How networking helps generate new ideas
When Gary Jones, Marcia Kinter and Doreen Monteleone sat down for a dinner to plan a health & safety conference, little did they realise this was the beginning of the most comprehensive sustainability movement in the print industry. The three worked for different industry associations, and they discussed some of the current challenges faced by their members. Through this informal dinner discussion, it became clear that sustainability was critical to the future of the printing industry. From notes on a cocktail napkin, the concept for the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) was conceived. Eleven years later, SGP is the leading non-profit certification organisation for the printing industry and its suppliers.
Three people and one idea. What started as notes on a napkin during dinner changed the sustainability landscape for the printing industry. Fundamental to networking is the development and exchange of ideas.
“Fundamental to networking is the development and exchange of ideas.”
Approaching networking as an idea generator makes networks a critical part of innovation and success. Networking can lead to new ways to address challenges in corporate and marketing communications, and approaching personal networks with a focus on ideas provides benefits for all. Consistently, articles and presentation about successful networking focus on open sharing and less on career topics. In 2015, Doris Casares addressed the need for outward focus of networking in Communication Director magazine: “… add a bit more value by using 20% to speak about your brand and leave 80% to bring added value to your users. The logical consequence of this is that we will end up creating a long-term, real and loyal community around us.” 
As communication professionals, it is easy to demonstrate successful networking as idea sharing and generating. Andreea Hirica, an international marketing strategist based in Brussels, presented new ideas about virtual economies at the November 2019 Contagious Live Event London. “I feel the most productive relationships come from the networking for ideas vs sales-oriented goals,” she said. “Sharing the opportunities for marketing and brands to interact in the new virtual economies added many C-suite executives to my network. We are now discussing how to address the new virtual realities created by platforms like EVE Online and DecentraLand. The conversations are dynamic and helpful for my network to develop their own approaches to the new digital reality.”
With an outward focus, idea generation in networking is easy. For entrepreneurs, networking can be a key to success in creating and sustaining new innovations and businesses concepts. Their ideas and opportunities are strongly affected by their social networks who motivated them.
Communicators can leverage their networks in varied ways, discussing ideas and concepts with people in other industries and situations. I recently conducted a networking workshop for millennials at TE Connectivity. This was a great place to share ideas and the workshop provide a reality check for the communication and engagement programmes I manage. From our workshop, I have new ideas for mixing digital content with media to create more impact. At the same time, I challenged the participants to start early, creating a mutually supportive network focusing on best practice sharing and ideas. “As I am just starting my career, sharing ideas is a great way I can contribute to my network with my unique perspective as a student and consumer,” said Natalie Brauneis, working student at TE Connectivity Germany. “Brainstorming and generating ideas provides opportunities for me to interact with all levels of people including top management in a collaborative open environment.”
“Communicators can leverage their networks in varied ways, discussing ideas and concepts with people in other industries and situations.”
Another idea generation source is expert networks. By bringing together experts in a social setting and facilitating a targeted discussion, the results can be better than researching the problem and reviewing information. Having a short presentation with senior leaders is a good catalyst for networking: by sharing a concise, actionable idea – such as how to respond to a difficult question – can create a networking platform for ideas and best practices.
“Another idea generation source is expert networks.”
Networking is about sharing ideas. With this realization, social networks become a critical part of innovation and professional development as it leads to new engaging ways to address challenges and helps develop marketing campaigns and communications in innovative ways. The best value in social networking is the exchange and development of ideas.
By Jonathan Graham
Jonathan Graham is senior manager of global communications for TE Connectivity’s Industrial business in Darmstadt, Germany and serves on the Executive Committee of the Sustainability Green Printing Partnership. In his role at TE, the global leader in sensor and connectivity solutions, he manages external and internal communications. For SGP, the leading sustainability certification for the printing industry, he leads the marketing activities and chairs the SGP Foundation. Jonathan has a master’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi in the United States. Linkedin Twitter
 Aldrich, Howard and Zimmer, Catherine. “Entrepreneurship through social networks.” California Management Review (1986) 33:1, 3.
 Hagel, John. “Net Gain: Expanding Markets through Virtual Communities.” Journal of Interactive Marketing (1999): 15:1, 37.