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BW Businessworld

Networking To Collaborate

No player too small, no idea too absurd, the seed ungerminated when we go out to network is the one that probably stands tall as a tree as we find that opportunity to collaborate beyond the obvious.

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A forum of entrepreneurs invited me for sharing with them my perspective on collaboration. It is the need of the hour, wiser as we are in the pandemic times- hoping such reasons of opportunities coming our way would not repeat themselves at least in our remaining lives. Opportunities nevertheless that we are happy to have, so no complaining.

Having heard about many such forums that had sprung up in a span of months, I understood them to be people’s way of filling the void created by the absence of all the conferences, conventions, etc. More than that I also understood it to be an opportunity for people to reach out proactively to learn, to hear, to share perspectives. Well, there were a ton of webinars and enough jokes about the overflooding of social media with all that was available for one to ‘learn’ from. What then was the need for these forums if we already had so much literally in our face?

To me it was the need to belong and the need to have accountability to success- both in facilitating it and in achieving. All of this because networking was the need of the hour, not just professionally, but for us as humans too. Especially in the socially distanced times, the need of each of us as humans to go beyond what we may have otherwise been happier with, has been much more pronounced. That perhaps explains the umpteen number of people that some of us reached out to in these unprecedented times.  

Its what got me thinking of the need for networking- a potentially, mutually beneficial social connect. To me, though, the idea of beginning networking with the intent of gaining (benefit) is perhaps the root cause of why some people don’t build as good a network as others.

Starting an interaction with the assumption of personal or professional gain is perhaps where we miss the human angle of it all. A typical representation is how people introduce themselves at forums- exchange of cards (yes, in a different era, pre-pandemic). Well, that’s the lowest to me in the spectrum of hierarchy of building strong networks. It needs to be more about knowing people beyond what the name, address, designation and company that the card carries. We cannot be networking with the intent of achieving the next opportunity. We need to network with the intent to know people better, to learn from our interactions, to share and hone our views during these interactions. Beyond that if networking were to take us somewhere, even better! Let this last one not be the only objective with which one “networks”.

The important piece is whether we think the network is something we gained from/ learned from and/ or are willing to invest in. Or in some cases, whether the brief interaction would be worth further time spent. In that case, reach out! There is nothing better than to hear about a mark that you may have made on someone during a brief conversation such that they would want to connect and know you better or deeper.

To me networking is also a prelude to collaboration especially business collaboration (not workplace collaboration- discussed ad nauseum pre pandemic and one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic).

Collaboration is what creates win-win solutions for businesses. Several times we refer to a fruitful partnership as a collaboration. Without delving into the semantics of partnerships versus collaboration, I would categorize the latter into three buckets- the obvious, the stretch, the creative.

Obvious is the one (at the expense of overstating it) which generally works within the value chain that our business operates in. It’s what we do vertically, forward or backward, with customers and suppliers. Every time we reach out to our network, we are looking to opportunities- to learn, to improve, to grow. In fact, it’s the most common form in which we consider collaboration for business gain. Acquisitions, partnerships, et al, best undertaken across the value chain with the idea of expansion and value gain at the core.   

The second one- ‘Stretch’ is the one when we start viewing our collaboration with respect to competition. What has been seen as competition so far should actually be thought of as a potential partner. A partner to expand the size of the pie, the opportunity available to one to explore growth, to achieve expansion.

So whether one considers oneself as a big player or a small, in the space the business may be engaged, there is scope to collaborate. Think about all the growth that businesses have achieved in recent times, it’s the idea of going beyond conventional thinking and viewing the same stakeholders or entities in a different light. I understand that in case of several big players, its like the big fish may eat the small fish. But if it is a smart fish (small or otherwise), one would find the opportunity to hunt together rather than eating or being eaten. The value we jointly create is always more than the sum of what we would create individually. The important part is to figure out your niche. What is it that you bring to the table? What is the reason for your existence?

Let us not be confined or constrained in our own silo-s. If one has the niche clear in one’s mind, there can be nothing stopping you from adding value. It is not always important to disrupt, but it is important to be clear on the value you bring and collaborate to provide that value across the chain.

Then there is the third bucket of collaboration-the creative. It is to figure out latent possibilities of creating opportunities with players beyond the traditional- value chain or competition. It is akin to the florist outside a coffee shop or the convenience store or restaurant at the fuel station – unlikely before we saw them happen, and successfully at that too! It is this third category which to me is the need of the hour. Unearthing the unexpected!

Some of you may or may not have heard of the Australian Insurance company that went into gaming to build a culture for insurance among its potential population. The reason I share this is because 1) it is never too later to reinvent 2) it is never too late to discover potential but more than that 3) it is never too late to collaborate. And the bigger, older, more successful you are, the higher the need to do this continuously compared to those who are smaller, younger, and less successful.

No player too small, no idea too absurd, the seed ungerminated when we go out to network is the one that probably stands tall as a tree as we find that opportunity to collaborate beyond the obvious.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Bhavana Bindra

A graduate of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore, Bhavana joined the corporate world starting with Consulting at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), followed by almost 13 years in the Manufacturing & Engineering sector with the US MNC Cummins India Limited. Setting up and running businesses with expertise in the areas of leadership, strategic thinking, sales and marketing, Bhavana believes learning is continuous and experiments worth the time spent. This explains explaining her stint at a start-up in the Data analytics space, as well as her last role in the Chemicals industry as the Managing Director of a Dutch company in India.

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