There is no denying that the power of a network is a work life fundamental. Gartner, the trend-spotting consulting group, has described the development and importance of "weak links" as applied to our businesses. Even Harvard has recommended that you NYFO (Network Your Face Off). In short - networking matters.
But, if we clearly agree that we should be networking - exactly how might we actually begin to approach that challenge? If we are to venture out onto that "proverbial limb" to connect (let's face facts, this is not easily accomplished and no method is perfect), how do we utilize our time and effort wisely? How do we begin to expand our horizons intelligently? First of all, we should enter with the right frame of mind - calming our nerves - and approaching networking as a huge conference where we control the invited guests. Secondly, to impose order, we could apply the 70-20-10 rule.
· The First 70%. For this initial segment, choose potential contacts who work within your direct core area or have a similar role. To keep things interesting, choose a few contacts within organizations that are slightly different than yours in terms of customers, size or possibly geographical location. Ask about their work - better yet - inquire about the challenges they are currently facing. You'll undoubtedly gain a new perspective.
· The Related 20. These individuals are working in areas related to or "adjacent" to your core area. Look for those individuals who would support roles similar to yours, or those that might hold roles with whom you would interface regularly. (For example, in my case, those who work in the research realm, or those that develop or work within HR technology efforts.)
· The Outrageous Outliers (The final 10%). Go a little crazy here. Reach out to those engaged in work that simply interests you. Don't be concerned with their core area as compared to yours - just possess a passion to learn about their area of expertise. (I recently reached out to those in the design world, to learn about workspace components.) Convey your interest early on - ask about articles, posts and books that could help you "cross -pollinate" and apply their expertise to your work life.
Some things to remember:
· Start slowly, within your own organization or industry. Ask for connection recommendations - and begin branching out from there.
· At conferences ask for introductions to those who work in your target areas.
· Utilize the social media channels where you feel most comfortable (and where you seem to have the most success). Be sure to explain the motivation behind your request to connect.
· Remember, that not everyone will respond. You'll never know why - but don't assume the reason is you.
· If you connect, plan a 15 minute chat. Explore mutual territory or potential areas of collaboration, and see if you "gel".