Smart Networking: The Most Powerful Connection You Will Ever Make

Last month, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the “State of Now” conference. True to Jeff Pulver’s previous events, the audience and participants were treated to a delightful variety of topics with a taste from each speaker. Our panel, “Making Mindful Connections in Social Media,” featured Alisa Roadcup, Tracie Wagman and Anne Ream.  We took a brief moment to spark a conversation about networking—which led to the best conversations offstage.

“Networking” brings about images of seminars and conferences, trading business cards and meeting people through colleagues and business acquaintances.  But, we make connections through all aspects of our lives. Our networks are growing, and the lines between our personal and business connections are increasingly blurred.

Humans learn how to connect with others early in life through sight, sound and touch. Later, we learn to extend those connections through spoken and written words–expressing ideas and influencing others through speeches, pictures, film. The few people given the opportunity to use and master these tools have had a powerful voice.

Now we all have social media, the great equalizer. We are emerging again, as babies, learning to harness and leverage this power.  However, while we now all have tools available to create immediate social change, this environment poses some challenges for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. We expect immediate gratification—answers, conversation, entertainment and other distractions—all obtained on command at our fingertips.

What’s truly staggering about Facebook usage is not its volume—750 million photographs uploaded over a single weekend—but the constancy of the performance it demands. More than half its users—and one of every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user—log on every day. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. The relentlessness is what is so new, so potentially transformative. Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break.

-Stephen Marche, The Atlantic, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

We are all connected to an overwhelming number of people and organizations. Digital media and social tools have greatly increased our accessibility to each other.  With so many more people and organizations accessible to us now, we risk living a distracted life that rarely dives beneath the surface.  We can’t possibly give our attention to every connection.  So, we must be intentional with how and whom we invest our time.

But, upon whom or what should we focus our attention?  The most important and most effective connections, of course. The most powerful connections will help you suck every last drop of life nectar.  It will give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment beyond what you ever thought possible.  And you can be powerfully connected right now at this very second.  Because the most powerful connection is the connection is between you and your present surroundings.  You are your biggest advocate, your closest confidant.  You know everything about your life and what you really want out of it.  Nobody knows what your network should feel like better than you.

Some people are finding their voices for the very first time today. That’s how friendships are formed. The person sitting next to you might be a total stranger now, but tomorrow they might be your best friend.

Now that you are aware, focus. Are you at work? At home?  If you are at home, be at home.  Experience the boredom, frustration, joy, calm, or chaos.  It’s in these moments that we experience the serendipity and the happy accidents that lead to some of the most rewarding moments and game-changing events.

Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

-Sherry Turkle, New York Times, “The Flight from Conversation”

Take a moment to ponder the most important people in your network right now.  How did they get there and what purpose do they serve?  These people and connections are in your life for a purpose. They are the connections that bring meaning, in the form of interactions and further connections.  These people are also the connections that spread meaning, because the strongest connections (those closest to you) become your advocates. What would happen if you practiced this attentiveness as you move your networking circle outward to these people and organizations that surround you—friends, family, colleagues and consultants?

Now, also imagine this practice implemented within an organization. Your organization’s attention is focused on the important connections (brand fans and close connections) of that current moment, social media trends, noisy distractions and promotional tweets replaced by genuine customer interaction.

In all aspects of your life, the most powerful connection is not a social media superstar, a chief-something-or-other or your father-in-law’s mentor.  It’s not a billionaire, a president or a Kardashian.  The most powerful connection is your connection to the present moment. Intentional. Mindful. Simple.