We are all aware today that one cannot operate or even survive in a vacuum. In our competitive and rapidly changing world we depend on each other more than ever. A recent study by the University of Toronto found that people who lived in regions of persistent economic hardship develop stronger networks because of the need to rely on each other.
We all want to be well-connected and in some way we all “network.” Some are more effective than others. How do they do it? What are the secrets of a good networker? The first true networks were physical. The rivers, canals and road systems connected people and goods. Today we have network systems that are electronic with telephones, radio, television and the Internet that transmit information.
The futurist John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends said back in 1998 that “networks are replacing nation state in economic importance. We no longer live in a world of big mainframes…“we live in a world where the real power is in big networks, a lot of individuals networked together.”
Most professions have associations, such as the ABA and the AMA. These organizations play an important role in networking. In the public relations field the largest is the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which has more than 20,000 members. Membership surveys indicate that the single most important reason PR professionals join PRSA is to network.
Churches, mosques and synagogues also function in some networking capacity. There are other non-professional organizations whose purpose is to facilitate connections between individuals such as the Rotary Club and the Lions Club. Paul Harris, an attorney from Chicago, founded the Rotary in 1905. Its original mission was limited to providing services to the professional and social interest of its members. In later years, its mission expanded to helping communities in need. The Rotarians played an important role in the 1945 UN Charter Conference and more recently, in 1985, they played a crucial role in combating polio among children in a global eradication campaign. The program immunized over one billion children worldwide. Ruder·Finn represented the Rotary in organizing the first-ever government supported celebrity HIV/AIDS awareness ball in China. Today, the Rotary has more than 1.2 million members with 31,000 clubs in 166 countries.
Melvin Jones, a businessman from Chicago, founded the Lions Club in 1917. Mr. Jones’ vision was that local businesses should expand from purely professional goals to improving their communities and the world at large. In 1925 Helen Keller addressed their international convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, and challenged them to become “the knight of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Ever since her speech, the Club has been committed to the cause of the blind and the visual impaired. In 1990 they launched an aggressive sight preservation campaign to eradicate preventable and reversible blindness. Today, there are 1.4 million members with 46,000 clubs in 194 countries.
Many criminal organization function through networks as well. Perhaps the best example of “Dark Networks” is Al Qaeda. It is a common perception that this international terrorist organization is shifting from a hierarchical mode to network-like operational structures with many independent cells. The different “mafias” also operate through networks. How else could a Don hire a hitman unless he “knew someone who knew” a killer for hire?
We know of the great influence of the so-called “Old Boys Network.” A recent study of the board of the 100 largest Canadian corporations and members of the Toronto Stock Exchange revealed that more than 20 percent of these individuals sat on more than one board. This high degree of cross-memberships facilitate networking at the highest levels of the corporate world.
Universities have been studying networks for a number of years. An interesting discovery was made in 1929 by a Hungarian author, Friges Kaunthyn, who first proposed the idea that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. The sociologist Stanley Milgram devised, in 1967, a way to prove the theory in his now famous “small world” experiment. He randomly selected a number of individuals who were asked to send packages to a stranger located in Massachusetts. The individuals knew the recipient's name, occupation and general location. They were asked to send the package to someone they knew on a first name basis who might know the recipient and was asked in turn to send it to another person who might know the recipient and so on. Milgram discovered that it took on average 5 to 7 intermediaries for the packages to reach the recipient. In 2001 Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, tested Milgram’s experiment globally by using the Internet. He utilized 48,000 senders to 157 countries and found that indeed the average number of intermediaries was six. MIT and The Harvard Business School include networking classes in their MBA curriculum.
Social Network Analysis is a relatively new academic discipline. The concept, first developed by professor J.A. Barnes in 1954, studies and maps all relevant ties between individuals in a given structure or entity. It is used in sociology, anthropology, social psychology and organizational studies. Its applications are multiple, not limited to sales, hiring, or job performance. It can play a critical role in understanding how decisions are made, how problems are solved, and how organizations operate.
We all have families, circles of friends and acquaintances, yet we are often not aware of the potential of such relationships. In 1931 Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People, which became an overnight success and sold 15 million copies. His book has been called the grandfather of people-skills book. He believed that success is only 15 percent knowledge and 85 percent the ability to communicate.
Volunteerism is way to expand horizons and connections. Bonnie Erickson, professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, says that it is key to broadening one's social network. “When you join a voluntary association,” says Erickson, “you get to meet people who have something in common with you and you also meet people who are not exactly like you, so it's a great way to meet people.”
A sure way to improve our networking capacity is to strengthen its very fabric by diversifying into unfamiliar circles. Developing relationships with people we may not have much in common with professionally, culturally or ethnically can help broaden our perspective and open doors to entirely different realms and possibilities, ultimately helping us evolve and innovate beyond our own boundaries and limitations.
