Painfully Obvious: Find Links

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

At the outset of my public service career, I listened to a conference keynote entirely dedicated to networking. It was presented through the lens of career-building, and to me, sounded like sucking up and charlatanism. I switched off.

A few years later, I was at a table with a handful of municipal, provincial, and federal CIOs discussing how they handled their career evolution toward managing people with more, and more current, technical expertise. Here's the simple, but showstopping solution from one of them:
“I've spent the latter half of my career building business skills, but also building a network. I have twenty years worth of friends I can call any day to ask “Hey, can this consultant do a good job on X project?”
By that time, I understood the importance of networks (and it avoided the language of "networking" as an activity, which has negative connotations for me). So it stuck.

Yet, I've realized that the relationships we should invest in aren't always obvious. In July, a series of chance events landed me in the basement of a pub in Washington, DC. I ended up sitting next to a bright American public servant, and after talking for a few minutes we realized that we were working on exceptionally similar projects, facing many of the same challenges. So now, we're setting up videoconferences to compare notes. But, it struck me that I could have found that connection through three minutes of Googling, with plenty of context to reach out.

This is you in your career: a massive room, with a tiny flashlight.
You know there's a lot of good stuff to be found, but not what, and not where.

One of the authors of The Metropolitan Revolution, Jennifer Bradley, had this to say after interviewing a slew of city stakeholders:
"When we go around the country, whether it was all the mayors in the Denver Metropolitan Area, or the philanthropies in Northeast Ohio, they would say, "We never got together."...It’s the most simple thing, and you do feel like a dork the first few times you tell people "no really, just get everyone in a room," but over and over again we heard that that was a huge step. And I think it has to do with the fact that people are so busy doing what they think of as their day-to-day job, they forget to step back and look laterally and think about what somebody else might be doing."
That excerpt is from an article called A Lot of Civic Leaders Need to Listen to This Painfully Obvious Advice.

If you take the time to seek those who can shine light on things, suddenly it's all that much easier.

On the surface, yes, it's painfully obvious: talk to people who can help you do your job. But sometimes you won't know them yet - they'll be just outside your network. Just outside the part of the map you can see. It doesn't always seem easy to find and initiate contact with people you haven't met yet, particularly if they're experts in your field. Here's what I've been trying to remember:
  1. We have policy cover to use the internet for "participating in professional associations, knowledge sharing and career development." Which is pretty broad. ("I'm writing as a X enthusiast who happens to work for Y.")
  2. The world will almost certainly not end if you email a possible contact. In fact, the opportunity cost of not trying far outweighs the risk.
  3. If your job is important (and it is), dedication and diligence in establishing relationships with colleagues and counterparts isn't a career move. It's just your job.
So I pushed my mind through that lens, and I'm pulling my body after.