Isn’t networking interesting? In the world we live in today, networking is right up there with having a business consistently delivering profits as something we should all be doing, at least according to a reader who wrote to ask me, ‘what is the best way to network’ and ‘how to use networking to its full advantage.’ My answer to both questions is, ‘not a clue.’
I tend to shy away from answering questions that say things like, ‘what is the best of something,’ because the term ‘best’ is very situational, and like so many business-related questions, there are no singular right answers. I can, however, speak to what has worked well for myself and many others I know.
Some people (actually quite a few people) believe that networking is something you can do with friends or people you might be connected to through work. You know, like “friends” on Facebook, or those in your “network” on something like LinkedIn. Clearly for some people, having a massively large group of friends or a huge network is something to strive for. Okay, I suppose that you might want to count those people as people you can network with.
But before you go out and start adding people to your “network,” take a few minutes and think of what a network is for. Just a hint, it isn’t for being able to say “mine is bigger than yours.” Networks were designed initially to act as a way to learn and share. You would connect with others in one way or another, for the purpose of learning something from them, or sharing what you know with them. This concept of learning and sharing is pretty powerful, and can be a real benefit for you and your work or non-work life. Sadly, too often, we miss the opportunity and focus our efforts on just having a big network, as if that in itself is going to make you better, or smarter, or richer.
My concern is that by focussing on building a hugely massive ‘network’ of people, without really understanding how you can use the network, is like trying to be get into the Guinness Book of World Records for Stuffing the Greatest Number of Elephants in a lift. Okay, so you did something and was recognised for it…but so what? What is different in your life now?
Before you join some “network” or someone else’s group of “friends,” (or add to your own) take a minute to answer a few questions. The first question is, “what will be different in my life if I do this?” The second question is, “will this make my life better, or make me smarter or more valuable to my employer, or will I now be for financially set for the future by doing this?” If you even have to think about what those answers would be, well…it is probably “no.”
Instead of thinking that size really does matter, think about what your current network is and who is in it. Your current network may not be some formal, structured, on-line network. My experience tells me that in many cases, the best people I have ever had in my own network have been the people I used to hang around with at the coffee machine, or just some friends that I enjoyed hanging out with. We did things together sometimes. We shared what was going on in our jobs, or in our non-work lives. We shared ideas on how to get things done easier. And sometimes, I found that although I may not have an answer to some problem or challenge, one of my network of friends did know. I have used my network as a way of finding out the things I really need to know. And I have used networks as a way to spend time with those who know more than I do, and from whom I want to learn.
If you believe that networking can be a good thing to do, which means letting you learn and/or share, then I am with you. But if you just believe that networking is a contest of the biggest one winning, then I would respectfully suggest that you go find a local circus and hire some elephants for the day, and then take them to the nearest lift. Don’t forget to notify the lads over at the Book of Records first…you could break the record.
By Dr. James Rieley