Forget Networking, It’s Connect-Working

by Steve Gordon Jr.

Tell the truth. What does your “network” do? How many times do you actually plug in? Be honest. You network, like many, may simply be a stack of well-designed business cards cleverly rubber-banded together and then stashed away.

This is not a network. It’s a dead-end, a business card grave yard that offers little more than a polite email after the initial face-to-face. “Hello. It was good meeting you. If you ever need…” We’ve all been there before, guilty as charged. It is possible to make contacts and connections work far more effectively, but we first have to be aware of what ails us.

From the moment you enter the profession you become a part of our creative conscience, a collective of innovative, inventive and imaginative thinkers. As a Creative it’s easy to plug into this brain-trust, a wealth of real-time and pertinent information geared toward creative thought and solutions. So why doesn’t this offer a front-row seat to amazing networking too? One word: Trust.

Creatives are the coolest “haters” ever. We make nice—or fake nice—with the best of them but often refuse to truly work together (even if we actually do work together). We are conditioned by our profession, and perhaps by our scholastic training, to have a very critical view of our peers. Though we should be critiquing the work, we often make it—and take it—personal, hampering the trust needed to work collaboratively. We also re-deploy that very kindergarten practice of covering your “answers” to oppose theft of your oh-so-original thoughts. One can’t be faulted for wanting to protect intellectual property, but how can we get past this to be able to share information openly? Trust. Your network has to be closer to you. Call it “CONNECT-working.”

You must create effective personal connections or the lines of communication will never be fully open. That’s not to say that you have to be a BFF with everyone in your professional circle, but let’s be completely candid; if you don’t like someone, or you aren’t clicking with them interpersonally, all things shared will be filtered through swing-and-miss communication. Walk away from the person that you truly don’t vibe with (extract yourself politely, of course).

Some will say that’s not a good business move, but as respectfully as possible; whatever. For the majority of the white-collar world it’s fine to blanket a trade show floor with contact numbers, cards and literature. They are going for a small response percentage via shear volume. For Creatives this won’t work. Again, let’s be real. How many times have we gotten (or given) a plastic smile and paper-thin sincerity that’s more annoying than motivating? We’re looking for real information from close-knit connections with faces we know and trust. For Creatives the exact opposite of popular networking theory holds true. Your network is not more effective because of its sheer number of contacts (refer to paragraph two, business card graveyard). Look instead to narrow your focus so immediate contacts are in a trusted circle. Be selective about the people you deal with. Finding a good fit for your needs, as well as your personality, is the key to making fantastic connections that actually work.

Keep your networks small. Look for people who click with you both creatively and personally. Bigger is not better when it comes to creative collaboration.

Quick Tips
1. Liking someone doesn’t have to mean like-minded. Flocking with those who think and act synonymous to you will rarely offer potential for expansion or growth.

2. Convene a meet-up for no reason but to meet up. Offer to buy a lunch or coffee for someone you truly want to meet. Whether it’s a person who has intrigued you, or someone you may eventually want to collaborate with, don’t wait for happenstance to put you together. Reach out!

3. Form your own motley crew. If you look around, I’ll bet you already have a few people who have gravitated towards you—or visa-versa—because of shared interests. They’ve become regulars in your sphere because that level of interest hasn’t waned. “Collect” that energy as a Collective. They may not all be in the same profession: Good! Don’t hemorrhage energy by ignoring what’s right in front of you in favor of hunting for something career-specific or more “official.” It’s our loss if we overlook the obvious.

Dig Deeper!
1. “First Friday” is a term that has come to represent meetings of people, eager to be cordial and usually centered around artistic or creative pursuits—but not always designers or artists. Search for it locally, as this could be prove a good place to make some connections that are based on a few points of very real common ground.

2. Another term cemented in the modern lexicon is “coworking.” Look for “coworking spaces” in your area. These are usually very small working communities—of more than just designers—brought together by a desire or need to have small office solutions as freelancers or start-up companies. There’s a lot of great energy and info-sharing in pods like this.

3. Check out my book,100 Habits of Successful Freelance Designers. Chapter Seven, “Collaborating with Other Creatives,” directly addresses this subject in more detail.

2 thoughts on “Forget Networking, It’s Connect-Working

  1. Crystal Reynolds

    Great article Steve. I am with you! I have been working on creating local connections here in my hometown for the exact reason’s you list. I have been blogging about my experience and hope to inspire other’s in their own town to do the same.

    Glad to hear my views aren’t original.

  2. Ayn Roberts

    I think it’s always so difficult to put yourself out there, I know as a young designer new to a big city, it’s been important that I do this in order to get my name out there in the community. The trouble I have been having is the inability to connect with advanced creatives that have been in the field for a long time since as a young designer, I more easily relate to other young designers so I’ve been having issues actually making connections that will lead to job opportunities and paying freelance work.

    Is there a way to approach creatives with vastly more experience then you, how do THEY find value in a young creative’s work and perspective?