Schmidt on networking

[26 October 2008]

I’ve recently set up a LinkedIn profile for myself, and I’ve been assiduously searching in LinkedIn for old and current friends and colleagues and ‘building my network’ — so I was rather struck by the following slightly sobering remarks in Helmut Schmidt’s recent book Außer Dienst, which I picked up in Germany a couple weeks ago and have been reading at odd moments on airplanes:

Den Ausdruck Netzwerk hat es zu meiner Zeit noch nicht gegeben. Aber natürlich hat man vielfältige persönliche Kontakte geknüpft und sie langfristig aufrechterhalten. Wer sich gegen seine Zeitgenossen abschließt, hat es schwerer, zu abgewogenen Urteilen zu gelangen, als einer, der sich öffnet und Kontakt und Austausch sucht. … Mir wollen weniger jene Netzwerke wichtig erscheinen, welche einem bestimmten Interesse oder der eigenen Karriere dienen, als vielmehr solche, die der geistigen Anregung und dem gedanklichen Austausch förderlich sind.

Or (my translation):

In my day the expression ‘network’ did not yet exist. But of course people made a lot of personal contacts and kept them up over long periods. Anyone who is closed off from contact with one’s contemporaries will find it harder to reach well founded judgements than someone who is open to new contacts and to exchange of views. … Networks of contacts which serve only a particular interest or which are made only in the interest of one’s career seem to me less important than contacts which serve to provide intellectual stimulation and promote the exchange of thoughts.

Of course, Schmidt has things like the Mittwochsgesellschaft (and a Freitagsgesellschaft in Hamburg) in mind, which set an awfully high bar. But still — it makes me wonder not just how well LinkedIn and other social networking sites measure up to these high standards, but how one might use them to pursue the same kinds of intellectual cross-fertilization and mutual education Schmidt describes.

One thought on “Schmidt on networking

  1. Blogs can serve as “contacts which serve to provide intellectual stimulation and promote the exchange of thoughts.” I don’t think we need formal (and thus less flexible) networks (read “web applications”), unless they help us organize our thoughts or keep a schedule, which some people may need.

    You’re among my contacts of the aforementioned sort. 😎

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