Gateway to the WorldTM is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire peace by promoting worldwide cultural exchange through a highly unique multimedia international cultural awareness campaign projected to reach 100 million people in the U.S. and over one billion people globally. The sponsor-driven campaign is very focused on delivering experiences to the public by deploying various citywide cultural attractions and events through city partnerships. One such example is the Gateway Cultural Dome rollout which involves setting up temporary geodesic dome structures in major cities where each dome is designed to reflect a different country and culture by featuring the country’s 9 Muses of Modern Culture (visual arts, music, performing arts, film, media, literature, fashion, design, and culinary arts) so visitors can directly experience the modern-day cultures and lifestyles of these countries.
“Our campaign has cultivated an incredibly diverse network of people and organizations by bringing together the worlds of arts and education, media and entertainment, governmental affairs and international relations, and a wide spectrum of industries and charities,” says Ravé Mehta, CEO and Founder of Gateway to the World TM. “By attracting an international ensemble of corporate executives, entrepreneurs, media personalities, entertainment gurus, technologists, politicians, diplomats, artists, celebrities and others who support our vision of inspiring peace through greater cultural awareness, the Gateway to the World™ platform has already opened doorways to an ever-expanding exchange of ideas, business synergies and crosspromotional opportunities.”
Networking has taken a new dimension with the Internet creating virtual communities. Relational databases have been in existence for more than 25 years. Today there are more than 200 social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Friendster and Tribenet. LinkedIn has more the 3.3 million registered professionals who post their contact information as well as information about their company and their job. It is used in the search of people, jobs and services. The service is based on the theory of six degrees of separation. The site puts its concept to practical use, letting the user take advantage of a chain of connections and create searchable, private networks of contacts.
Google launched it own social network service in January 2004 called Orkut. Its purpose is to develop and maintain existing relationships. Although admission is granted only if sponsored by two existing members, its membership reached 2 million in less than 9 months. Friendster, which is geared toward finding friends and dates, has more than 16 millions members. Approximately 30 social networking start-ups have been launched in the last three years financed by venture capital. Visible Path, a privately held company founded in 2002 with 20 employees and estimated revenue close to $3 million develops social-networking applications for businesses. The software allows customers to see hidden connections between colleagues, acquaintances and friends. It applies the science of social network analysis to enterprise networks and creates technologies to help companies accelerate business.
Dan Wasserman, Visible Path’s scientist-at-large and professor of sociology, psychology and statistics at Indiana University, thinks that Social Network Analysis (SNA) is the new 21st century telephone. To the skeptics, he quotes in an article published in Competitive Intelligence Magazine a Western Union memo dated in 1876 that said: “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” There are also a number of consulting firms that advise clients on networking. Spitfire Communications, a New York based company, has among its clients the United Nations and prestigious law firms such as Arnold and Porter. Olivia Fox Cabanes, the Executive Director, says that “networking is an integral part of society and that we are all networking even if sometimes we are not aware of it.” She believes that the fear of rejection is what prevents people from reaching out and connecting with others. She notes that often the most profound regrets we have in life are those occasions when we did not dare to take risks. There are many useful networking organization, tools and techniques, but they alone will never be sufficient in making you a great networker. What are some of the fundamental values that will make the difference? Networking is not about mere contacts but about building and sustaining relationships. Loyalty and trust are quintessential values in any relationship and therefore key in networking.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, gives the profile of a good networker: “Someone who has curiosity, who knows many people in different world, that is intensely social and self-confident but more importantly someone who derives joy and satisfaction in connecting people with no immediate personal benefit.” He gives the example of Paul Revere as a great networker, or a “connector,” as he calls him. Revere had earned the trust and respect of the many people he had encountered through the years and had maintained those relationships. When he warned his soon-to-be countrymen that the British were coming, people believed him, took action and were ready. Because of his reputation, he was credible and people trusted him. A fellow revolutionary named William Dawes had the same mission and took a different route yet he failed to rally the people he spoke to and the consequences were dire. The cities and towns that he had warned were badly beaten by the British. He did not have the respect, the credibility or the relationships that would have made the difference.
Francis Fukuyama, in his book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, believes that trust is the source of spontaneous sociability that allows enterprises to grow beyond family into professionally managed organizations. Trusted relationships are what keep civil society together.
A good networker is also a giver. Deepak Chopra, in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, says that every relationship is one of give and take, “giving engenders receiving and receiving engenders giving.” However, for a gift to be true, one should never expect something in return. The Bible goes further when it says “there is more joy in giving than in receiving.” The question a good networker should ask is not “What is in it for me?” but rather, “How can I be helpful?” A good networker should be committed to helping others.
Tiziana Casciaro, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, and Miguel Sousa Lobo, an assistant professor of Decision Science at Duke University, conducted a work relationship study from four different organizations and collected data of more than 10,000 work relationships. They published their findings in an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools and the Formation of Social Networks.”
Their research indicated that when people need help getting a job done, they will choose a congenial colleague over a more capable one. People have a tendency to favor likeability over competence in their choice of work partners. The “lovable fool” is someone who will freely share information and skills he or she has without any intention of gaining an advantage. He or she just loves helping others. The authors also note that a corporation should carefully position universally likable people so they can bridge organizational divides within the company.
The scholar Mark Granovetter believes that individual power within organizations comes more from the relationships an individual has within the company than his or her job title or expertise.
King Solomon in his comments of wisdom said: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverb 3:4)