“Network is the leader” is not just about networking. It is about a system, a home, a movement, something bigger than meeting someone at a conference and exchanging a business card. A network is not about ‘what you know or who you know’ it is about a collective wisdom that comes from a group or a system and about sharing ideas that may spin new ideas. I believe networks are a foundation for achieving social change.
When I hear stories about her coffee house it is always about meeting up with friends, or re-connecting with someone. It is a hub in the community of Chadron and I’m sure my Aunt didn’t know this when she opened, but it has become a ‘pulse’, ‘a beat’ in the community of Chadron. It is downtown in an old historic building and it has charm, great coffee and food…but even more importantly it is a place for people to connect.
I would imagine that if we did research on the Bean Broker, we would discover that it has created new networks in the community and that social change has occurred because of conversations that have happened within the coffee house. There might even be tangible community projects, marriages and transitioning of leadership that emerged from these connections. Is this a network? Is this measurable? Is it real or does it need to have a CEO, a logo, and a communications structure to make it real.
What is “a network”?
Often I hear the word “networking” used as a fluffy term when describing social media or someone who has a large stack of business cards. What I’ve learned is that entire movements in our history have been credited to a ‘network’ of people. Can you think of any?
Networks seem to emerge around social issues or challenges. Coffee shops, like the Bean Broker, are places for real and raw conversations to happen and a perfect platform for network formation. Networks are by nature, complex and dynamic but their power is undeniable.
“Bringing people together in an environment that encourages and facilitates idea exchange is one of the most powerful communications strategies for driving change.”
Networks strive to balance the autonomy of individuals with the need for collective action. They are a touch point and provide an opportunity to exchange ideas or dreams freely. The network itself must address the needs of both existing and emerging members while straddling political ramifications and differences in power, worldview, and work-style. In a community structure, this balance is challenging and oftentimes bringing new people into the network helps create synergies and stability.
An essential aspect of networks is transparency and engagement in decision-making processes. This is a defining element of networks because if there isn’t transparency and engagement, or an invitation to engage, then the network begins to function with top-down leadership rather than dispersed leadership or network leadership.
The Network and Young Leaders
When I started my career, a friend entered my office and said, “I’m tired of talking about the ‘brain drain’ phenomena, let’s change it to a positive conversation.” We emerged from this discussion with a new idea for tackling what has become a huge media buzz in our state and nation. Where have all the young people gone in rural Nebraska? The irony is that even though this is a very important conversation to the future of our nation, it doesn’t even consider that young talent already exists in the most rural parts of our state and nation, we just overlook them.
I’m generalizing a bit with this comment but what I’ve observed is that in most community leadership structures, there are very few young individuals (under 45) that hold offices or decision-making power. Why is this? Obviously it is because either young people don’t exist or that they don’t have the skills to lead. Right?
Some communities have this figured out and they now have city councils, 4-H boards, foundation boards… you name it… that are comprised of 50%+ young leaders. This is incredible right? It shows that the community is coaching, mentoring and or taking an active interested in transitioning the leadership. They are focusing on the future. Maybe it is a ‘training ground’ for young leaders or just a natural transition. Why have other communities missed this? I plan to explore this more in future blog posts….
Connecting Young Nebraskans
Coffee shops, networks, young people…what does this add up to? When I had that initial conversation with my friend about young leaders in our state, it stirred something within me. I was curious and maybe a little frustrated. This was my opportunity to learn, grow, and hopefully – impact.
Connecting Young Nebraskans (CYN) was born in 2010. It is a statewide network designed to connect, empower and retain young Nebraskans. CYN focuses on connecting young leaders that are 600+ miles apart. It is designed to be inclusive. The name is not Young Professionals of Nebraska, because after hearing from individuals it was apparent that in rural places, not everyone is a ‘professional’ they may not wear a suit and tie to work, they might be mechanics, farmers, teachers or doctors but they are all young Nebraskans.
The CYN network strives to provide development opportunities for individuals ages 21–40 to impact their communities through networking and learning experiences. The CYN network is forever building a dynamic and diverse group of peers with a passion for making a difference, a willingness to learn and the desire to build important relationships that will impact the future.
We take our lessons from coffee shops. We share big and crazy ideas but also ask questions about ‘what could be if XYZ barrier was removed.’ We even have a session at our annual summit that is title: Coffee Shop Discussions. It is designed to create space for ideas and it is a play off the story that I mentioned above about my Aunt’s Coffee House but it is also an opportunity for young leaders to learn and share. I’m sure you have heard that Millennials/ Gen Y like to be heard. This is true…but we also have a deep rooted desire to learn. (ask me if you want to R&D (rip-off and duplicate) my coffeeshop discussion model…I am happy to share)
When the CYN network was first organizing, many people advised me create an organization, charge dues to the members, create levels within the leadership structure and much more.
I was asked questions like, “who is the president” and “why don’t you establish a board of CEO’s to advise the network.” These are great ideas but they never fit with the idea of CYN. For some reason, my instincts have kept me from creating this ‘structure’. I don’t know why, I don’t have more of an explanation to why we aren’t a 501c3 with a board of directors, but we aren’t. We are a network where young leaders can plug in or step out whenever they need to. We all have busy lives and the network allows for people to flow in and out as needed. If there is a hot button issue…people may step in. If people are going through personal life changes (i.e. new jobs, having a baby..etc) they may step out. This is great! This is life! A network is designed so that it can pass easily to the next person.
These are visuals of networks. Not the CYN network but just the complex, interwoven nature of networks. Notice the many ‘hubs’ and the many cross-cutting and web-like lines. This is important because it shows how ideas move in-and-out of the system.
Moving forward with this blog we will explore the future and how a networks such as CYN can move, grow, adapt. Relationships move ideas forward and networks allow for authentic relationships to develop and evolve. What networks are you part of? Which are formal networks such as Rotary or statewide networks? Which are informal?
“Sometimes our smallest actions become the biggest ripples.”