Get out and about and be a winner
Neo-networking should not be the preserve of senior management – spreading the opportunity to connect down the corporate ladder gives a company a competitive edge.
Welcome to the new world. The corporation of tomorrow must look and feel completely different in terms of human capital and the social capital skills which leaders have and those they look for in their employees. Welcome to the world of neo-networking.
Of course some things stay the same. Bosses want employees who work hard and demonstrate aptitude, ability and understanding. And businesses will always need good products, strong markets, sufficient capital, excellent marketing and a fairly managed, flexible workforce.
But today's business world is turbo-charged, frantic, hyper-competitive, hyper-mobile: every global business is shadow-boxing a counterpart in another time zone with a workforce that is faster, smarter or cheaper - and sometimes all three.
Neo-networking has overtaken the outdated silo culture which has dominated corporate behaviour for the past 30-50 years: stay at your desk; be a subject specialist; use PR and marketing to control external messages. None of this works anymore. Now everything is two-way.
Sales are made and relationships forged and developed outside HQ, not by email alone from within it.
Handling information and relationship-building are key components of leadership. Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, and Barry Wellman, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, say in their book Networked: The New Social Operating System: "This is the era of free agents and the ethic of personalagency. Social advantages and privileges accrue to those who prospect for network ties the way effective sales agents prospect for clients."
Leadership culture in the workplace has been contradictory. Leadership development aims to cultivate more leaders, even though the funnel through which they can pass is, by definition, statistically small. Worse, the main drivers of leadership - the networking that underpins access to a wide range of ideas and connections, and the time and trust to develop these "weak tie" connections which Mark Granovetter, the Stanford Professor of Sociology, identified 40 years ago as critical to career success - are often denied to those stuck below in the second-tier "marzipan manager" layers.
More recently the case for the benefits of a healthy, porous network has been skillfully made by the model of "structural holes" described by Ronald S Burt, Professor of Sociology and Strategy at the University of Chicago Booth Business School, in Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital.
How many people marked as "high potential" or "top talent" are allowed time away from time sheets or meetings to think and act laterally and to neo-network? Sub-prime mortgage traders were not doing business in a neo-networking way when they acted so disastrously in the first decade of this century. Had they done so they might have come into contact with what the trader-turned-philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "black swan" thinking, i.e., think the improbable.
Good leaders do not deny neo-networking to those below them. Leadership in the second, third and fourth decades of this century should move out of a restricted global green room of elite networks for those at the top and encourage a culture of mobile thinking and acting across all layers of human capital.
The corporation that has curiosity and lateral thinking etched into its mission statement will be the one that succeeds soonest.