Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Task 3b: Theories Relating to Networking

Networking is an essential part of a successful career. If a person has the means and the ability to network it can aid their professional development and career progression.

We each use a variety of tools, both internet based and in real life, to network. But are we working to the best of our ability?

What is a professional network?
  • a 'work related community held together by either close working affiliation or a more distant but common work interests or needs.' (1)
Networking [is] creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question 'How can I help' and not with 'What can I get'?” (2)

A process that fosters the exchange of information and ideas among individuals or groups that share a common interest. Networking may fall into one of two categories - social or business. In the latter category, one of the implicit objectives is to form professional relationships that may boost one's future business and employment prospects.” (3)

Image Source: meetville.com (4)

Engaging effectively with your professional network may impact positively upon your success... 

Example: a few years ago a couple of performers in the cabaret industry took umbrage at a judge in a certain television talent show using the word 'cabaret' repeatedly to describe an act that they felt was weak or cliched. The two industry performers indirectly worked for this talent show as critics on a YouTube channel run by a national magazine, so they were naturally upset about their work being referred to in a derogatory manner. Using their professional network and connections they created a YouTube response to the situation which, due to the power of personal connections and social networks, went viral, was responded to by the judge themselves, appeared in national newspapers and garnered a public apology from the television show! It just goes to show the power of networking, both personal, professional and through social media!

"Cabariot: Too Cabaret, A Message For Gary Barlow" (2012)


So, how do we create, build and engage our current or intended professional networks?

Cooperation
Axelrod (1984) argues for patterns that exist for cooperation within a network. The “Prisoner's Dilemma” was a game he developed to identify the patterns of behaviour: “to my surprise the winner was the simplest of all the programs submitted, TIT FOR TAT” (5) This strategy was simply to copy the actions of another players last move, or, as the Course Reader suggests: cooperate fully until maximum benefit produced then defect.

The conditions for cooperation were defined by Axelrod as:
    (6)
I have perceived Axelrod's “Tit For Tat” at work in my personal professional networks: I used to use a website designed primarily for models and photographers to display their work and seek new collaborations. The homepage of the website was designed with a 'ticker' feed to display users messages to the community and a common message was 'Likes for Likes' (i.e. if I liked a photographers image, they would in turn like one of mine, thus pushing the image higher in the chain of priority for the search tool therefore making it more visible to the wider community). On Twitter there was a 'Follow Back' trend, i.e. If I followed a user who had tagged their tweets with this message, they would reciprocate and follow me too, widening the network of connections across the platform.

However Richard Dawkins argues that cooperation, or altruism, is not a natural behaviour, that it is learned. He argues in his book 'The Selfish Gene' that because we learn that cooperation brings mutual rewards, altruism cannot be considered to be entirely altruistic. (7)  This discussion has been going on for an extremely long time! Is there any such thing as a truly selfless act?

[T]here must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant.... (8)


Image Source: meetville.com

Personally I believe that cooperation is a necessity for a successful professional network. Whether the members of our network are 'friends' or people with whom we have purely a working relationship, cooperation must exist between the members of a network in order to facilitate its existence. Without cooperation the network would be unable to achieve its stated goals or aims.

Cooperation, to me, means working effectively towards the mutually agreed conclusion of a project, or for the further promotion of the network. When I googled 'How to Cooperate' there were hundreds of websites raising different points, each designed to lead people towards to point of cooperation. This indicates to me that people may often find it difficult to cooperate!

The main points brought up from each source, however, were essentially the same. The root of effective cooperation lies in:
  • Each team member having the same goal / Finding common ground
  • Utilising different skills / accepting differences and limitations
  • Effective Communication!
  • Active Listening – engage with the speaker and make notes for further investigation
  • Argue points with facts, not opinion / Don't make issues personal
These are all fairly obvious, yet it seems that when working or networking, we may need reminding of them! I think Effective Communication and Active Listening are the two points I will be taking on board when networking in the future as I tend to let my mind wander at times, and often don't make myself heard when I probably should.


Affiliation
This concept argues that we actively and intuitively seek out networking opportunities in our day-to-day lives, whether professional or personal.

'A successful career requires effective professional networking...' (9)

'It is up to each practitioner to see how to grow their professional networks sideways (to others at an equivalent level) as well as upwards into the established hierarchy.' (10)

'...our tendency to seek out others and form close relationships is an inherited trait that helps us to survive and reproduce by providing us with a network of support that will help us when we are in need.' (11)

 (12)

To me, this suggests that we innately network, whether we necessarily realise we are doing so or not. There are several events held across London with a specific lean towards a certain group of professionals: I occasionally receive invites to a Dancer's Only event held at a club in Leicester Square, and there are often late night events at venues in Soho aimed at those working in West End Theatres. These are occasions for networking, thinly disguised as social gatherings.

