MUSINGS ON NETWORKING
The importance of networking in professional life is dramatized in the 1987 film Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s showcasing of the fascinating world of financial investment. The main character is Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who reigns over an empire of impressive money market monopolies. the stable of people he knows, privileged information he accesses and continuous communication he engages in add up to a network superstar. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) attempts to emulate Gekko in his competence as a power broker and in the networking skills necessary to guarantee domination in that world.
NETWORKING AS A FEATURE OF CONTEMPORARY LIFE
In its exposé of stock market realities, Wall Street demonstrates the inescapability of networking as fixed feature of contemporary working life. Indeed, networking is most frequently associated with job and career environments. But it has evolved as a dimension of everyday life beyond the stations of the workplace. In the busy and segmented urban life of most North Americans, networking is required to find friends and to establish a community of connections. With our nostalgic and idealized notions of relationships, we are apt to suspect networking as too formal and utilitarian for our romanticized aspirations. But in the reality of city life, networking becomes the necessary bridge to identify and nurture meaningful relationships. Whether practiced consciously or accidentally, networking is a relational habit for many people. Networks require a measure of intentionality and civility. Networkers are influential precisely because they know what they want and initiate processes to attain their desires and aspirations. People, called players, who vigorously pursue strategic positioning recognize that in a competitive social setting, civility and a measure of concern for others in networking are crucial for any short-term or long-term gains. Because of the pervasiveness of networking, a moral imagination should be employed to appreciate and assess its contribution to contemporary daily life.
NETWORKING IN ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE
The twentieth century has seen the astronomical growth of large institutions. With this organizational trend has come a dramatic increase in professionals to manage and operate these bureaucratic enterprises. Concurrent with these developments has been the globalization of institutional relations in government, business and ecclesiastical sectors. All of these new realities mandate leadership styles that mobilize networking capacities. Networking is the process of creating and maintaining a pattern of informal linkages among individuals and institutions. In a swiftly changing social environment, new and flexible interconnections become necessary. Leaders must be highly skilled in constructing or re-creating the linkages necessary to function effectively (Gardner, p. 62). The recent proliferation of publications dissecting organizational culture and submitting prescriptions for successful leadership of diverse institutions frequently includes discussions of networking. The near-totalitarian presence of organizational life is the catalyst for this saturation of printed and on-line resources to assist leaders and players to operate with confidence. In today’s entrepreneurial and innovative climate, internal networking emerges as a primary ingredient in being productive. The constant moving around of people and processes means that humans rather than formal mechanisms become the principal carriers of information and integrative links between different departments within an organization. Mobility is a key factor as a network-forming vehicle and thus becomes an admission ticket to the power centers. An organization’s opportunity structure – movement to privileged and prestigious positions – is directly related to the power structure (Kanter, p. 164). Networking has become one of the preferred competencies to contribute to a healthy company and to procure advancement possibilities. The wise executive or manager carefully places in strategic positions individuals who are networkers by inclination. The inclusion of networkers enables the establishment of informal cross-boundary working groups that energize the entire corporate culture (Gardner, p. 163).
External networking is also a work of innovative trends in institutional development currently in fashion. The best companies relate even to their competitors. Building alliances enhances communication and mutuality. In a cutthroat approach to organizational relations there tend to be losers all the way around. Healthy alliance building produces mutual benefits for each partner and for society as a whole. Leaders must nurture outside networks of allies in the many other segments of society whose cooperation is desired for a significant result (Gardner, p. 104).
NETWORKING AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF DAILY LIFE
Networking is an individual and institutional activity. The movement of structures suggests the inevitability of involvement in networks. The globalization and urbanization of contemporary life also mean that institutions are interdependent and are necessarily interfacing as their respective missions and operations pull them into a marketplace of connections. Organizational life is an extension of the created and evolved world – part of what is often called in Christian theology the cultural mandate. According to the Christian tradition, God, is a Trinity who created the world in a relational manner and wired it to be a communicative network. These relational and communicative processes have been distorted and demented as they moved east of Eden. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ have brought the possibility of a more complete reconciliation into the processes. It is now possible to network in a manner that is reconciling in its intent and expression. Networking is one essential dimension of the ministry of reconciliation the apostle Paul speaks of so intently (2 Cor 5:19). The several implications of the ministry of reconciliation for networking are manifested in Jesus, mandated by the Creator and managed by the Spirit. The primary implication is the deliberate communication to the neighbor, including the stranger. The love of neighbor and stranger that Jesus exemplified becomes the starting point for the networking activity associated with a job and civic life. Networking is that public part of daily life in which we recognize our oneness, our unity, our interdependence to one another. Indeed, we are strangers and likely will remain as such, but we inhabit common space, share resources, convene around mutual opportunities and generally must learn to live and work together. The public drama in which we are all participants reveals a life in which strangers inevitably come into daily contact with other, learn to solve problems together, and generously enrich and enlarge each other’s perspectives. We are all part of a web, linked in a network (Palmer, pp. 19-20). Spiritual life is to be a communion of communions. God has called people together from disparate multicultural environments to be witnesses to human flourishing. Networking is a spiritual discipline of the faith community to celebrate our unity in the gospel and affirm the different ministries in the world of the public. Jesus’ vision of a unified and commissioned people necessitates a spirituality that includes networking as part of its habit of ecumenism and mission in the world (Marty, p. 79). A spirituality of daily life recognizes the vitality of networking in the discipleship of the Christian and in the public vocation of the church.
I started this reflective essay on networking with a reference to the movie Wall Street and it’s dramatization of a superstar networker Gordon Gekko. I then proceeded to register the importance and inescapability of networking in the daily life of humans living in the city, working on the job, and participating in all manner of organizational life. The term “networking” is a metaphor borrowed from business vernacular that reeks of an arid instrumentality. I attempted to invest a spiritual vitality into the term by drawing specifically from a Christian framework (other spiritual perspectives and religious traditions could offer similar and alternative interpretations) that yielded a scale and scope of meaning beyond the technical definition. I will end by invoking another visual narrative from the 2005 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Crash. Director Paul Haggis presents a Los Angeles, and by extension all cosmopolitan centers, a city robust in connections and conflicts. Modern urban life is a polyglot of human interaction replete with a dizzying diversity of political perspectives, cultural rituals, and religious practices. Crash captures on celluloid and provokes in audiences the beautiful sights and cacophonous sounds that make Los Angeles a network of networkers. In the horizon of the movie Crash and the metaphor “networking” is the human desire and demand for collaborating, caring, and connecting.
Note: I originally wrote this essay in 1997 for inclusion in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity. I edited it in 2007 for submission as a writing sample for an academic job application. I have made a few minor edits for this blog-posting edition. There is a notorious omission in the piece: No mention of social media networking. This is deliberate for two reasons: 1: There is a plethora of commentary already in circulation. 2: This submission is intended as a prophetic gesture addressing real people in real-time: A preferred way for networking to be experienced as a professional, civic, personal, and spiritual activity.
References and Resources:
W. Baker, Networking Smart (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994); J.W. Gardner, On Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1990); R.S. Kanter, The Change Masters (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1983); M. Marty, The Public Church (New York: Crossword, 1981); P. Palmer, The Company of Strangers (New York: Crossroad, 1981).