Friday, August 8, 2014

the power of the network

We like to imagine that successful entrepreneurs, inventors, successful professionals, and creative/athletic talents are the products of individual genius.

They're not.

Sure, each person has gifts that enable her to do things in the world, but social and economic success depend on access to information, resources, and-- most importantly-- each other.  This is the true power of the network. 

Last week I had breakfast with my networking mentor, and I was again reminded that networks are about relationships-- not technology or social media.  Over the past 45 years Carl Terzian's public relations firm has helped more than 5000 clients.  He has represented mayors, senators, college presidents, business leaders, and a variety of professionals, including me.

Networking is about providing value through relationships.  Sometimes you will receive value, and more often you will help someone else with an idea or a resource. This has nothing to do with computers and everything to do with the people who use them.  We rely on blogs and other social media simply to amplify and accelerate our ability to build networks, and to compensate for the fact that there is no physical public space where we can spend time with each other and the experts we want to learn from most.

I started Open Source Learning with the idea that learning communities are more effective when they function as networks instead of as one-to-many broadcasts.  In a classroom where only one person holds the talking stick and takes responsibility for content and discipline, we miss out on the value of everyone else's thinking.  Since we're constrained by the school's bell schedule, not everyone may get a turn to speak in a 50-minute period, so the only way for everyone to contribute is to use asynchronous learning channels like Twitter feeds (we'll be using the hashtag #dplitcomp).  This is why I'll suggest that you keep your phones/tablets/laptops on and available during class. It's also not a substitute for interpersonal interaction, which is why I will also ask that we pay more attention to each other than our devices. 

The benefits of networks are unpredictable.  New voices can mean new ideas, which can shift the topic, the outcomes, and even the purpose of a conversation.  You may meet a mentor, form a community of interest or critique, or even create relationships that last a lifetime.  On Wednesday, November 10, 1999, Carl hosted a networking breakfast at The Regency Club in Los Angeles to promote my management consulting practice and introduce me to prospective clients.  Why do I remember the details of that particular event?  That was where I met my wife. :)

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