Mar 27, 2013

Networking vs. Collaborating - A Response

First, watch this, because Rosi says it A LOT better than I do:

This is part of what I've been talking about for my ideas for my Glass community. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. I want to talk about the two concepts of Networking vs. Collaborating.

Over the past six years or so, I've worked mostly in the startup scene in New York, or what the nerds like me might call 'Silicon Alley'. There are LOADS of industry events: meetups, monthlies, talks, conferences, festivals, workspaces. In 2012, I learned the difference between the two types of people in this industry. I'm pretty sure they exist in all industries, and correct me if you think I'm wrong, but at any industry event, you will find these two types:

Type A: The Networker

Networkers are sometimes unhappily employed, but mostly unhappily unemployed and feel it is their sole goal in life to meet every person at the event in the hope of getting hired, meeting a potential funder for their next big idea, and reaching into their pocket to complete their conversation with the exchange of information (whether via business card, Bump, or Evernote Hello). Some even measure the "success" of an event by how many cards they have left at the end of the night. You can always spot the networker: they are dressed sharply, they stand out, but in a conspicuous way. They are usually focused on meeting their own ends. Like sharks, they don't turn their heads and gaze around. They focus, hone in, move directly. All of their conversations pointedly come back to one topic: themselves. Their ideas, their process, their mission all take center stage.

I must confess: I was a networker. Two years ago, after a somewhat crushing job loss, I started attending industry events in large part to find a gig. By early 2012, on any given day I was preregistered to attend 5-10 different events having to do with social media or a related content marketing topic. I was trying to get hired. My applications weren't being received well, so I took matters into my own hands...literally. I had business cards done up and printed high quality copies of my resume to carry with me at all times. I went out of my way to turn almost all conversations back to me. After all, I needed a job.

Can you guess what happened? Nothing. No one called. No one hired me. I didn't walk out of any event with a job or even a job prospect. After all, who wants to work with a person who, like Rosi echoed, seems selfish or self-centered and is only interested in meeting their own ends? No one, that's who.

Around this time, I specifically joined a meetup for a topic I knew little about, in order to gain some perspective and maybe have some new talking points for striking up conversation (again, selfish). Little did I know this is what would change the course of my year.

Type B: The Collaborator

Collaborators are about ideas, concepts and visions. They may be employed or unemployed, but regardless of how they pay the rent they aren't focused on finding new work or even on their own work. You will find them at industry events, but they are there more likely to celebrate achievements of their peers or hoping to be inspired by complete strangers. When they strike up conversations, it's not to "sell themselves" or to bring conversations back to them, but to be inquisitive and learn about the folks around them. They are focused on how they can learn from you, how they might benefit from staying in touch, and best of all how they might create something with you. Every friend you have ever met is usually a potential collaborator in some way or another. And possibly vice versa.

Shortly after joining Storycode (the NY Transmedia monthly meetup), I became transfixed by the idea of storytelling and it's relationship to communities and collaboration. Every show I watched, every fic I read, every movie I saw became not about performances or who looked right or about judging the surface, but about the narrative and the delivery and how it made me feel. I was excited to discover something new in myself, something that had clearly been there all along just beneath the surface.

When I finally let go of networking as a means to find work in early April, it was then that opportunities to collaborate began falling into my lap. I was very fortunate to be able to compete in Storycode's first story hackathon (my first hackathon ever!) and my team delivered the Best Use of Twilio earning us a prize. We didn't win the Grand Prize (the team that did was AMAZING), but I was just so happy to work alongside people with a creative goal. Since I was the most outspoken and energetic, people assumed I was "team leader" but I never saw it that way. We all worked together, tirelessly, for over 24 hours to create a compelling narrative and even launch a website. I didn't care about the prize as much as I cared about seeing our vision come to reality and our story told.

Around the same time I began working on the fan conference MISTI-Con, which I'm saving for another post. Or maybe a video. Suffice it to say I can't wait for that collaborative effort to happen this May and the team behind it is truly awe-inspiring. I can't believe how soon it is. about six weeks away!

Later that month, a friend of a friend asked if I might be interested in working on his webseries (which I will not tell the whole story of here -- it's another post I'm working on) and it was the first time I had been that excited about something in the Potterverse in a long time. I was just coming down from the Storyhack high and the seven or eight months I worked with the webseries team were so rewarding. I got to work with all of these amazingly creative people and make some lasting friendships. I hope I can collaborate with them all again someday and create more cool things.

This brings us to my most recent foray into collaborating: creating a community around Google Glass that allows people who are unable to attend fan conferences and conventions to experience that ultimate fan joy and excitement, while also giving me a new way to experience something I've grown so accustomed to that I need to break out of my comfort zone. While I'm still developing how this will work come May (which is the start of convention season and my expected launch) I've never experienced (in the tech industry) the outpouring of support that I have received from the Glass Explorers community on Google+. Since my submission, to getting shared by bigwigs at Google, to visiting the Google offices, to being invtied to join the Glass Explorers beta testing program (!), it has been an incredible last few weeks. More importantly, it has all started with community: I looked to friends to help craft my submission, I looked to peers to discuss ideas I had, and now I'm looking for support to fund those ideas.

I'm still working out how my community concept will benefit people who are less fortunate and how I might be able to bring the experience of a convention to people who might not have the opportunity to see it, but my mind is also bursting at the seams with tons of other ideas for collaboration and community. I want to bring it to Brooklyn Young Filmmakers and talk with low-income residents about first-person filmmaking. I want to have Glass Enthusiast meetups with Camp Interactive kids and come up with ideas for how augmented reality and microinteractions will change computing in our world. I want to connect with other explorers and connect coders with non-coders to create truly amazing things. Things that will benefit all people.

I think community, in a sense, is about thinking big: bigger than you and bigger than me. Part of what Google's moonshot thinking is the endless possibilities of what collaboration and community mean. You coan't go it alone, focused internally, and expect good things to be created out of thin air. You need to connect with others to make magic. To me, community is like networking for a purpose; for a greater good.


If you're reading this Rosi, your video has truly inspired me (as they often do), so thank you. We are lucky to have the internet age and the communities (fan or otherwise) that we do. Indeed, we are also lucky to have opportunities to create media and attend events all over the place to celebrate the things we love. I think you make another great point in stating that communities are all around us, whether in someone's mind waiting to be born or existing in meetups and conventions and industry events. I didn't even realize how many people in the Potter community were trying to create something until last year and I've been (what I consider) an active member for more than six years! Truly, community and collaboration start with talking, with a spark between two or more minds that ignites excitement and passion to make something amazing. It can be as multi-layered as a website that delivers content to fans in all the flavors of their world, or as simple as spending the afternoon making a silly video with your friends:

How are you collaborating and creating? What tools are you using? Tell me in the comments. Maybe if you see another commentor's thoughts it will inspire you or it will spark a collaboration between you. Like I always say, you'll never know if you don't try.