Donna Fisher, author of Power Networking, writes that “Networking is a form of recycling. Think about all the information that comes across your desk in a given week. Instead of using things up and throwing them away, take the value that is there for you and think ‘Who else would be interested in this information?’” In a world filled with millions of messages and opportunities, it can be almost impossible to keep up. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had other people looking out for something of interest to you?
When you get a flier for a workshop, an invitation to a meeting, or see a blog post that interests you, do you pass it on? Networking is the art of connecting people with information, resources, or other people. To become skilled at it, you’ll need to practice every day. Take a look around your desk, inbox, or home office right now. What do you have that someone else could use? If it’s paper, send it off (an investment of almost fifty cents, of course, but still a small price) with a handwritten note. If it’s electronic, even better – include a quick note that says you’re thinking of the recipient and her success.
Better yet, invite someone to attend the event with you. Event organizers will be delighted to increase their expected attendance, and you’ll get the benefit of connecting more deeply with someone while you’re meeting new people and learning something.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his groundbreaking book The Tipping Point, calls some people “Connectors.” He says that there really are a few people who seem to “know everybody.” These people tend to meet and connect to more people than the average person, and they seem to take pleasure in connecting others as well. Gladwell says that the number of people you “know” (he defines the term very broadly, to include not just friends, but people you might only be able to name) should roughly double for you between the ages of 20 and 40.
But some people have a network of acquaintances that is four or five times the average person’s. These are one of “the Few” that Gladwell talks about – the Connectors. One of the ways in which they connect with people is to be thinking often – if not always – about their network. What do people need? What do they want? Who told me last week that he was thinking about moving to Cincinnati? Was it Jamie’s daughter that just graduated from Harvard and was looking for an internship? You get the idea.
Being a Connector might not be a natural fit for you, but it is a skill that can be acquired and improved. Gladwell says that most of us cultivate acquaintances for the purpose of finding out if they will become a friend. If you think of them simply as a piece of your valuable network, you cast a different light on their relationship to you. Gladwell talks about how Connectors are made: “…their ability to span many different worlds is a function of their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability and energy.”
Sounds like something everybody could use more of.
Are you a Connector? Malcolm Gladwell provides a quick online test of your network here.