Get Out of Your Clump: The Art of Networking
In Achieving Success Through Social Capital, University of Michigan professor Wayne Baker describes how connections, not merit nor hard work, remains one of the most powerful keys to success. In an opening chapter entitled "What Is Social Capital, and Why Should You Care About It?" Baker, who wrote the 1994 bestseller Networking Smart, presents the research that supports his assertions (including a surprising study that indicates that people with good networks actually live longer).
Having laid out the case for social capital, Baker then moves to the central theme of his book: Anyone can build the connections they need to achieve their goals.
Building Your Network
The first step, writes Baker, is to determine what network you might already have in place. You can begin by asking yourself four questions (answer with a maximum of five names):
- With whom in the past six months have I discussed very important matters?
- With whom in the past six months have I communicated in order to get my work done?
- Who would be influential in getting an important new project or initiative approved and supported with resources?
- With whom do I socialize?
Once you have a list of names, draw a "sociogram" of your network by putting your name (circled) in the middle of a piece of paper, adding the names of your contacts around your name and drawing lines to show how your contacts are connected not only to you but to each other.
This last step is important in analyzing your network. If most of the people in your network are connected to each other, you have a closed network; if most of the people are not connected, the structure of your network is more open and has a greater reach.
In other words, while two individuals might have the same number of people in their networks, the individual who acts as a bridge between otherwise unconnected groups has a network that extends much further out into the world than the individual whose contacts all know each other already.
The structure of your network, as well as its composition (its demographics, such as gender or race) and focus (for example, if the network is mostly work-related) pinpoints its strengths and weaknesses, Baker writes. "Most people," he continues, "discover that their networks are smaller, more homogeneous and more internally focused than they imagine; most conclude that they should enlarge, diversify and externalize their networks."
Building Entrepreneurial Networks
How does one go about building what Baker calls "entrepreneurial networks" - networks whose size and quality offer the resources you need for success? The key, according to Baker, is to become a "linchpin," not a "clumper." People congregate in clumps, Baker explains. If your network is drawn mostly from one or two groups or "clumps" (your family or your workplace, for example), you are a clumper. Linchpins are the persons who, as the first individual above, connect unconnected groups.
To become a linchpin, you need to diversify your network's composition (connect with people of other races or age groups, for example) and externalize its focus (connect with new groups). Baker offers specific advice for free agents or members of organizational groups on how to achieve these goals. Free agents, for example, might join business or industry groups or teach a course. Or, instead of using existing structures, they can create their own structures - creating a business forum, for example. Members of organizations, likewise, can use existing structures - by finding dual roles (roles that span functions or departments) or volunteering for task forces, for example - or create structures, such as communities of practice.
Using Your Social Capital
Building your network is not enough. You have to know how to use that capital. How can you draw the most benefit from your network? "It is possible to summarize the process of using social capital in only four words: invest, request, receive, acknowledge," Baker writes. Investing is the most important step. People will help you if you've helped them. That doesn't mean that you should be calculating in your relationships. Ironically, you will receive far more from your contacts if you give help without expecting repayment rather than engaging in calculated tit-for-tat exchanges.
How can you help? One way is by filling structural holes. For example, do you know two people who would benefit from meeting each other? Arrange the meeting.
Investing in networking also means taking the time to do it right. For example, be sure to share information, return phone calls promptly and attend meetings.
A detailed, practical step-by-step manual for making and using connections, Achieving Success through Social Capital will be a valuable tool for anyone who recognizes that success is a social enterprise.