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Let’s Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships

Elina 8 (1)

By Tamir Novotny (@tamirnovotny), Regional Coordinator, EPIP and Senior Associate for Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities

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“We were put here to be in community”Nicole Rose Nieman


This is what I want my network to look like…but maybe with more pants


Practically from the moment we leave the womb these days, we’re being told to network.  “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.”  That makes sense and all, but I think we’re missing the point.

In a time increasingly characterized by economic free agency, networking has become more important than ever.  The vast majority of jobs or gigs (70 plus percent, by most estimates) come not from open postings but from personal connections.  Networks also form the basis for collaboration, which is in turn becoming the basis both for profit and for social change.  In this respect, networking could be said to be the lifeblood of a successful career.

The problem with networking as it is commonly practiced, however, is that it treats people as instruments.  I have from time to time found myself not seeking to understand and enjoy the person in front of me, but rather asking myself, “What could this person do for me?”

That’s too empty, especially for those of us who are committing our lives to building a more just and humane world.

So, let’s stop networking and start building relationships.  Or maybe, to put it a little differently, let’s network with purpose.

Next week, EPIP-NY and YNPN-NY will be hosting an experiment based on this precept, called “Peoples is Peoples: An Anonymous Un-Networking Event.” (In case you’re wondering, the title was inspired by the movie “Muppets Take Manhattan,” and the concept by House of Genius) We already have more than 50 people signed up, and we’re hoping for more.  Participants will be able to talk about the issues they care most about, or most anything else, but will be barred from talking shop, handing out business cards, or even disclosing the organization they work for.  The idea is that people stop being real with each other when they see themselves in some kind of pecking order, or if they see a tactical advantage in a relationship with the person they’re talking to (e.g., if that person is a funder vs. an executive vs. whatever).  So we’re trying to take that out of the equation.


Kermit the Frog networks with purpose

And you should, too.  You could have something I want today, and I could have something you want tomorrow.  What matters is not the transactional value of the relationship in the short term, but how the relationships you build today mature into a beautiful community of friends, partners and kindred spirits, yielding support, insight and opportunities over a lifetime.  It’s still a good thing to meet lots and lots of people — so long as that volume brings with it a sense of joy, purpose and authenticity.

I’m grateful to those who’ve chosen to take this view with me.  I’m tempted to name you here – I won’t, but you know who you are.  Thank you for seeing past my title or job description and finding shared purpose with me, nourishing the person beneath the bio, warts and all.

And I hope that some of you who read this will reach out, if not to me, then to someone you respect or want to know better, and just take some time out of your day to learn more about that person.

Genuine connection is one of the best feelings in the world.  Let’s put ourselves in a position to feel more of it.

Tamir Novotny (@tamirnovotnyis a Regional Coordinator for EPIP in the Northeast, where he supports chapter programming and development, and also sources blogs for fun. For his day job, Tamir is a Senior Associate for Public Sector Innovation at Living Cities, a collaborative of foundations and financial services companies working to develop and scale new approaches for creating opportunities for low-income people and improving the cities where they live.  Tamir also serves on the Steering Committee of EPIP-New York (@EPIP-NY)

If you want to blog for EPIP, or even just to connect with Tamir, you should get in touch with him at tamir@epip.org.


  1. wrote on May 7th, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Richard Marker

    As one who is often approached by early career folks or career changers for advice, I would like to offer a real world example of how networking as a goal is counter productive. As many in EPIP can attest, I am quite open to meet with almost anyone if there is any logical reason to do so. And I am delighted to do so. I have had 5 pretty successful careers, have hired and supervised many many people over that time and sometimes may even have useful info to share.But it quickly becomes clear when someone is meeting with me only so that they can look over my shoulder to the next person I can introduce them to. That motivation is hard to hide – especially to someone like me who has met with hundreds of people. I don’t resent it, but i find myself less engaged with those people than those who genuinely are there to discuss their own situation. And I am not particularly inclined to pas those folks on to other people with whom they can then network to the next intro. And so on. Frankly, it isn’t whom you can meet but rather is that meeting at the appropriate time and for the right reasons. [For those who are interested, I wrote an op-ed on networking some months ago – on my blog/website – NOT a commercial, just more info.]

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