Backstage at shows the members of the cast will affiliate with each other simply due to proximity. This may then lead to a friend request on Facebook, a follow on Twitter, a recommendation on LinkedIn, and the practitioner's professional network has grown through affiliation.

This theory has led me to conclude that most situations could also be taken advantage of as networking occasions. I recently went to watch a friend perform at a venue I had never been to. I was speaking with my friend and the organiser, casually after the event which led to her asking for my business card. I have now opened up a new contact with the potential for future work without any prior intention to do so!

I have been lax about carrying promotional materials in the past, but after clarifying this theory I now take a handful of my business cards with me wherever I go! I am also considering designing a couple of business cards for 'myself' as I intend to work on opening up my professional networks to the industry I wish to work in in the future and I don't think my performer business cards would be particularly appropriate in this scenario!


A brilliant business card design! Image Source: allgraphicdesign.com

Social Constructionism
This theory argues for the individualistic point of view towards perceptions of a professional network and the values or engagement each individual places upon it.

What constructionism claims is that meanings are constructed by human beings as they engage with the world they are interpreting. Before there were consciousnesses on earth capable of interpreting the world, the world held no meaning at all.” (13)

I would argue that the Constructivism theory is similar to the Learning Theories proposed by Fleming, Honey & Mumford, Kolb, et. al, as discussed in a previous blog. The meanings ascribed to any specific stimulus is uniquely individual to the one perceiving it:

We need to remind ourselves... that it is human beings who have construed [a tree] as a tree, given it the name and attributed to it the associations we make with trees... 'Tree' is likely to bear quite different connotations in a logging town, an artists' settlement and a treeless slum.” (14)

...learning is always grounded in prior experience and any attempt to foster new learning must take into account that experience.” (15)

Personally my close professional network is also comprised of a group of my good friends: therefore I place a high value on both the personal and professional worth of this network. The worth of this network to an outsider would be higher or lower depending on the individuals perception of the members status within the wider industry.

However, as the individual changes over time, so too will their interpretation of the value placed on their current professional network: if a professional network is no longer necessary to the progression of the practitioner, then it is no longer useful: the Tit For Tat cooperation model in action!

When I was first starting out in Cabaret I placed a high importance on certain shows or events that I felt would positively contribute to my position in the industry. As I progressed to bigger events, the smaller, local networks were no longer of value professionally. I would like to think that I continue to value these connections personally even though, professionally, they may no longer be of direct use to my intended career. I maintain these networks through social media and make an attempt to interact with those involved as I still have a removed interest in their actions and interactions.


I don't know whether I like the theory of Social Constructionism, although I have to admit I can see the point it is trying to make. While I understand that this is obviously how we network, moving through the ranks, so to speak, I don't like what it says about us as people really: consciously placing a lesser or higher importance on a network or an individual based on their value to us at any given time. I think I dislike the almost mercenary perspective it places on networking and, to me, argues against the theory of cooperation mentioned previously.

However, at the same time, I know that this is, as I said, the way we network and social groups become more or less important to us at different stages of our lives and our careers. The value we place on a network today may increase or decrease tomorrow, and similarly, the value we place on our current professional network is specific to us: another person may place higher or lower value on our network than we do ourselves.


Communities of Practice
Communities of Practice was defined by Lave and Wenger (1991) as 'situated learning' – social, informal, often connected with specific social groups, self organising rather than hierarchical: therefore based in a 'community' as opposed to a traditional learning model. (16)

communities of practice are apparent in many professional and other social contexts or 'situations' are that we are all engaged in a number of communities of practice, whose characters and the nature of our engagement my vary considerably and change over time. Our sustained engagement within our communities of practice produce learning...[and places] emphasis on participation over acquisition of specific bodies of knowledge.” (17)

I believe that this links back to a previous blog regarding reflection in the arts: interaction fosters learning and therefore consolidates a professional network. children who are exposed to the arts engage more effectively over time.

A community of practice is a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice. A community of practice is an intrinsic condition for the existence of knowledge, not least because it provides the interprettive support necessary for making sense of its heritage...” (18)

Nowhere is this concept seen more clearly than in Social Media and Web 2.0 – it is a collaborative process of engagement to spread and consume information. Communities of practice also exist on specific websites: fashion bloggers will comment and inform other fashion bloggers, musicians will post videos on YouTube inviting critique (and criticism) from other musicians, etc.

