Beyond Networking

EVENT: Beyond Networking

LOCATION: Clerkenwell Workshops, London

DATE: August 23 2011


On August 24 John Turner of business philosophy consultancy gave a talk called 'Beyond Networking' in Club Workspace at Clerkenwell Workshops In London.

John Turner is a seasoned business philosopher who helps businesses transcend ordinary thinking patterns through innovative workshops in the art and science of practical dialogue. He has previously been a media analyst, software designer, writer for the Financial Times and a chief techology officer (CTO).

The 'Beyond Networking' event was held to help business people become more comfortable with networking environments and, using scientific research, apply new approaches to discussion and relationship-building that are focused on - in the early stages - developing rapport without discussing business opportunities.

John highlighted the confusion and nervousness that many people feel at networking events and explained that these are entirely natural due to the rigid framework normally used - meet briefly, talk about possible business link-ups, then either pursue an opportunity or move on. This framework does not encourage normal human bonding (in fact it discourages it) and, John says, it is therefore unsurprising that networking events are often uncomfortable.

To combat these feelings and encourage a better outcome, John spent the Beyond Networking event taking the attendees through practical exercises to get everyone talking to and bonding with strangers.

Although these activies seemed at first glance unusual, many of the attendees reported feeling they had known the others for longer than they actually had, and felt more able to open up and discuss a range of topics including business.

The activities included:

  • Walking around the room pointing to objects and saying what the object is not
  • Pointing to objects and saying the name of the last object that you pointed at
  • Picking two attendees to be the 'customer' and the 'competitor' and walking round the room so you are always between the two
  • Getting into a group with three people who work for businesses that are most unlike your own

These activities were designed as 'immersive' ice breakers i.e. ice breakers that use a significant amount of brain power and therefore don't feel forced, awkward and stressful.

This approach differs from traditional networking, in which many people find it extremely hard to bond over a relatively limited range of business topics. Despite this difficulty, finding that initial common ground is important because, as John points out, we tend to only do business with those we "know, like and trust." If these three things can't be established in an organic and natural way, and if the conversation and subsequent interactions focus solely on business, it will be difficult for any progress to be made in the relationship.

This is why John's approach to bonding - that strangers should bond organically BEFORE turning their attention to business - has merit. In essence, until we know how a person thinks and processes information, it's difficult to establish rapport and talk productively on any topic, including business. John therefore advocates asking questions that are open-ended, contentious, age-old or interesting so that people will open up and give their opinions, which will then lead to further points of discussion.

For example, "what would you be doing if you weren't at this networking event?" is a far better question than the common ice-breaker "so, you made it here alright?" The first could provoke a huge range of further discussion topics whereas the second is closed, has no suitable response, and doesn't encourage further discussion.

By employing techniques that are designed to bond strangers in any environment, and then turning the subject to business once rapport has been established, business people stand a far better chance of getting a positive result out of their networking events.

You can view photos from the event on the Facebook page.