The coffee is fairly nasty. The croissant and granola selection is overwhelming and strangely unsatisfying. That man in a grey, pinstripe suit won’t stop talking at you, you can’t think how to extricate yourself, and your cheeks are growing sore from smiling awkwardly at every potential ‘contact’ that walks past.
The networking breakfast: it gives networks a bad name.
But we all know the power of networks: the social network, the computer network, mumsnet. And it’s not a new idea. In the first century, it was God’s vehicle for building the church: link people through a common belief, allow them to congregate in nodes and then let them spread their belief laterally through visits, letters and speeches, creating new nodes and new connections.
The internet and global media have made networks more obvious and more exciting. They form more easily, transmit ideas more quickly and reach more widely than ever before.
This has some strange effects. I would hazard a guess that you’re more likely to have a Syrian refugee or a liberated citizen of Mosul in your network than you are half the people on your street. That’s quite something for our politicians to manage, to lead or to respond to.
So what kind of network do we want to be part of? With Brexit, we might argue we said no to a network based on proximity. Why should we connect with Europeans just because they live next door? Or perhaps we said no to a network that connected the globally interesting – the politicians, the bankers, the refugees, the oppressed – and forgot the normal and struggling.
The more important question is what do we want our network to do? Is it a self-serving network in which we connect to gain? We take the business card of that irritating grey-suited man, because he might win us a sale in future. We connect with the countries that will give us good deals. Or might our network be more powerful if it is other-serving? How can we value those we connect with? How can we use their services so they are built up? The beauty of the network is that its strength is created by how much the nodes give. There is a paradoxical reciprocity here: the more we give, the more we benefit. Whether your network includes a refugee or a plain and ordinary next door neighbour, give it a try. Then our politicians might be able to do likewise.