My personal community of practice is based upon those individuals who I work with the most often: they are invited (formally and informally) to comment and advise upon aspects of my personal professional practice, and each member of the community reciprocates in kind. We learn through connecting with one another. I also learn from my wider community of practice, based on my Facebook page: for example - if a performer posts a picture of a costume I particularly admire I might use it as inspiration on a mood board when planning my own costume.

The Cabaret community of practice is comprised of a wide variety of practitioners who, while they may appear to have opposing views, all have the same goal: the continuation and growth of the industry. This is as I stated in my previous blog: that a professional network should be comprised of those who have different areas of expertise, similar areas of interest and the same goal. I am not suggesting that the cabaret community is a perfect network, though. There are too many egos at play to possibly consider it a perfect community, however for the most part, the participants in the community are mutually supportive and supporting, and the industry is founded on this cooperation.

I like the term 'Communities Of Practice' as it implies disparate entities working, if not together, than for the same outcome, which, to me, is the main working style of the cabaret industry!

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Conclusion
There are as many theories and opinions on networking and how to be successful as there are ways to network! This task has helped me look at the ways in which I engage my current professional networks and investigate deeper into the methods by which I make use of the communities with which I am involved.

I believe that many of the proposed theories of networking are innate behaviours: Darwin, however, posed the famous theory of evolution; 'The Survival Of The Fittest', so from an evolutionary, hereditary perspective, the idea of altruism simply does not fit, whereas cooperation for mutual gain does. I feel that this purely selfish interpretation does not take into account networks that are built on a foundation of friendship, but it does provide a starting point for investigation into why we are drawn to network and affiliate with others. A network of individuals working towards a single goal is naturally stronger than one person working alone, so maybe that is Darwinian in its way!


"Simply, a 'professional network' is really a group of friends who like each other and are willing to help each other out when times get tough professionally." (19)

The methods discussed in the Course Reader provided me with points for consideration while working through this task, and I am sure I will be utilising some of these theories, and focussing on some of the points raised, as I begin to build a new professional network for my intended future career.

RESOURCES
  1. WBS3730 MODULE 1, READER 3, BAPP ARTS, MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY
  2. BUSINESSDICTIONARY.COM
  3. INVESTOPEDIA.COM
  4. TIMOTHY FERRISS (2007)
  5. R.AXELROD: THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION, BASIC BOOKS
  6. AXELROD, 1984
  7. R. DAWKINS: THE SELFISH GENE, 1976
  8. HOBBES, 1651 P.120
  9. WBS3730 MODULE 1, READER 3, BAPP ARTS, MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY
  10. WBS3730 MODULE 1, READER 3, BAPP ARTS, MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY
  11. CRISP – ESSENTIAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, SAGE
  12. OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY
  13. M.CROTTY: THE FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIAL RESEARCH, SAGE
  14. M.CROTTY: THE FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIAL RESEARCH, SAGE
  15. BOUD – USING JOURNAL WRITING TO ENHANCE REFLECTIVE PRACTICE: 2002
  16. J.LAVE & E.WENGER: SITUATED LEARNING, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
  17. WBS3730 MODULE 1, READER 3, BAPP ARTS, MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY
  18. J.LAVE & E.WENGER: SITUATED LEARNING, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
  19. ALAN HENRY: HOW TO SKIP THE SLEAZE (2013) PUBLISHED BLOG ON LIFEHACKER.COM

2 comments:

  1. I found what you said about Cooperation not being natural behaviour but being learned very interesting. The more I think about it the more I agree with that idea! As children most people are openly selfish then we are taught to cooperate and share. Looking at the reader has made me realise how selfish the whole idea of networking is and how difficult it can be to gain trust as everyone has there own motive!
    Also I remember seeing the YouTube video 'Too Cabaret' in 2012 I think it's fantastic!

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    Replies
    1. I absolutely agree! I don't know who said it but there's an old saying along the lines of "There is no such thing as a truly selfless act." (It might have been from a Simpsons episode!) Anything we do carries some form of reward or recrimination even on a really insignificant scale.

      The video was great fun to film - I don't know if anyone would recognise me in it as I was blonde back then (also had a massive spot so kept half of my face covered with my hand for as much of it as I could!)
      One of the funniest things about that day was seeing the cabaret 'characters' in normal clothes and minimal/no make-up (yes even the boys!) It made me think about the way we project ourselves and whether our characters are completely removed from ourselves or simply heightened versions of us?
      In Musical Theatre we are given characters to play: one actors interpretation will differ from another's but in the end the motivations and meanings of the character is determined by the author and the outcome. In cabaret we can create, change and evolve our characters as we go which, as you can see in the video, leads to some very interesting flights of fancy!
      xx

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