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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Pleasures and Uses of Networking

Being born (and probably raised) on the shy side I’m pleased to see how I've grown to utilize and truly enjoy networking. Networking is as old as this planet but has, at the same time, evolved rapidly. You may be wondering and working to figure out how to optimize value from online social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. There are many good reasons for the increasing number of network optimization experts, LinkedIn optimizers, and experts in creating and sustaining meaningful connections.

Many articles and books advise you on how to elaborate and maximize your network and on how to improve your social capital, from accepting every invitation you get to attend a party, training, professional association or meeting to joining the social networking revolution. I do not feel the need to be repetitive or to add to the long lists of how-to. I’d like to focus, instead, on your objectives for networking and on your mindset.  

As John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, co-chairmen of the Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge, wrote in their HBR article Five Tips for Smarter Social Networking, January 2011, “to realize the networking potential, we need to become more active orchestrators of our social networks, setting the tone and drawing out others.”

But let’s start with your motives for networking. I’m happy to see that the majority of people that I meet are not just motivated by attempting to get as many leads as possible, by being most noticed, or by collecting as many business cards as they possibly can. I do meet people with these objectives, but they’re a minority and I don’t pay them much attention. My objectives for the numerous networking events I attend are:

n  Inspiration
n  Knowledge
n  Connections for collaborations with other experts
n  Resources for new groups
n  Possible leads for my business
n  New perspectives i.e. connections with non like-minded spirits

It is my conviction that effective networking requires a selfish, connecting, 'How can I be a resource to you?' mindset. This is in line with what Hagel and Brown call ‘promoting others’. The authors write: “Too often we promote ourselves and our own work when we’re networking, losing sight of how to be of value to others. If that's all you’re doing, it will quickly turn people off. If you, however, make it a habit to promote others by finding people whose work and deeds you admire and if you promote them actively, it will make them more successful and increase the desire of people to connect with you.” I am impressed with the amount of people I have met these past months who do just that. Who actively look for ways to be of service to others and I work hard to be a part of that group.

From the many tips Hagel and Brown provide for effective networking, I want to mention two that appeal to me and that I perceive to be undervalued.

1.Express more vulnerability.

“This flies in the face of much personal improvement and business school wisdom” Hagel and Brown state. “We are taught to create "personal brands" that prominently feature our strengths and carefully hide our weaknesses. But trust requires vulnerability, so if you value trust in your social network, you might want to talk about some of the really difficult problems you are wrestling with and seek advice.”

2. Provoke.

“In an effort to ‘win friends and influence people’ we often bend over backwards to see the other side and temper our own statements to avoid upsetting people. It turns out that provocation does two things: it reassures people they are seeing the real you (assuming most of us have provocative views of one sort or another) and it helps stimulate other people to generate new insights. Of course, the key is to provoke in productive ways, but provocations can be a key to strong relationships.”

This second piece of advice particularly appeals to me, with the provocative approach being one of the four foundations for my interventions as a coach, trainer, and consultant. I believe the provocative approach, if executed respectfully and in the context of a trusting relationship, to result in courageous conversations, in quicker exposure of blind spots and boxed-in-thinking, and in honest and often fresh perspectives that activate real and lasting change in beliefs, thinking patterns, choices, and therefore in results for my clients.

I’d like to highlight another often neglected use of networks, written about clearly by Larry Prusak on HBR Blog Network in November 2011. Prusak talks about “Knowledge Networks” in connection to how developing countries can benefit from other nations' accumulated knowledge about what works, for example in private sector development. Often these developing countries lack access to that knowledge and face hurdles in adapting it to their specific contexts and needs. Prusac explains that “knowledge networks are densely connected sets of people and institutions (often both public and private), gaining and sharing know-how relevant to each other's efforts around the globe. Networks can be developed consciously or arise in evolutionary fashion; either way, their value is in their production and dissemination of knowledge.” In a study that Prusac uses throughout his article, it turns out that for countries “there’s a strong positive linear relationship between connectedness and four key performance indicators: government effectiveness, regulatory quality, competitive industrial performance, and GDP per capita purchasing power parity.” The bottom line and transferrable to your and my daily networking: knowledge networking is very valuable, and it requires you to show yourself vulnerable, if that’s how you want to label ‘showing your gaps in knowledge’.  

With unemployment still high, more people than ever seem to be networking actively. This might be the perfect time to invest in growing your network and improving your social capital. One of the hottest commodities this year could well be your network. Use and elaborate it actively and remember the essential mindset and question: “How can I be an effective resource to others?”

2 comments:

  1. Wow that was very informative! Loved your views on networking. I'm new to blogging but that has to be the best one I have read so far, hands down. Thank you

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    1. Thanks for your response and the compliment! I just noticed that my previous response to you in early March didn't seem to have gone through, I apologize. If you blog too let me know. Always interested in different topics, perspectives, and styles.

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