Here's why you're wasting your time at networking events

In this three part series we explore the insights and themes Mike Mcgee and Sir William Sargent's, founders of Framestore, shared at their presentation at August 2014's Startup Grind London.

The past ten years have been a turbulent time for classic business wisdom, particularly the rise of social media and the blurring of the line between "work" life and "home" life. Similarly the importance popular modern manager manuals place on "company culture" has changed the way businesses are structured and operate. At August 2014's Startup Grind London two of Framestore's founders, Mike McGee and Sir William Sargent, discussed how forming meaningful relationships with their staff and competitors, has given them a winning advantage.

Networking is clubbing without the dancing and loud music

"Networking," just saying the word out loud is enough to make people groan, roll their eyes, and immediately disengage. Most networking events are full of people who think "How am I going to benefit from this?" However instead of thinking about yourself, think about them, ask the question "how can I benefit them?"

Creating mutually beneficial relationships is vital to success, you may not even immediately gain anything but it could be incredibly beneficial in the long run. Mike provides a key example of this: "The relationships you make with directors who are making a TV commercial, or a pop video, who then go on to make a feature film. The relationships you make then, you keep." For example, you meet someone who's looking for someone with a certain skill set and know someone with that skill set, and introduce them; you've just improved your relationship with two possible future assets.

Conversation is Humanity's way of relaying information, sharing ideas, and innovating. Really conversation is all networking is; through meeting people, talking, and sharing information you gain tremendous insight into your industry. Networking events provide you with insight into yourself as you can directly observe your peers, and find styles or traits that you'd like to incorporate into yourself.

Clusters

"Clusters" are geographical regions where a group of companies sell inter-related products or services, the most obvious example of which is Silicon Valley. However it takes more than just locating an office in an area to take full advantage of a cluster; you must network! Sir William highlighted the economic benefit that being in a cluster provided Framestore with, including;

  • Attracting better staff
  • Knowledge, innovation and product spill over
  • Increased productivity and pace of innovation

Once a certain area gets known for a particular kind of business (such as the Silicon Roundabout in London), it attracts people with a passion or skill in that kind of business. By working in an area where everyone does something similar you gain potential access to knowledge about new technologies, innovations, and information. One of the most effective ways of unlocking access to this knowledge is by being an active member of the cluster.

Mike told us "It's the people you have those close relationships with that you share your tools with". When trying to solve a problem with how to shoot Gravity, Sir William revealed that the solution wasn't found by "just us, but the community in London."

The power of internal "networking"

Sir William and Mike shared their philosophy which we've coined "internal networking." Mike said that one of the reasons for Framestore's success was "the fact that we share ideas," but how do you create a culture of idea sharing in your organisation?

Mike had three action points for businesses looking to implement a culture of innovation, he said:

  • Run teams "almost like a company, they're a very strong unit. We throw events for the members of the team"
  • Have "regular catchups and regular screenings of each other's work"
  • Start a scheme of where employees can financially benefit from ideas or innovations they've created

By giving teams independence and autonomy from the main company, and throwing informal social events you allow them to "network" and learn about each other, share ideas, and develop relationships. Similarly by having regular informal meetings where staff share what they've been working on, it increases productivity and innovation because "everyone wants to do better than they're colleague next door" said Mike.

Ultimately "networking" is simply "chatting" with the goal to help someone. By entering the mind-set of looking to create a mutually-beneficial situation you'll find networking events easier, more productive, and quite possibly, fun.

In part one of the series we talk about how to utilise technology to stay relevant, in part two of the series we solve the "Expansion vs. Manageability" conundrum.

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