In the old days, before Twitter and telephones, a community could mean the difference between life and death. You needed the trust and good-favor of your neighbors to face the elements, harvest your food and defend your interests. Community wasn’t a fancy concept discussed over coffee by social scientists and computer jockeys.
Now we have specialists to take care of our problems and technology to tell our friends how we are doing. Networks have replaced communities. Barn raising has been replaced by Facebooking. The days of depending on a network for survival seem long gone.
Or are they? If you are looking for a job, your network may be all that stands between you and a desperate future. Millions of job seekers competing for thousands of jobs means that you need every possible advantage to distinguish yourself from the competition. As any recruiter or hiring manager can tell you, your network is often that advantage.
We forget this fact during the good times. Or perhaps the fact that our lives don’t depend on the quality of our relationships means we are just out of practice, with the craft of community falling the way of the blacksmith. Regardless, it seems as if the volume and velocity of our connections increase, the worth of our friendships decline.
We are short-circuiting the power of our relationships by crossing two network power sources: economics and goodwill. Entire industries are being set up to “monetize interactions”, turning good deeds into great leads. This can easily obscure the fact that mounds of research (as well as good common sense) has proven that people just aren’t comfortable putting a price on decency.
So let’s put aside all the fancy terms and big concepts and return to a simpler time. Let’s just talk about giving and getting.
As we cross our relationship wires and focus ever more on celebrity and greed, we fuel the unfortunate growth of “Get-to-Get” relationships. These parasitic infections are marked by smiling faces testing the limits of just how much value can be extracted from others without offering anything meaningful in return. Whenever you have a network in decline you can likely trace the rot to the efforts of some who seek to get something for nothing.
Ever been approached by a seedy guy on the street corner with the case full of fake watches? That is a “Get-to-Give” relationship. The people asking you to spend your valuable time, attention and money on these relationships know that whatever they are asking you to give up is more valuable than their meager offerings. Rather than focusing on increasing the value of what they have to give, they prefer to incessantly market themselves in the hope that by the time you realize what has happened their networking numbers will obscure their venality.
“Give-to-Get” relationships are the heart of any healthy network. The people sustaining these relationships focus on their value to their community. Only when that value is proven through acceptance do they seek anything in return, and then only when absolutely necessary.
And just as people don’t burn down their houses even though they knew their neighbors would feed and clothe them, the sustainer of a give-to-get relationship does not create excuses for networking opportunities. Those opportunities present themselves in the course of doing good work and offering good value.
The secret to developing give-to-get relationships is that you can’t be in it with any specific expectation of return. People can usually sense when they are being set up, and any time you start helping people just so you can get something in return you are a single short-circuit that is part of a growing power failure.
What kinds of relationships are you developing? Are you focusing on the value you can deliver, whether that be helping a friend move a couch or a client achieve their objectives? Or are you busily FaceLinking your way to big numbers and small achievements? This holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on that and set yourself up for success in 2010.