You're only as good as the people you have around you. And if you look after your personal networks, they will look after you.
We each have many networks. I have people who know the business of being a freelance consultant, a different mob who understand the community environment world, and an overlapping but distinct collection of people involved in activism in the region where I live.
These personal networks do three things: they deliver information I would find hard to access on my own, they help me problem-solve, and they provide emotional support around a role.
To strengthen a network, think about the people you already have there, and make more of what they bring to you.
Who do you can turn to when you need ….
Someone who knows what you’re talking about.
Someone who listens.
Someone who sends you interesting stuff.
Someone where you can ask dumb questions.
Someone who initiates.
Someone who cares about you.
Someone who thinks differently to you.
Someone who has done what you want to do.
Let’s start with the first three.
Someone who knows what you’re talking about
This is the kind of person where you can launch in and get to the crunchy bits, and they’re with you. They know enough about what you do to get started without you having to give all the details. You jump around a bit in your own skin and feel the edges of yourself and the way you are bumping up against the big lumpy difficulties in your life. They are a colleague.
For example, I’m a consultant in the learning and development arena. 30 years ago, I linked up with five other consultants working in the same area, all solo operators. We each needed people who understood our field, so we could talk through into the guts of the difficulties and dilemmas we were handling. Every year, three times a year, we have met. for three days, living in the same place, making meals, eating, sitting in session, going for walks.
It took a few years to get to know each other, and understand our somewhat different languages, but what carried us along and into a creative give-and-take was our shared interest in people, organisations and wider social system. Typically, we don't talk between our gatherings, but in the last few years, I’ve started phoning Bob or Nicky, for a natter, every now and then. I usually have something on my mind to talk about, but I’m interested as well in what is happening for them.
Having known each other a long time, they know what I’m talking about, broadly speaking, and they know me, and anyway, they are each good listeners. We care about each other, so it’s not just about problem solving - it’s about each of us as people with a practice.
Someone who listens
Someone who listens is a rare find.
Someone who listens for what you’re saying and not saying.
Someone who listens for the meanings you are making and the assumptions underpinning those meanings.
Someone who listens for what you are sure of and for the questions forming in you.
Someone who listens for your solutions rather than theirs.
Someone who listens to you and the situation around you.
Someone who doesn’t want to solve your problem, but trusts that you will find your way.
That’s a lot to ask for, but asking is a faster way to get what you want than hoping.
Someone who sends you interesting stuff
In a world where algorithms stalk us, and where most things you can just look up, it is a blessing to find a person who knows what you are into and sends you interesting stuff.
‘I thought you would find this interesting.’
‘I read this and I thought of our conversation a month ago.’
‘I just found this. It claims a) and b), but to my mind doesn’t go far enough with b). What do you think?’
This looks simple enough to do, but it’s not.
Here’s a small instance: my colleague Ray Ison dropped a note about an online conference on government and innovation. Great, thanks Ray. But he also sent a link to what he thought was the most immediate starting point for me – Reimagining government over breakfast, a conversation in Australia and NZ, run in parallel with London and New York, a part of a two day conference. A few clicks showed me that, but I had the breakfast conversation was a starting point.
When someone gives you care and attention, the rules of good behaviour in a network require you first to express your gratitude and then, sometime in the future, give with the same thoughtfulness.
Dr Ross Colliver
Organiser for LVI's CLEA project