Play well with others? (Part 3)

January 14, 2013

 Part of dealing with others means creating and maintaining your own network. I’ve discussed this in the context of working within your enterprise, but your network, or more properly networks, should extend well beyond your own business. Now there are of course limits to the size of a network that you can actually maintain. One of those is the so-called Dunbar number, 150 to be precise, based on the research work of a scholar, Dr. Robin Dunbar, and actually underlying the operation of some social network sites[1].

Let’s assume that this number is correct, that is an effective network is 150 people, well, what is that mean for you?

It means you not should think of your network not as one unitary whole, because it isn’t. Let’s assume for example you have a network on LinkedIn. That network probably started with your contacts in the business community or nonprofit community, or whatever community in which you work. LinkedIn conveniently let you search your email addresses and ask people to join your network. Then, over time you have added occasional names of individuals you met, perhaps at a conference or trade show, at a corporate meeting, or with a new client.

Over time, you been approached by other people asking you to join their networks. Now of course you are selective, making sure that you’re not being duped into joining some network which is nothing more than a sales pitch. Then you probably started to look when you signed on LinkedIn where you are asked if “do you know these people” and suggesting you might ask them to join your network.

Now you do not have just one network — you have a series of networks, some overlapping, some not. Some may be strictly related to your hobby, whatever that is. Some may be related to your Township or political activities in your area or the like.

But you still have to nurture and pay attention to these networks. Don’t add names just for the sake of adding names. This is not a contest to see how many names you can collect. Rather attempt to make yourself available to others who might be of use to you, of interest to you, or have come in contact with you. Certainly use your network to communicate with these people. If you are giving a presentation at an industry Association meeting, send some of the members of your network an announcement.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I can think of very few things that you would want to announce to everyone in your network. Think of it this way — at Christmas you’ll get a card from that roommate in college whom you have not seen for (fill in the blank) years detailing the arrival of new children, their education and growth, and ultimately the arrival of grandchildren. Is this person really concerned about the fact that you won a prize at the local orchid show or that you had an article accepted for publication in a trade industry magazine? No.

Nurturing your network(s) is a skill, perhaps even an art. When you build a network, make sure that you then feed it from time to time. Different parts of your network, or more properly separate networks, need different care and different feeding. Treated with care, they will reward you over time.

[1] Drake Bennett, “The Dunbar Number”, Bloomberg Businessweek, January 14-January 20, 2013, p52-56.

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