Networking 101. Nine habits to develop and deepen your Network.

Strong personal networks don’t just happen. They have to be carefully constructed. This post is a summary of my recent research and personal opinion on how you can grow and strengthen your connections.

Why is developing a strong diverse Network important? It will give you three powerful benefits:

  1. Information – fast access to private information (including job openings and business opportunities)
  2. Skills – Access to diverse skill sets (in diverse geographies)
  3. Power – The ability to influence and get your ideas implemented

A number of  academic studies have shown correlations between strong, diverse networks and success in commercial ventures. Networks determine which ideas become breakthroughs, which new drugs are prescribed, which farmers cultivate pest-resistant crops, and which R&D engineers make the most high-impact discoveries. In a 1998 study of innovations Randall Collins of the University of Pennsylvania showed that breakthroughs by Freud, Picasso, Watson and Crick, and Pythagoras were the consequence of a particular type of personal network that prompted exceptional individual creativity. In the words of Linus Pauling – “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas”.

I have developed a list of nine habits to develop and deepen your personal network

  1. Be deliberate
  2. Get good at approaching and engaging people. Seek common ground. Be sincere. Don’t overwhelm. Be relevant.
  3. Don’t wait till you need it. You need to always be open to meeting and connecting to new people (perhaps not during a romantic date, but almost everywhere else).
  4. Be systematic.  Keep a list of your current/future 250 most important relationships 20 AA, 30 A, 100 B and 100 Cs.  One of the experts on developing deep relationships is Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Who’s Got Your Back“. He talks about developing your RAP or Relationship Action Plan here.
  5. Get good at “pinging (birthdays, promotions, changes, relevant news stories, useful tips, even forwarding this blog post…)
  6. Carry business cards. Always.
  7. Go Multichannel. You must be physically present at events and meet people face to face, but in parallel there are some excellent tools that make it easier than ever to grow and strenthen your network online (Linkedin (for business network) and Facebook (for personal network) being the leading examples). Is your profile up to date?  Are you using recomendations effectively? This is a great guide to building your personal brand on Linked in, and this is a guide for Facebook both from Dan Schwabel author of the Personal Branding Blog.
  8. Send handwritten notes
  9. Treat it as a two way street.  Share and receive.  Ask “how can I help this person achieve one of their goals in a way that nobody else can?” or “what can I do for them?”.  Invite them to an event.

I was in the IESE cafeteria recently and a friend mentioned a study by an INSEAD professor on the power of secondary connections.  The premise of the work being that your life will be shaped more by accidental connections and loose connections that the core 20-50 people of our networks (I would love to find the source – any ideas please respond in comments). One example of this might be founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. It just so happens that his mother was on United Way board alongside the head of IBM – and possibly was a factor in allowing the unknown and tiny Microsoft to be allowed to bid to develop the PC DOS operating system.

And now for the difficult bit…
How do you get someone who doesn’t know you to feel comfortable talking?

Take the initiative in creating a welcoming impression. How another person perceives you is determined by a number of things you do before you speak. I have taken this list of steps from Keith Ferrazzi.

  1. Smile. It says, “I’m approachable.”
  2. Good eye contact. You don’t need to stare, but studying the weave of the carpet is a real put off.
  3. Unfold your arms. Crossing your arms can make you appear defensive and signals tension.
  4. Nod your head and lean in. You just want to show that you’re engaged and interested.
  5. Physical contact. Touching is a powerful act. Most people convey their friendly intentions by shaking hands; some go further by shaking with two hands. Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Who’s Got Your Back” suggests breaking through the distance between you and the person you’re trying to establish a bond with by touching the other person’s elbow. It conveys just the right amount of intimacy, and as such, is a favorite of politicians. It’s not too close to the chest, which we protect, but it’s slightly more personal than a hand.

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