FAST FORWARD: Mile-high networking

FAST FORWARD: Mile-high networking

Networking is a much-maligned word in this new manic millennium. Last century, hubs, routers and cables used to be the pinnacle of corporate connectivity. But today it's about network management, services and enablement. And now you don't have to be restricted to networking at work. You can do it in your small office. Or at home. You can even be virtual and private about it.

The more malignant networking is the kind covered in the motivational books we buy at airports. When there's a long flight ahead and there in the news-stand are all those yellow-spined self-help books telling you how to be more successful in your business, in your boardroom and yes . . . even in your bedroom.

Temptation is the latest Tom Clancy next to them, guaranteed to while away flying time with action-packed fantasy. Sounds good and hey, you've been working hard, you need the relaxation! But your ambitious work-ethic conscience side says that a long flight is just where you can conquer some of those corporate challenges by reading Nine Steps to Better Networking. With all the best intentions, you buy both.

Onto the plane and here's the drinks trolley. The guy beside you has done everything to let you know that he flies often. He is a very frequent flyer with the right luggage tags to prove it. He has no need of networking with you and significantly puts on his headphones, turns slightly away and stuffs his pillow in your face.

Get out the networking book, which you now feel a bit self-conscious about because he has his briefcase open and some serious documents marked ‘'company confidential" ostentatiously displayed on them. And now he's opening his laptop with an e-mail address directory longer than a Chinese phone book. Looks like he's mastered all nine networking levels.

You hide the ridiculously obvious self-help book inside the menu and try to look consumed by today's culinary choices. But now that the seatbelt sign is off, everyone seems to be out of their seats and chatting to each other. They're networking and you're out of the loop. Cowering behind the menu, you read Step Two: Linking with the Right Crowd.

Just how do you break into inner sanctums? Even when you do get invited to a glamorous junket, you're the one standing on your pat, grabbing the drinks waiter to give you extra courage and stuffing insipid savouries into the mouth you know could be better used for talking. Desperation is rarely confused with charisma and the only network you attract are the waiters keen to rid themselves of their fare so they can go home.

Networking is an art form achieved only by the most masterful and practised of corporate climbers. Actually, it's a chore rather than a skill because the amount of hours necessary to invest in this turn-of-the-century corporate criterion is more than all the violin practice hours you were ever forced to do. It requires the basic position of being attractive to people, the more advanced characteristic of being attractive to the right people, and then too many hours of being at the right places and saying all the right things.

Back to the flight. Dinner is about to be served, so at last your flying companion will be forced to put away his very important work and maybe we can shoot the breeze. Hang out over a small tray of chopped meat and a glass of altitude-affected Cabernet. Who knows what you and this corporate magnate might have in common. This is what networking is all about.

But what's this? No dinner for the much-networked, much-flown neighbour. Eye shades and earplugs signal the end of any potential communication. Not even a goodnight nudge. You finish all the food in the tiny little compartments and look about the dimly lit cabin. Not a friend in sight. Looks like only Tom Clancy to share your solitude. So much for networking!

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Vice-president and Publisher.

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