In the years during and after the second world war, vast amounts of war material were airdropped into the islands of New Guinea during the Pacific campaign. This“necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders… . Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers—and also the islanders who were their guides and hosts. With the end of the war the airbases were abandoned, and cargo was no longer being dropped.
“In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood, and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. …
“In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size mockups of airplanes out of straw, and created new military style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes.” [Wikipedia]
Inevitably none came.
Why do I get a sense of déjà vu when I attend many networking meetings? Maybe I should ask, when is a networking meeting not a networking meeting?
We’ve all met people at networking meetings who appear to believe that just by being there, they’re networking. Well, I feel that the organisers of many networking meetings believe that merely creating something that looks like a networking event means they have created a real one.
This is not, in any way, to judge or criticise these people, many of whom do it to be helpful. However, it seems to me that many events fail to deliver because they don’t provide the circumstances essential if attenders are to benefit.
Firstly, events need to be consistent, regular and frequent. Same day, same time, same place. Once a month is too infrequent, once a week too frequent. Providers which rotate the venue don’t get that it isn’t the venue which is relevant to the networker. Consistency of venue allows the networker to screen this out. Instead we have suppliers switching venue, presumably to give the networker an attraction.
Secondly, and much worse, are the obligations: the obligations to attend, to provide referrals or testimonials at meetings. I’m not talking about BNI, where this pressure is overt. (Incidentally, I believe that Ivan Misner actually preaches a ‘give unconditionally’ philosophy. This doesn’t seem to filter through to BNI in the UK.)
I am talking about those events where there is a covert pressure from the organisers or, if you like, an expectation in the attenders that referrals will be/should be made.
I once went to a one to one with an accountant in Swindon. He showed me the book where he tallied the value of the work he received from people and the value of the work he gave them. This was to ensure he never gave work to a greater value than that he had received. Most people get that that is a bit extreme—but, in truth, it is only a parody of the attitude of most networking events.
The trouble is the word ‘give’. Most people at networking meetings think they have to give in order to get—or, alternatively, they won’t get anything unless they give.
This is immortalised in the BNI saying “givers gain”. The overt content of this message is “just by giving, you’ll get good stuff back”. The covert message is “unless you give, you won’t get good stuff back”.
Giving-in-order-to-get never works in the long term, as social workers will tell you. The trouble is that giving-in-order-to-get contains a hidden demand: “I’m giving you this referral and I expect something back”. People don’t like demands made of them.
At this point, a small number of readers will have said, “yep, I realise I do this”. Everyone else will deny the idea ever crossed their minds. Unfortunately, we are unaware (unconscious) of much of our mind and, I am afraid, only a tiny minority of us truly give with no expectations whatsoever of any return.
Back to networking. My argument is that organisers who are unaware of these psychodynamics can’t offer a networking event that will be valuable to attenders. And attenders who aren’t aware of this, can’t contribute to the event in a helpful or constructive way.
Going back to the people of New Guinea, where they went wrong, we can say with our hauteur and sense of superiority, is that they didn’t understand that there were agents (ie the US military) other than themselves. A harsher analysis would point out that they had deduced that all the cargo had come from their gods and, when the cargo eventually failed to materialise, they lost their faith in their gods (which is what actually happened).