What makes for a successful networking event?

So the second edition of the NED Talks took place last night. And no, this is not a “match report”. So the purpose of the NED Talks is to put together a bunch of interesting people who are interesting in different ways, and get them to talk. There are approximately ten talks (the first edition had thirteen, the second eight) followed by interaction, and a round of interaction before the event. So in certain ways, NED Talks are networking events.

So the question is what the ideal “network structure” of the networkers is in order to ensure a successful networking session. The idea is that the network at the beginning of the session needs to be only slightly dense – if there are too many people who know each other at the beginning of the session, there is not much of a point in the event as a networking event, for the value add in a networking event is to bring together people who hitherto didn’t know each other, and to strengthen existing weak ties.

The network being not dense enough also is also a problem, for that means that people might be lost. So if you have a lot of people who have never known each other earlier, and if some of them are introverted (as is likely to happen when you put together intelligent people), the conversation can be a bit of a non-starter. So low density is also not a good thing.

Then there is the issue of cliques – if you have a bunch of people who all know each other from earlier, then the others might feel “left out”, and not be able to get into the conversation. There are likely to be “in-jokes” and “in-stories” which everyone else finds irrelevant. I remember being ¬†at one such gathering where I was the only person who was not thus “in”, and so I got up and announced that I was getting bored and walked out.

Anyway, so let us represent all attendees to a party or event in the form of a graph (undirected). Each vertex represents an attendee and two attendees are connected by an edge if they know each other from before. Given such a graph, can we construct an algorithm to “verify” if it is a good set of people to have for the party? Oh, and this is one of the insights from yesterday’s NED talks – computational complexity can be measured in terms of how “easy” it is to verify a given solution, rather than generate a new solution.

The first thing you can do is to find the size of the largest clique – if it exceeds a certain proportion (a third maybe? a fourth?) of the total number of attendees, it is a bad idea, for that means that this clique might dominate the conversation.

Then you can calculate the “edge density” of the graph – the total number of edges on the graph to the number of “possible edges” (given by NC2 where N is the number of attendees). For example, the edge density of the first NED Talks was 3/26 (largely due to 5 attendees who were not connected to any other nodes) . The edge density of the second NED Talks was 1/3 (might have been higher but a not-so-well-connected attendee backed out at the last moment). What range of edge density makes sense? Or should we use the variance in edge density also?

Then there is the number of “components” in the graph – if the graph is mostly disconnected, the group might split up into small cliques which might defeat the purpose of the networking event itself and lead to disconnected conversation. Note that nodes of zero degree don’t matter here – it’s components wiht at least two people.

And so forth. So can anyone help me build an algo to “verify” if a party / networking event is going to be good given a graph of who knows who from before?

The Aditya Birla Scholarship

I spent this evening attending this year’s Aditya Birla Scholarship awards function. Prior to that, there was a networking event for earlier winners of the scholarship, where among other things we interacted with Kumaramangalam Birla. Overall it was a fun evening, with lots of networking and some nostalgia, especially when they called out the names of this year’s award winners. My mind went back to that day in 2004, as I sat confident but tense, and almost jumped when I heard my named called out only to realize it was another Kart(h)ik!

You can read more about my experiences during that award ceremony here (my second ever blog post), but in this post I plan to talk about what the scholarship means to me. During the networking event today, one of the winners of the scholarship (from the first ever batch) talked about what the scholarship meant to him. As he spoke, I started mentally composing the speech I would have delivered had I been in his place. This blog post is an attempt to document that speech which I didn’t deliver.

People talk about the impact the scholarship has on your CV, and the bond that you form with the Birla group when you receive the scholarship. But for me, looking back from where I am now, the scholarship has primarily meant two things.

Back in the day, the scholarship covered most of my IIM tuition fee. When I’d joined IIM, my parents had told me that they wouldn’t fund my education, and I had taken a bank loan. However, the scholarship covered Rs. 2.5 lakh out of the Rs. 3 lakh I needed for my tuition fee, and the loan that I had taken for the remaining amount was cleared within a couple of months after I worked.

My first job turned out to be a horror story. It was six years before my ADHD would be discovered, but I was in this job where I was to put in long hours under extremely high pressure, and deliver results at 100% accuracy. I wilted, but refused to give up and pushed myself harder, and I’m not sure if I actually burnt out or only came close to it. But it is a fact that one rainy Mumbai morning, I literally ran away from my job, purchasing a one-way ticket to Bangalore and refusing to take calls from my colleagues until my parents told me that my behaviour wasn’t appropriate.

