Networking ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s my theory. I spent a few minutes today glancing through updates and group discussions. It’s all terribly dreary. Is it the difficult economy and competitive job market that seems to have turned us all into bots repeating our “personal brand” to anyone near enough to hear? All I know is, if I see one more article about how to build it, I’m going to throw something.
What does that phrase “personal brand” mean anyway? It seems the popular method to grow one is to write inane articles that say nothing new or even remotely interesting, get published on a business-oriented web site that specializes in vapid feel-good content, and then post links to it everywhere you can. Does this impress all of your connections? Even if I had that much time on my hands, why would I spend it like that?
What the social media pundits call “personal brand,” we used to call “reputation.” It’s something that everyone acquires over time, whether they think about it or not. It’s doing a good job, telling the painful truth, lending a helping hand, being there for friends or family or colleagues when you’re needed. Or, you know, not.
Like Joan Jett, I don’t worry much about my reputation. Although sometimes I’m surprised when a hint of it reaches my ears. Apparently that cigar smoked on the front steps of the Houston Junior League at the Christmas party made an impact. Who knew? I was just hanging out with the cool kids.
Some of us old enough to remember the beginnings of the Internet saw in it the possibilities of authentic conversation, international collaboration, a world of communication with a human voice. And that still exists, if you’re patient and know where to look. However, it’s also a world of cheap and easy publishing that seems to offer an irresistible opportunity to try to paint your own self-portrait in the most flattering tones. People do this, businesses do this, organizations do this, and they mistake those masks for good marketing. Somehow, I don’t think I’m the only person who sees the superficiality of the façade. Heck, even the guy on the street corner has to have a good story on his sign if he wants anyone to notice.
So I have a really wacky, gonzo idea. What if we all stopped trying to convince each other how wonderful we are, and just rolled up our sleeves, tackled the work of the day, and let the chips fall? What if someone called a meeting and forgot to make slides? What if all of us, project managers and business analysts and programmers and the lady in the corner office and the janitor, sat down without a desk between us and a screen to look at, and dealt with each other as human beings, with our human voices and faces? Not just once, but every day?
I’m willing to bet there would be a lot fewer failed projects.