Attending a recent networking meeting of C-level executives, I was struck by an unaddressed cultural disconnect between presenters’ assumptions and the worlds from which attendees had come.

Addressing “how to” aspects of job search, the recruitment and career advisement professionals uniformly advocated the use of social networking. Future jobs, they said, would come not from recruiters, but from distant connections of workplace colleagues and their friends. Opportunity lay in multiple resources just outside the scope of anyone’s knowledge. It lay within the resources of unknown people, known by someone known to someone you knew.

The idealized picture was ripe with multiplicity just beyond reach; and LinkedIn was the prototype. Though individuals scratched their heads at the utility of “working” such a system: everyone had hundreds of connections online and no one knew what to do with them. The message was, “only connect”, yet how, for what, and how much to say?

The problem, as I saw it, was neither capability nor desire, but cultural orientation. The executives I spoke with hailed from lifetimes within corporate structures. However streamlined their organizations had been, routines and tasks been typified by a clarity of boundaries and rules. Protocols had existed both within organizations and between organizations for initiation and sustenance of contact. Recruiters and career consultants mediated the conversion process of movement from one occupational placement to another. And now this : the necessity of activating one’s own, self-constructed skein of contacts. The recruiters were telling the recruits to puzzle it out for themselves.

The problem was that where clarity and tight linkages once existed, a risky sense of looseness now seemed normative. Yes, it was necessary to maintain pristine clarity as one negotiated the job search, step-by-step, because a misstep or misstatement might derail a finely wrought, but delicate process; but the larger necessity of defining what was “out there”— the possibilities inhering in the environment: these were murky. So, while a loosely connected world of possibility has become the norm, where a clarity of boundaries had once prevailed, the same formal precision of goal attainment still holds: a very difficult tightrope to walk.

While the message remained upbeat, what remained unsaid was the subtext: comfort within a loosely coupled world would define the occupational survivor, once securely held within the tight interconnections of corporate structure.

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