Guest post: Beyond networking — the give and take of the Good 100

Most of us, at one time or another, would like to meet potential collaborators for our projects, or have conversations that turn us on to new ideas, resources and perspectives, or spread awareness about what we’re up to. That’s what networking is supposed to be for, right?

Good 100 workshop
Facilitators at the Good 100 in May 2013. Photo: Local Good Facebook

And yet, conventional networking is often regarded with distaste; fear, even. This is partly what led us (the founders of the Good Hundred Experiment) to ask, “Is there a better way?”

Could we find a way to create connections between community members that was less scary, more meaningful, and ultimately more likely to benefit our participants and the community? As we head into our fourth annual event, we continue to work towards this goal.

One of the greatest lessons we’ve learned is the importance of give and take. The most successful participants at Good 100 are those who embrace both the role of expert and the role of learner; mentor and mentee; benefactor and recipient. That two-way street is essential to get past the superficial level in any relationship, whether it be business or personal.

From my perspective as a facilitator, it’s interesting to observe how difficult this is for some people. Surprisingly, almost no one struggles with the “giving” part — providing advice, support, resources. Being the giver is a relatively comfortable position. It’s being on the “taking” end that presents a challenge for many of us and, if you think about it, it’s not hard to see why.

To be on the “taking” end, we have to admit that we haven’t got things all figured out. We have to show our soft underbelly. We have to share our challenges and be prepared to deal with the reaction. It may feel like admitting weakness. Giving really is much more comfortable.

Participants Good 100
Participants at the Good 100 in May 2013. Photo: Local Good Facebook

But there are significant advantages to being a taker. If no one is ever prepared to be a taker, no one gets to be a giver, either. If we don’t take turns occupying these roles, some people will never get to give. As uncomfortable as it can be to be on the receiving end of support, imagine how much more uncomfortable it would be to always be on the receiving end, never getting the chance to be the giver.

A reluctance to receive is a barrier to the development of meaningful relationships and, by extension, strong communities. Have you ever known someone who would never accept your help with anything? Did you find it hard to develop a true closeness with them, even if they were always eager to help you?

As organizers, we believe that one way we can help people forge real connections and have truly beneficial experiences at the Good 100 is by encouraging all of our participants to take on both roles, in turn, throughout the event. The idea that everyone has wisdom and support to offer, and that everyone can benefit from the wisdom and support of the others, is one of our core values. We build it into our entire process, from the application and selection system through to our program design.

We ask everyone to share challenges, and we ask everyone to give advice and support. We ask everyone to talk about times when things didn’t go so well, and about times when they did. There are no experts, there are no complete rookies. There are only good people trying to do good things.

Because we’re not just networking here. We’re helping to build a community.