Networks. Coalitions. The important distinctions.

In this blog, you’ll see that the terms “networks” and “coalitions” appear frequently.

When you do, there’s more than search engine optimization going on (although like many Americans, I’m hoping for the kind of SEO nirvana that produces wealth all out of proportion to actual labor or worth).

There’s an important difference, one that affects how well you can achieve personal, professional and community goals.

For the longest time, there’s been a lot of emphasis on networks and networking as a way to get ahead. The idea is that networks organized around personal relationships and the friendship or kinship exchanges that build and sustain them make it easier to find new ideas and opportunties through lots of social connections. Additionally, power tends to flow to those individuals who are closest to the center  of high quality, high volume relationships.

Of course, networking as a tool for advancing your agenda has problems, particularly when trying to advance more formal policies and programs. It can be slow, vulnerable to the vagaries of how well you network and dependent upon how powerful your friends and allies are.

More importantly, it turns making friends and acquaintances into a tawdry, inauthentic process in which personal regard and affection are trivialized and a complex calculus of favors earned and returned must be created and maintained at the potential risk of soured relationships.

On the other hand, coalition building seems a much more honest approach, even when used on an informal personal basis. A coalition is an alliance among individuals, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in his own self-interest, with full and equal knowledge of what the goal is and agreement about the desired end results.

Fundamentally, a coalition is a more open, honest enterprise. Members of a coalition have formally or informally defined the issue that unites them. They trust each other to be credibly and equally committed to their common issue or goal.  They’ve figured out ways to manage their differences in mutually satisfying ways.  And this is key, they share an incentive to participate and, consequently, benefit.

Bottom line, lots of things in life can be achieved through networks and often with less effort that it takes to build and sustain coalitions. But the use of coalitions is more likely to produce long-term, sustainable … and honest … progress towards personal, professional or community goals.

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