If I just said – networks – in a room full of people and asked them to write the first thing they
thought; I wonder what different answers I’d receive. I’m sure top of the list would be
“#DataMustFall” or “Connectivity” and I imagine “People” would also come up somewhere in
between. All 3 are related, I guess. So none would be too far from the networks I want to talk about.
Data is a tool that enables connectivity amongst strangers who may ultimately form networks of
like-minded people and allies. Yep, that’s the idea here, you want allies, you need allies, otherwise
how do you advance? How do you get anything done doing it alone?
Should we maybe master the skill of networking from as early as childhood? As it stands, I’m still
trying to collect my 10 000 hours. One of the main differences between people seen as successful
and those who are not, are networks. Does Thuli have someone to call when she finds herself in a
situation that calls for assistance? Does the person she called pick up the phone or respond to her e-
mail? Does Thuli get what she wants? If the person she called can’t help, are they likely to refer Thuli
to someone they think can help her (this is critical, referrals are a mess – people can represent you
badly and ruin your reputation)? Or does Thuli have to spend the whole week or year trying to solve
something that for someone else is a call away? Productivity guys! Time wastage! Decreased
efficiency? Fatigue (because now you have to figure things out all the time).
Without knowing it I developed a variety of skills while growing up and developing my career in my
early 20s. As much as I wanted networks it became apparent to me that I too needed to be an
attractive network for someone else. That’s where the skills I had acquired came in handy.
Networks, like relationships are about give and take otherwise those networks are not sustainable.
Looking back, I think because I was so outspoken and a general “liker of things” (I think I still am ��),
I found myself in different spaces with people not even remotely related to my current field of work.
My Master’s supervisor was shocked to learn that I was going to Tanzania to learn the history of
South Africa’s liberation struggle (she literally said, “I didn’t know you were into politics”). She was
also shocked to learn that I had taken a break from my studies in 2010 to do musical theatre for 8
months. Yep I danced and sang and acted and I enjoyed it (my mom panicked the whole time! She
didn’t enjoy that period of my life at all). In the process I made some networks that I still transact
with today. They are the ones who come through on matters beyond those of my predictable
networks. Diversity is key!
As a scientist my greatest networks are previous bosses, lecturers, supervisors, former colleagues,
people I met at conferences, people I failed Maths 101 with – of which some have grown to become
close friends, advisors and confidants. Imagine what happens when the people you used to look up
to become your peers. The rooms and tables they enter and sit around may very well be the ones
you get invited to. That’s what you want. Another thing… You cannot possibly see all the
opportunities aligned to where you want to go – It’s impossible. But if there’s enough people who
know where you want to go, they are likely to tell you when they encounter opportunities that
scream your name. For this to happen unfortunately you have to be open to sharing your thoughts
and ideas (this is scary – trust is a thing we hold on to dearly. Take risks!).
If life has taught me anything it’s that the more diverse your experiences and networks, the better…