Monday, January 21, 2008

In Search of Social Power

I’m a 2nd year at AU hoping to graduate by May 2009. That’ll be roughly 3 years spent in grad school. And though that doesn’t really qualify as “forever,” I have to admit that I really can’t wait to graduate. I suppose it’s because I have this vision of graduating and immediately acquiring a job in (hopefully) a great city that’s not DC. Which is why the article about Lois Weisberg particularly struck a nerve. We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but this article hit the message home. After reading about the extent of Weisberg’s social power, [1] I couldn’t help thinking, “But I don’t know anyone!” Of course that’s an exaggeration, but reading about Weisberg’s life really shed light on the importance of networking. As a full time grad student who hasn’t worked in 2 years, any social capital [2] I’ve accrued has occurred through the wonder that is Facebook (and even that required years of persuasion from friends and family to join). Of course, social capital means much more than posting notes to someone’s “wall.” As I see it, it’s about fostering personal and professional relationships in a contradictory manner – calculated but effortless, aggressive while charismatic.

I’ve always loathed networking events. Somehow, the idea of getting to know people just for the sake of personal gain reeks of something between desperation and superficiality. But then there are people like Weisberg or the numerous other individuals cited in the article who have an amazing ability (a gift, really) in getting to know people. What’s key, however, is that whether they foster a deep lasting relationship or remain mere acquaintances, they are able to remain genuine either way. The note about the “strengths of weak ties” [3] was particularly poignant – our instinct would tell us that close friends are our best bet in getting ahead in life, but it turns out that it’s the weak ties that matter. Although the logic presented in the article makes sense, it’s hard for me to accept on a personal level. I avoid small-talk whenever possible, and positively cringe at the often meaningless exchange of business cards that takes place at conferences. Yet, both of these practices are probably step one in “Networking for Dummies.” Considering the importance and power of social/informal networks, it’s amazing to think that this is the first (and likely only) class I’ve had on social networking and business. I know that I’ll never become a Lois Weisberg (I refuse to drink coffee or smoke, and I look forward to a good night’s rest), but I hope the next 6 weeks of discussion, lecture, lab, and reading continue to change my perception of networking. And who knows, I may only wince the next time a perfect stranger asks for my business card…

[1] (section 5)
[3] (section 6)

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