WHEN Cass Business School, regarded by the City as its very own business school, recently asked me to become the first ever honorary visiting professor of networking, they were recognising a significant shift in business thinking which brings networking out of its silo as a take-it-or-leave it soft skill, and into the realm of something with a harder edge: networking matters because it adds to the bottom line.
This may seem strange, given that networking has lightweight connotations and it remains overly associated with standing isolated at a cocktail party or conference, waiting to do the only thing you know how to do, namely to hand over your business card. But while much of networking has at its focus not social networking but intelligent face-to-face contact, ideally curated so people do not feel left to their own devices, it is about much more than this too.
Cass is of course a learning institution and this is appropriate because the best networking is about the gathering of, and exchange of knowledge. As every business and its employees and customers face a tsunami of information they face twin challenges: what to engage with and what to tune out. This challenge is central to embracing the new networking.
Others are getting in on the act too. In October I went to Boston to advise Harvard Business Review executives about the world of face-to-face networking. Less than three months later they launched their first online networking toolkit, Developing Your Professional Networks, saying that “real networking is critical to business success”.
Furthermore, a book published recently by the respected American networking specialist Ivan Misner looking at the differences in the way men and women network – provocatively titled Business Networking and Sex: Not what you think – cites the results of a three year survey of 12,000 business people in America, over 91 per cent of whom believe that networking is integral to winning business. Other survey data in the book confirm what most of you probably already know, that most business or jobs comes from direct referral, either from a recruiter, or a personal connection.
To be clear, I have a vested interest in saying this. I run a corporate networking business for global clients investing in their peoples’ networking skills in a way which would have been unheard of as little as five years ago. But in this climate there is only one reason why a business like mine is growing: it works.
As the American theorist Steven Johnson wrote in the bestseller Where Good Ideas Come from: “A good idea is a network”... “a new idea is a network of cells exploring adjacent possibilities.”
Business has always been about knowing the art of the possible. Giving or getting networking skills will get you further, faster. And in this climate, that has to be priceless.
Julia Hobsbawm runs the corporate networking company Editorial Intelligence.