My Networking – Theory and Practice

Like most other people I think networking is really important and fun.

I had a great chat the other day with my friend Dave Zinman, VP of Products at Blue Lithium. We were talking about organization networks and the fascinating topic of network theory. Dave mentioned two questions they ask in network theory surveys, “Who do you go to for advice and who do you consider friends?” Obviously if a friend goes to you for both (advice and friendship) you’re indispensable.

Auren Hoffman once told me a different, equally profound insight about being an “expert” to your friends. For example, I know some things about business and technology and I know some things about education / youth / next gen issues. I am an expert in neither. But to my adult friends in business I’m their expert on education / next gen issues and to my school friends I’m their expert in business. My friend and PR maven Renee Blodgett recently asked me to talk to one of her entrepreneur friends who’s starting an internet company targeting college students. A friend from high school recently asked me if I could help him get a job at a financial services company.

Acquiring knowledge and experiences in diverse fields can produce a powerful “expert effect” which makes you valuable to your network of contacts.

A question I often ask myself is how much time to devote to weak ties versus strong ties. It’s a balancing act. What’s important is actively thinking about these two levels of relationship and what kind of relationship you are striving for with a particular person (in business or in life). Lots of weak ties are underrated — email only relationships can still be interesting and fruitful. I find it difficult to maintain weak ties with people if they don’t have a blog or aren’t good emailers. Maintaining strong ties, on the other hand, is just a product of sheer time and effort. Therefore, it’s impossible to maintain strong ties unless you actually like the person. And it’s nearly impossible to form strong ties when you have visible “needs” — if you start networking when you’re looking for a job or trying to raise money, it’s way, way too late.

Why do I care about networking? It’s fun, it’s important, and long ago I learned I won’t be able to compete with many people on raw intelligence alone, so I’ve resorted to getting really good at facilitating people’s intelligence, connecting them to new people and ideas, and trying to help others be more successful.

In the coming years, as far as my network is concerned, I am focusing on three things:

1. Young — I want to build relationships with younger people, ie under 30 or 40. The wisest people I know have gray hair, but the “next gen” demographic, who are usually funnier and more visionary, is shallower than I’d like.

2. Global — Talent is spread across the globe. I want to know influencers in all the major countries. With my international travel, I’m working on this.

3. Interconnected — I want to connect more of my friends. I have a big idea around this, to be revealed later.

One final point. Some people see “networking” as a dirty word, because it can imply a kind of greedy approach toward relationships. It’s a valid concern. If you’re not genuinely interested in people and their stories — everyone can be interesting for at least five minutes — then you can’t “network” to success. I derive a great deal of pleasure from exchanging ideas with interesting people. Indeed, there are people in my network who have provided zero professional benefit, but it doesn’t matter since I don’t apply an ROI calculator to each person in my address book. I also am not embarrassed about taking a professional approach to my personal relationships (ie non business related). For example, I created a spreadsheet that listed when all my friends from high school were leaving for college, so I’d be sure to see them before they took off. Relationships are so central to our lives that there should be nothing wrong with thinking about it in an organized manner.

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