Most advice on professional networking out there is based on what you should or should not do. It is not detailed enough on how you should conceptualise networks, and develop the mindset necessary to become a successful networker.
Let’s change that.
6 Degrees of separation
The Math is simple. There are 7.8 billion people in the world. Imagine you knew 50 people. Now these 50 people knew 50 other people and so on. Repeat this 6 times and you’d be able to reach 50 to the power 6 or 15.6 billion people! In simple words, you can reach anyone in the world in six hops through networking.
Social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn massively reduce the degrees of separation. On average on Facebook’s billion plus users are separated by 2.9 to 4.2 degrees of separation and this is reducing even more.
To conclude, the stronger your network, the fewer degrees of separation you will need to reach anyone in the world.
“n” Degrees of Freedom
Did you know your network has degrees of freedom? Let me explain, in a two dimensional plane, a point can be described by an X-coordinate, and a Y-coordinate. These can vary independently of each other, it has two degrees of freedom.
Your network however, has multiple degrees of freedom. Geographical diversity, richness of expertise, ethnic mixture, disciplinary variation, seniority make-up, gender mix, age, skills, interests, values, etc. This multi-dimensional nature of your network can be an extremely powerful asset.
It can open doors. For instance, my network was critical in enabling a career shift from technology into commercial and back into technology. A diverse network can help you build your personal brand, too. For instance, it might give you an opportunity to share your expertise e.g. AI skills with another group of people that sorely need it. You have merely shared your knowledge but you have also opened a new set of possibilities for the future.
To conclude, higher the degrees of freedom, higher the value of your network!
The ♾ butterfly Effect
The term butterfly effect refers to the random and sometimes disproportionate effects of small changes in a complex system. The metaphor in point being flapping of wings of a butterfly leading to a typhoon!
When we internalise this principle, it has profound implications on how we treat people. Within a diverse network with numerous degrees of freedom, the potential to create and capture value is unlimited. An opportunity or a calamity can strike any minute, therefore we must keep making a deposit in our account of “networking capital”. Keep doing good.
For instance, Sundar Pichai has incredible knowledge of products and technology. He also has some tremendous successes under his belt (e.g. Chrome Browser). However, key thing that stands out in his personality is his ability to solve problems with humility. Sundar’s personality has certainly played a key role in his meteoric rise to CEO at Google.
To conclude, strongly believe in the butterfly effect! Do not leave any opportunity to create value for people around you..have faith that this is the right way of networking.
The social Media Fallacy 🕸
Social Media is great to simply codify (document) networks. I think it is also one way in which you can engage with people. However, it is not necessarily a great way to form new connections. Stay clear of approaching random people on social media, unless you have a compelling value proposition for them.
In my experience, best way to network is to find something to do together. For instance, when you meet someone senior, ask if you can do something for them. You will be surprised how much goodwill you can create with this simple question. If you meet someone outside of your area of expertise, ask them what they do, and share what you do. Call people to your team meetings, share a book review, or a helpful experience that may enrich their perspective.
In summary, common actions form great basis to display behaviours, communicate non-verbally and verbally! Do not let social media give you a false sense of networking. Leverage it for what it is good at, engaging large audiences!
Don’t be that person 🤦♀️ 🤦♂️
Don’t be a taker. Be a giver! if someone says no, they mean it and you should respect it. Do not chase them and be annoying. Also, almost nobody likes random calls asking for a favour. Respect people’s time. If you must discuss something you need, schedule time, prepare, and give the person some sense of how they can help you. Most people are helpful and they will do what they can, but the key is to be reasonable and make it as easy for them as possible!
When you promise something, deliver. You promised some feedback on a product? don’t ghost! Also, show up at least sometimes at social events. Do not make personal comments. Do not critically gossip about anyone.. don’t make remarks that are insensitive, lose, nosey or unnecessarily political. Try and keep personal issues at home.
In conclusion, don’t be that person 😄 and approach networking as a habit rather than an activity. Make it your second nature and see where your adventures can take you next.
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