A personal network is a set of human contacts known to an individual, with whom that individual would expect to interact at intervals to support a given set of activities. In other words a Personal Network is a group of caring, dedicated people who are committed to maintain a relationship with a person in order to support a given set of activities. Having a strong personal network requires being connected to a network of resources for mutual development and growth.
Personal networks are intended to be mutually beneficial–extending the concept of teamwork beyond the immediate peer group. The term is usually encountered in the workplace, though it could apply equally to other pursuits outside work.
Personal networking is the practice of developing and maintaining a personal network, which is usually undertaken over an extended period.
Personal networking is often encouraged by large organizations, in the hope of improving productivity, and so a number of tools exist to support the maintenance of networks. Many of these tools are IT-based, and use Web 2.0 technologies.
Care should be taken not to confuse a personal network with a Personal area network.
History of Networking and Business Success
In the second half of the twentieth century, U.S. advocates for workplace equity popularized the term and concept of networking as part of a larger social capital lexicon—which also includes terms such as glass ceiling, role model, mentoring, and gatekeeper—serving to identify and address the problems barring non-dominant groups from professional success. Mainstream business literature subsequently adopted the terms and concepts, promoting them as pathways to success for all career climbers. In 1970 these terms were not in the general American vocabulary; by the mid-1990s they had become part of everyday speech.
Before the mid-twentieth century, what we call networking today was framed in the language of family and friendship. These close personal relationships provided a range of opportunities to preferred subsets of people, such as access to job opportunities, information, credit, and partnerships. Family networks and nepotism have proven particularly strong throughout history. However, other common bonds—from ethnicity and religion to school ties and club memberships—can connect subsets of people as well. Of course people whom insiders consider undesirable have been barred from such networks, with important consequences. Those who tap into influential networks can be nurtured toward success. Those who are shut out from networks can lose hope of success. Numerous business heroes of the past—such as Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller—exploited networks to great effect.
The business networks that seemed natural and transparent to these white men were a closed book to women and minorities for much of American history. Drawing on work from the social sciences, these outsider groups had to identify and then harness the mechanisms behind networking’s power. A prominent early example of this process was the formation of corporate caucuses by black men at Xerox starting in 1969. Groups of black salesmen met regularly to share information about Xerox’s culture and strategies for navigating it most effectively. Through confrontation and collaboration with a relatively accommodating upper management, the caucuses helped open opportunities for high-performing black employees.
The popular and business press began using the terms “network” and “networking” in the mid-1970s in the context of businesswomen consciously pursuing this strategy. Authors encouraged female workers to recognize and exploit the informal workplace systems that provided advancement. They urged women to identify mentors, use social contacts, and build peer and authority networks. The push for networking drew on ideas and relationships from the era’s feminist movement, and dictionaries of the time explicitly linked business networking to women’s efforts to succeed in the workplace.
Since the closing decades of the twentieth century, networking has become a pervasive term and concept in American society. People now invoke networking in relation to everything from business to child rearing to science. While ambitious careerists seek networks as an indispensable talisman, companies purposefully encourage networking among their employees to boost performance and gain competitive advantage. At the same time, Americans are forgetting the workplace activism that first illuminated the power of networking. Unfortunately this loss of historical context can fuel a backlash against outsider groups who still seek to synthesize networks so they can access the same opportunities enjoyed by insiders.
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