As a result of technological advances and networking’s reputation as a pivotal tool, it can be argued that the UK has become a ‘networked nation’. We develop and maintain networks socially and professionally and both have become part of the fabric of modern society.

‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’

A phrase familiar to most and brings to life the relevance of ‘access’. Information, interactions events and groups are all examples of things individuals can gain access to as a result of (or to develop) networks. Through mediums such as Twitter, you can gain access to most people’s location, playlists, opinions and even converse with them directly. The interesting conflict is that on one hand, the innovation and adoption rate of technology means we have never before had so much access to people and information; yet networking is also thought by many to reinforce elitism and ‘tight circles’.

London in the 1980’s embodied a fairly closed and elitist network, as there was little diversity in the nature of those running the big banks and large firms. These individuals mostly had prosperous backgrounds and attended Eton and Oxbridge, until Margaret Thatcher’s ‘big bang’ opened the city up. These ‘old networks’ were limited and rigid, as if you surround yourself with similar people, the chances of innovating and considering the wider impact on stakeholders is greatly reduced.

Times have obviously changed, but elitist and restrictive elements of networking still exist. Whilst the techniques and resources for networking are technically available to everyone, many still refer to an un-democratic ‘old boys club’ culture in many networks, where jobs go to friends and family and Directors have similar backgrounds and socialise in small silos. Background is especially relevant, as many suggest that private schools can act as a springboard, instilling a networked mind-set into pupils who often utilise this to maximise or exceed their potential through networking.

Businesses and society must become better at encouraging networks

So how can (and why should) we ensure that everyone, not just society’s elite, adopt a networked outlook? London Business School Professor Lynda Gratton claims that “if you’re well connected, the ideas flow more quickly and you are much more likely to innovate... [in the future] easy jobs will be outsourced or undertaken by data algorithms/robots. What’s left is the hard stuff and that needs innovation and creativity". Julia Hobsbawm (Founder of Editorial Intelligence) adds that “we need to bring knowledge into organisations, because the outside world is ahead of them. We need to rebalance that and bring the outside, and it’s oxygen of ideas, in”. She also warned of “marzipan Managers”, scared to venture outside of their daily role.

In addition, to ensure that ‘state school’ pupils also adopt this networked way of thinking, mentors and networking advocates should undertake visits to promote the benefits. These schools should also attempt to interact with their community as much as possible. Studio schools are a great example, as they place a great deal of emphasis on work experience and projects with local businesses and organisations.

The merit of face-to-face interaction

A final consideration is the importance of face-to-face interactions. These are often proven to be the most effective, and real world and cyber networking can co-exist without cannibalising each other. Facial cues and expressions make communication much more effective; after you have met face-to-face, non face-to-face interactions are improved as people feel they understand their recipient and their personality more thoroughly.

Networking is more than just coffee shops and conferences and the UK, both as an economy and a society, should attempt to instil a networked way of thinking into our future generations.

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