Basically, networking sucks — to the point that often the best advice to “network better” is actually to “stop networking.” There are a myriad of reasons for that, not the least of which is networking feels like a game that can only be won by the big, Type-A, business-card-passing person. (That’s not necessarily true, however.)
One of the big things with conventional “networking,” especially in the social media age, is that it often is based around quantity: i.e. the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections you have. Ultimately, that’s all bullshit. Here’s a personal story: I have a bunch of connections on LinkedIn; I think it might be north of 2,000 by now. So far in 2015, I’ve been doing this “reach out to one person per day” thing, right? I’ve probably done about 60-70 of those “quick check-ins” on LinkedIn. I’ve gotten maybe 5-6 responses. Best I can tell, that’s about 7%. Not great.
So the point is, I have 2,000 connections, but what is that really worth? What does it mean, at the end of the day? Not a lot if only 7 percent of that network is actually going to respond to a simple message, right? (At the 7-percent figure, that means my “2,000 connections” are really about 140 people that are relevant.)
That’s why maybe we should be thinking about “connectional intelligence” instead.
The idea comes from Erica Dhawan and this book, co-authored by Saj-nicole Joni. Dhawan is a speaker and leadership consultant. She believes that everyone — yes, even you! — today is a connector, with the idea being:
“They may be connecting ideas. They may be connecting people. They may be connecting networks, assets, resources. The question is not who you’re connecting or what you’re connecting, it’s how you’re connecting in today’s world to get big things done.”
So in the grand scheme of everyone loving to frame things around essential questions, the idea here is moving from “who” and “what” to “how,” which makes a lot of inherent sense.
The big goal here is to harness the power of your connections to get things done.
The three essential ways to do that?
- Open yourself up to new ideas and people: Yep, I’ve written about this. I’m actually going to try and get better at this on this blog. I write about a lot of the same topics, and that’s relevant because it’s a blog and blogs should inherently have some organizational framework, but … I should go write about something I know nothing about from time to time. I think it would open up my mind and network.
- Create connections around ideas you really care about: Yep, concur here too. You literally never know what connecting and reaching out will bring. I started this blog out of boredom; now I get e-mails from people in the Middle East who want me to write things for them about the future of work. You absolutely never know. If you care about something, find a way to put thoughts or ideas around that thing into the world. You never know where the path will go from there.
- Leverage what you already know, but think differently about it: There’s an example in the Dorie Clark Forbes article (linked above) with Colgate thinking a fluoride problem they had was a chemist issue, but it was really a physics issue. That’s a more straight-line “think differently and problem-solve” situation than you might see in your day-to-day work life, but the idea goes back to Idea No. 1: think differently and go outside your comfort zone. You learn that over and over.
Big idea: networking is, at the core, about relationships. Relationships don’t really mean anything if they’re not nurtured for mutual benefit and quality. So rather than thinking about the idea of networking as a quantity issue, think about it as a quality issue. And to do that, focus on your connectional intelligence.