Monkey brains and networking

About 100.000 people work at Bayer, give or take. I am – I think – a pretty active networker, but even if I could talk 24/7, the sheer number of people in this organization makes it impossible to connect with everyone else. However, this is a blog about believing in impossible things (link to what I’m talking about), so let’s assume you are a bit crazy and would like to connect with all of Bayer anyway. I certainly would like to, people are interesting!

Ignoring the obvious barrier of time – and a day job that would like you to show up and do some work every now and then – the second barrier is definitely language. Personally, I speak German, English, and a rudimentary amount of French. While that covers a pretty decent number of people, it’s not nearly enough to reach everyone in all the local organizations that mostly speak the local language(s).

Another thing that will be difficult to counter is the effect of the monkey sphere, also called Dunbar’s number. Our monkey brains are not capable to sustain more than a set amount of social relationships, somewhere around 150 seems to be the average. So you definitely can’t be friends with all of Bayer, not even close. Maintaining relationships that are not as close, and therefore less taxing on the monkey brain. might bump up that number, but I would guess it’s still nowhere near our target.

So, okay, point taken – my monkey brain probably cannot handle even knowing everyone at Bayer, never mind actually connecting with them as a person. If 100% is not possible, how many people can I reach? And who do I choose?

I do  not subscribe to the common trope touted in networking advice that you should focus your networking efforts on “important” people, i.e. higher up in the hierarchy or otherwise in positions of power. Like I said, people are interesting, but not because of the things they can do for me. Newer networking approaches sometimes focus on a more altruistic approach where you try to help your network in any way you can – the assumption being that they will do the same for you. But this is still a pretty transactional view on social relationships that just doesn’t fit how I approach people.

My motivation for networking is neither altruistic nor driven by a wish for power (to be perfectly honest though, it certainly helps to get things done to know people who know people who…). I just plain enjoy meeting people, learning about their corner of the organization, how they see themselves within this company, and how their daily business interacts with other people’s daily business. I’m not saying my approch is better or morally superior, but it is what works for me. My monkey brain also loves making connections for other people, so I tend to do that a lot – I’m that annoying person that always wants to introduce you to someone else. It’s genuine curiosity about the structures and weird connections and social movements that you get in an organization of so many people. It’s a huge part of why I go to work – to get a deeper understanding of this complex web of social relationships, one person at a time.

One comment

  1. Michael Baum

    I am also often thinking how to connect to as many colleagues in the company as possible. And I am clear that this is not going to happen via talking to each of them. For the reasons you also mention. But still, how to pull off the trick? I am not sure about monkeys, but a powerful tool that I believe we can use with people is putting out „compelling pictures“ about what we see and want other to see. By drawing a picture (yes, St. Exupéry was right with his longing for the sea) we can „connect“ to people and make them see what we see. At least some of them. Often many more than we could otherwise reach. And when they see what I see, I am, in a way, connected to them and we can start acting in a similar direction. I find that pretty amazing.

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