Do It Right: Build relationships, not networks / by David Hu

There are countless business books dedicated to the art of networking. It has become a pseudo-professionalized method to gain the favor of people in higher/better corporate positions. Ultimately, you hope that this favor may give you an advantage when a job opportunity comes along.

There are two truths to networking: First, no one networks simply for fun. Second, no one networks out of sheer generosity. And therein lies the problem for creatives. True creatives thrive on inspiration, connection, and generosity. That's where the creative part comes from. We get excited when someone else shares our interests and passions, when we face challenges and solve problems together, and when we see someone else set a new standard for impactful work.

We don't get nearly the same thrills in a setting where everyone is there to get something from someone else. Because then we (over)think about what we have to bring to the table as bargaining chips. And that literally places what makes us special—that is, our creative knowledge—at less importance than the various skills of networking, such as forced confidence, a jack-of-all-trades skill set, and, of course, the ability to Talk the Talk.

This is why building relationships are much better and much more worthy of our time and energy than networking. As creatives, we need to find other creatives who speak our language, who can challenge our own way of thinking, and, most important, who can motivate us to be even better at what we do.

Here is a list of things we creatives can do to help build our own relationships:

  • Teach. Spend time not only honing your own skills but also sharing your experiences with those who need your guidance. The best teachers always say they learn more from their students from what they teach. When you teach—even if the topic of what you teach is the same over and over again—you get unexpected feedback. And when you respond to these feedback, you understand more about the way you teach and the subject of your lesson. Teaching is one of those rare things in which the return is almost always more than what you put in. (Remember to thank your teachers!)
  • Read. A LOT. Catch up on international and local news. Read books about other people who have made a difference. Make an effort to understand the world you live in. Why? Because the people you would want to have genuine relationships with will very likely be passionate about things outside your field. Being curious, being knowledgeable, and having an informed opinion about real things makes you not only more interesting but also more genuine.
  • Talk. For example: say more than just your order when you're at the cafe, at the gas station, or at the hardware store. Greet the staff, ask them about their day, and thank them when they have completed your order. Say goodbye on your way out. Learn to empathize with them about the challenges that they face: being on their feet all day and dealing with grumpy customers, not to mention their own personal life pressures. This isn't empty chatter—which is what happens at networking events. But instead of awkwardly looking at strangers in a hotel ballroom, this is about connecting on a basic, human level in an everyday environment. Don't dismiss these small acts; these help you build character and an understanding that the world is and always will be bigger than you. And when the tone of sincerity and humility shines through your actions and words, others will be drawn to you.