Recently, I spent part of a day at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA at the National Center for Women & Information Technology Entrepreneur Alliance Planning Session. It was a good meeting – we covered a lot of ground with an interesting group of people as we explored whether or not it makes sense to create an NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance (it does) to go along with the Workforce Alliance, Academic Alliance, and the new K-12 Alliance.
One of the topics we discussed was networking. Building effective social networks is an important part of being a successful entrepreneur and – in addition to talking about it generally, we spent some time talking about how good (or not good) women (and men) tend to be at this. There was some discussion about how some of the organizations in the room helped both teach women how to build networks as well has help facilitate them.
As I was listening, all I could think about was how in so many cases people simply don’t know how to network effectively. I blurted out “hey – one of the problems is that people don’t know how to network – all they are doing is stalking other people.” I went on to explain two stories – one of a time that I was at an event where I ended up simply locking myself in my hotel room because I felt like a soccer ball at a game between teams consisting of five year olds – wherever the ball (I) went, all the kids (my stalkers trying to network with me) followed. My other example was the endless supply of people offering to have coffee with me. Since I don’t drink much coffee, it’s relatively easy to turn down these requests “to get to know [you] better”, and replace them with a “hey – why don’t you email me what you want to talk about instead.”
I’ve found that many people that try to “network” simply don’t have a clear purpose in mind. I used to get frustrated by this and would occasionally go into stalker avoidance mode. Now, rather than dodging the stalkers, I confront them head on and try to offer some practical advice by asking the simple question “Why do you want to talk to me?” It’s not intended to be an arrogant question – rather it’s a focusing question – if you can tell me what you want, I’ll see if I can help. If you can’t, you should should spend some time thinking about the reason. And – if I can’t help – I’ll tell you directly so that I don’t waste your time either.
The Computer History Museum was very cool, BTW. I got to spend 30 minutes by myself with a bunch of old (and some very old) computers. Some were even created before networking.