyone. As trite as “never burn your bridges” sounds, consider carefully before severing ties irrevocably. If a connection is doing actual long-term damage, that is a line which you definitely need to cast off. Do it respectfully, no matter how you feel. You never know who might be watching, or what relationships exist on the other side. Ultimately, you will be known by the connections you make and break: how you treat them – all of them – in whatever state of relevance or intensity they might be.
A high school classmate of mine once worked as a salesperson in the menswear department of an upscale department store, and likes to share the following tale. She was the only female salesperson in the department. One day a scruffy guy in sweats came in and was poking around among the suits. The other salespeople paid no attention to him. However, she went over and engaged him in conversation, asked if she could help him find what he was looking for. Turns out he was a very affluent business man, and he ordered six expensive suits that day. Not only that, he wouldn’t deal with anyone but her from that day on. It turned out to be a connection made very genuinely, based on mutual need and respect, was free of judgements or expectation, and paid dividends for both of them long afterwards. My classmate did not just gain a client, she made a friend. “You just never know who you might meet, and what their story is,” she likes to say.
So, go out there and get a little messy. Draw your lines, squares, and circles in every possible colour – intersecting others who have common interests:
- Groups who are willing to cross promote with you (share notices or note card announcements)
- Bloggers and media in your area of endeavour
- Others engaged in similar or sympathetic activities
- People willing to share their experience, who you can learn from
See what other people are doing, and how they are doing it. Cultivate connections. Maybe make some friends.
NEXT POST: Are you on grid, but not on-line?
Catch the Entire Series
If You Just Build It… is a multi-part series. To catch up with everything, follow the links below.
- Blasting the Myths
- The Basics: Who? What? Where? When? How?
- Words matter. So does how you use and share them
- Creating Visual Collateral