Last week we started our short series on building your network in just 15 minutes per week with the first step of creating a list of all of your affiliations, past and present. If you missed it, start here.
This week, we’re going to focus on the affiliations most likely to broaden your network. First, though, let’s review the “why” you wrote down last week. In case you skipped this step, here’s one you can use: As Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh explain in the book How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life, “Family and friends may be the bulwarks of support in most of your life, but the connections that propel you into the luck stratosphere are sometimes the most unexpected.” Furthermore, they write, “[w]hat appears to the outside world as random luck often comes from networking behind the scenes.” So if you want to be lucky, you need a network.
Second, review the list you made last week and add any you may have overlooked.
With your affiliations in mind, consider that the ones most likely to broaden your network are the ones that at first glance seem weakest. Those affiliations — the ones where you don’t have everything in common with the other members — are so critical to your success that sociologist Mark Granovetter described “the strength of weak ties.” (You can access his full article, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” in the American Journal of Sociology here.) Basically, the idea is that people you see easily (people you work with, people you see every week at church, your neighbor, etc.) — the people you have strong ties to — have a lot of your network in common, so they are less likely to be able to tap into a network different from yours. For a demonstration of this concept in action, just look at one of your coworkers’ profiles on LinkedIn and you will probably find you have a lot of connections in common. Of course LinkedIn connections aren’t the same as a network, but you get the idea.
By contrast, the people who can matter most in your network because they have their own network that does not overlap with yours are often the people you do not see every day or every week. For example, in my own career, Ron Miller, a noted “connector” in the Chicago legal community, is 40 years older than I am and we would not know each other if not for having been involved in the same legal organization right after I graduated from law school. Many years later, Ron has been as critical to my career as almost anyone.
So let’s find your Ron Millers by focusing not on developing your network with people with whom you probably already have an overlapping network, but on people who have their own network with less overlap — people with whom you have weak ties. We are also going to go a step farther and focus on people with whom you have shared activities. The reason for that is because, as the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Build Your Network,” by Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap explains, “[s]hared activities bring together a cross-section of disparate individuals around a common point of interest, instead of connecting similar individuals with shared backgrounds.” In other words, by focusing on people with whom you have shared activities, rather than just people in close proximity to you or people you already have a lot in common with, you will build a more diverse network of people with whom you would otherwise have weak ties.
Now that we have a focus and are clear on why, take a look at the list you made of all of your affiliations. For this week, ignore the people you see at least once a week or so without any special effort. Next, ignore the affiliations you listed that are not through shared activities. For example, as the HBR article explains, “in terms of building your network, an independent activity such as running won’t help you nearly as much as joining a running club.” Look for the activities that “let you observe your contacts in a wide range of situations,” ones that “allow for unscripted behaviors and natural responses to unexpected events—things that rarely show up during business lunches or office meetings, where impressions are managed and presentations are carefully rehearsed.”
With those guidelines in mind, pick one or two of the activities you’ve listed that are both shared activities and constitute weak ties. Then list the first 5 people who come to mind who are associated with each one. (If you can think of more, that’s great. And if you can’t, keep thinking until you get to a total of 10 people between these affiliations.) Once you’ve come up with a list of 10 people, you are done for the week.
Congratulations, you are that much closer to developing a strong network. If you have more time this week, read the HBR article quoted above. And if you already have a network, do the “How to Map Your Network” exercise in that article. Next week, we’ll continue our series with part 3.
Please keep in mind that if you are interested in help building your network, advancing in your career, or transitioning to a new job or new career, Apochromatik can help. Contact us to learn more.