While my parents were broadly supportive, the absence of liabilities made the decision to quit easier. Of course I still had the task of finding myself another job, but I knew I would pull through fine even if I didn’t find another job for another six months (of course, I had saved some money from my internship at an investment bank, but the lack of liabilities really helped). The Aditya Birla Group, by funding my business school education, played an important role in my being free or financial obligations, and being able to chart out my own path in terms of my career.

My six-year career has seen several lows, aided in no small amount by my ADHD and depression, both of which weren’t diagnosed till the beginning of this year. I got into this vicious cycle of low confidence and low performance, and frequently got myself to believe that I was good for nothing, that I had become useless, and that I should just take some stupid steady job so that I could at least pay the bills.

During some of these low moments, my mind would go back to that day in September 2004 when I (at the end of the day) felt at the top of the world, having been awarded the Birla scholarship. I would then reason, that if I was capable of convincing a panel consisting of N. Ram, N K Singh and Wajahat Habibullah to recommend me for the Aditya Birla scholarship, there was nothing that was really beyond me. Memories of my interview and the events of the day I got the scholarship would make me believe in myself, and get me going again. Of course on several occasions, this “going again” didn’t last too long, but on other occasions it sustained. I credit the Aditya Birla scholarship for having given me the confidence to pull myself back up during the times when I’ve been low.

These are not the only benefits of the scholarship, of course. The scholarship has helped build a relationship with the Aditya Birla group. In the short run, when I won the scholarship, it helped me consolidate my reputation on campus. And last but not the least, it was a major catalyst in reviving a friendship which had gone awry thanks to some of my earlier indiscretions. Most important, though, was the financial security that scholarship offered, which made potentially tough decisions easier, and the confidence it offered me which has carried me through tough times.

 

Alumni Dinner Pricing

So this is Anusmaran week. This is the week where all over the world, in over eleven cities, alumni of IIMB will meet in the annual alumni meet up. The venue for this is usually a convention hall or a lawn in a hotel, and people have to contribute an “entry fee” in order to pay for the dinner. Drinks are usually “extra” and you have to pay for each drink that you drink.

The problem with this is that for “pseud value” reasons the event is usually held in a reasonably expensive place. For example, in Delhi it happened at the India Habitat Center, with the “participation fee” being rupees eight hundred only. And on a Sunday evening, and you know how early or late parties in Delhi start. I didn’t go for it so I don’t really know about the response but I don’t expect it to have been spectacular.

The probelm with alumni meets is that the organizers (usually students doing their summer internship in the city where it is held) underestimate the elasticity of these meets. They don’t realize that people who want to be in touch with each other continue to be in touch with each other irrespective of efforts by the Alma Mater, and that there needs to be some sort of concrete incentive in order to come and attend the alumni meet up.

As I was discussing with Baada a short while ago, networking for networking sake does require a reasonably high level of enthu. It doesn’t come naturally for most people. You netwrok if you have a product to sell and need to meet potential buyers. You netwrok if you are looking for a job and hope to meet potential employers. You network if you are looking for some favour and there is a good chance you might meet someone who might do you that favour. You don’t naturally network for netwroking sake.

Given this, expecting people to shell out a not-so-inconsiderable amount to attend a networking event where food will probably be of dubious quality and you have to pay for each glass of booze is a bit too much. The more enthu people and people who want to network will turn up. The rest won’t. They will probably get together with their own little gang of people (maybe all alumni of the same college) and go elsewhere for good dinner and conversation.

The first time I attended Anusmaran was in 2005 when I helped organize it in London, where I was interning. All of us London interns were full of enthu for networking back then and turned up in good numbers. There were quite a few alumni also, and it was good fun. I attended Anusmaran in Mumbai in 2006, immediately after I’d joined my first job. I knew that a large number of people from our batch was in the city, and Anusmaran provided us a good opportunity to catch up. Extremely good fun.

In 2007, I had gone to the Bangalore meet and walked out looking at the extremely thin turnout. I went to the nearby Adigas for dinner along with Aadisht and GB. Was good value for money.

Yes I might be a cheap guy. But what the organizers need to keep in mind is that a large number of attendees are also cheap guys. So forget all the pseud value and hold it at a place where it doesn’t cost too much for the attendee in order to network.