There is a poster on the wall in our recently opened office in Krakow, Poland, where many of our Ukrainian team have moved to. It is very simple, it just says “What is your superpower?” Answer “I am Ukrainian”! It makes me smile whenever I see it, it encapsulates the pride and strength of the country and the people, it sums up why I love working with Ukrainians and it is why in the end, Putin will never win.
I was in Krakow with our team last week and we had a great night out that ended up in a karaoke bar down in a dingy basement where over a few beers and some terrible singing, the topic of this poster came up.
I said to my Ukrainian friends that I thought it was pretty unfair that they all had a superpower and I didn’t. They laughed but then one of them said "but you do have a superpower John, surely you know what it is?" I suggested it was perhaps my singing (which not surprisingly brought another round of laughter)..... everyone then confirmed categorically that my singing was not what they were thinking of, but what they did see
as a "superpower" was my connection to so many people of different backgrounds and the ability to use that network to make things happen.
At that point another round of shots arrived and I don’t remember much more of the conversation, but on the plane journey home, I started to reflect on how powerful the network of people we are connected to really can be in this day and age.
And although when we are posting on a platform like Linkedin we are usually just thinking about the network as a way of improving business prospects, that's really just a small use of "The Network". We have seen in recent months in particular that it has a power way beyond just doing business.
As an example since February 24th and Putin's foul illegal invasion, “The Network” has delivered from across the planet support and resources to Ukraine, not just from governments but from individuals and communities who know what is happening is wrong and who choose to use their personal networks to help anyway they can.
A great story I heard this week was that our marketing manager put her apartment in Kyiv on Airbnb at the start of the war after she had evacuated to the west of the country. She was not expecting any bookings, but immediately it was booked by people from the USA and Canada who said “we aren’t going to be able to stay there, but take the money and use it to help people”.
Connections were made where none existed previously and a small but inspirational story that nurtures Hope was created.
There are so many more stories like this that have been written since Feb 24th, when “The Network” suddenly made great things happen. To share a few personal ones, I've been humbled by old GSK colleagues taking my call and driving hours to rescue people as they fled Ukraine, offering up their houses and apartments to help those in need; my whole village community rallying round 2 builders from our local pub and raising £30,000 to fill their van with equipment which they drove to the border; a call from a volunteer in Poland who had heard we needed help from a business friend of my cousins; 3 buses donated by an old friend of mine at Arriva who used his internal network to make that happen, the buses were subsequently driven to the Ukraine border by volunteers we found through a network of vintage bus enthusiasts… the list goes on but the common factor is that it’s networks and connections that made all these things possible.
I guess that brings me to a fundamental question which I am sometimes asked, which is HOW do we tap into this incredibly powerful ecosystem, or put even more simply, WHAT actions can an individual do to be better networked?
As I reflect, I don't think there is one right answer to that question, as it's a bit like asking “how do you hit a good golf shot”? Sure, there are certain swing mechanics and technical grips etc but few golf swings are the same so there is always some individuality involved. And networking is the same. Anyway, with those caveats, I thought I would share for what it's worth the things that I think have worked well for me in building a network:
It takes a conscious effort, it won't just happen.
And once you’ve decided to make a conscious effort, remember it's not just when you are at a conference or using Linkedin, “The Network” is all around us all the time, we bump into people in all walks of life every day. Obviously not every interaction is a business card exchange, but no matter where you are, it never does any harm to be aware, be curious, and be helpful.
Hierarchy is your enemy.
Sure there are times when it's useful to know some really senior people, but they weren’t always senior….. Focus on the person, not the brand or the company or the title…..
Diversity is your friend.
Not in a box ticking regulated kind of way, but a diversity of thought, backgrounds, ages and outlooks, potentially just be open, be curious, be interested in ANYONE
There are three great mottos that I have learned from others: “Pay it forward” “If you can help someone you probably should” and “Be nice, do good things”.
These are all things I have learned from different and treasured people in my network and I know that I am not good enough at following these mottos all the time. But when I am at my best, I try to follow these principles and the rewards come, both in the moment of having provided help and sometimes many years later when you make a desperate call when you are seriously in need and the call gets answered.
Finally and most personally, you need some hooks that pull it all together for you as an individual.
For me it's stories and that's why as I wrote this blog it was inevitable that I shared a few. The stories are what I remember, more than the name or the title or sometimes even the face. And the way I look at it in my strange geeky way is that the stories are all part of a never ending book, when you make introductions in your network, you are creating new stories and they have their own energy and their own patterns and they set off new sparks and bursts of energy and positivity within the entity that is “The Network”…
Thanks for reading, I hope the stories made you smile and the reflections are of some help. I don’t really know if I am “good” at networking or not as there is no scoring mechanism or meaningful measures, but I know that without the few skills I do have in this space I wouldn’t have been able to help my friends in Ukraine as much in the last couple of months.
Thank you to everyone who helped and continues to help in that effort, Slava Ukraine! 🇺🇦
CTO and Co-founder at GT