Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Be good and you will be lonesome.” It is something that a lot of developers and writers know either intrinsically or passively. You can’t spend hours in front of a computer screen, typewriter, word processor, notebook, or even dictating without it being time away from socializing. The problem in the business world is that the common idea is networking is how you achieve success. But is it? This article in the NYT argues that it isn’t, and we tend to agree.
About halfway through the article the author, Adam Grant, cites a colleague’s attempt at climbing the corporate ladder via networking alone. Side note: Argentina has a phrase for rising up the social ladder that translates literally to “go up like a scuba diver’s fart” – which might have lots of substance…read on! The author’s colleague goes on to find out that as soon as his network closed, he was no longer needed: the influencers that he introduced realized that he was not necessary to their relationship, and his efforts turned out to be in vain. While he may have risen to meet some influencers, his relationships had no substance, much like a pocket of air rising to the surface only to discover that it has no substance.
Conversely, the author discovered that by presenting at a conference, a connection which he had attempted to make came back to him – albeit without knowledge of the first attempt to connect.
Turns out, that simply networking, or having the best business cards, or just a recognizable name isn’t enough to build any sort of substantial career. Once the author was recognized as being able to contribute value, his network grew. Now, it might be possible to grow a purely digital network when you couple the work you have done and a strong social media presence, but we are all for the old fashioned handshake – despite our aversion to networking.
So yes, you can be very good at something, live in a hole, and never grow your network, but the chances at that happening are pretty low in this day and age. Developers who make really good websites or apps or software are a known commodity – there are places like GitHub or the developer pages of any software or web platform that they use where they are constantly contributing or conversing with other developers. Their work does not go unnoticed now. Even by adding that little link in the footer of a website lets people know who did this great work.
Maybe Mark Twain’s words were true when writing was done in isolation: a writer only emerged from their cell when their manuscript was ready to be presented to a publisher. But we think his words are meant more broadly: it takes time and some amount of isolation to really focus your skills on a craft. But even Mr. Twain gained popularity (quite a lot , actually) through his books. Loneliness came in honing his craft, but notoriety – and a vast network through which to sell his books and make a living – came when people realized that his craft offered value to them.
As seeds that are planted in fertile soil grow to produce, connections made from a standpoint of realized value also grow to produce results. The moral seems to be that you can’t exist in a vacuum, but you can’t build a career without offering some amount of substance. So focus on honing your skills, build, grow, share, and offer those around you value. Turns out, even business relationships are better when there is substance to them.