Michael Simmons, contributor to Business Insider, interviewed many of the world’s top network scientists to better understand how networks create competitive advantage in business and careers. According to his research of multiple peer-reviewed studies (read the article here), simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success. Simmons’ research shows that half of the predicted difference in career success (i.e., promotion, compensation, industry recognition) is due to this one variable.
Over the weekend, I was at the University of Illinois giving two talks to their MBA students. Although my content was focused on developing and living one’s personal brand, many questions arose about making the transition from a smaller, more closed network to a larger, more open one. Whether you’re an introvert who doesn’t enjoy networking or you’re an extrovert who struggles with meeting too many people and not obtaining desired results, you can increase the return on investment of the time you give to building meaningful relationships.
Although challenging, segregating blocks of time in your weekly schedule to build new relationships with people who are unlike you is foundational to goal achievement. To the new people you meet, you’re likely going to be the subject matter expert in your area of competence. It also fosters your growth as you bring together opposing perspectives into the way you look at the world. More than 70% of human learning occurs through challenging experiences and I encourage you to proactively create as many as you can.
Open networks help you to learn faster as you are gathering information from diverse sources. You can generate significant value by being a convener connecting people or organizations who were unknown to each other prior. You will also produce more innovative ideas that help you transition from one place in your life to another. There is significant power in being able to connect the dots of seemingly disparate ideas and distill that information into one easy-to-understand message that diverse groups can use.
Are you an extrovert? Maybe a “D” or an “I” on the DISC assessment? Possibly Woo, Includer, or Activator on the StrengthsFinder? If so, building relationships is easy for you. Are you able to leverage the relationships to achieve goals quickly and repeatedly? To stop saying “yes” to every thing that comes your way, consider (1) narrowing the list of professional and philanthropic organizations you engage so you have maximum impact on the people you’re intended to serve, (2) creating a recurring calendar item where you follow up with key connections every 3 – 4 weeks (LinkedIn now has functionality for this as well), or (3) training yourself to take time nightly for reflection where you can begin to whittle the wide funnel of connections back to a more influential group who are your ideal customer. I suggest you become limited in your approach and market so you can leverage your expertise more efficiently to become limitless in wealth.
Are you an introvert? Maybe a “S” or “C” on the DISC assessment? Possibly Individualization, Relator, or Maximizer on the StrengthsFinder? If so, networking may be a little harder for you. To ensure you don’t miss serendipitous opportunities to meet influential decision makers, consider (1) saying “yes” to attending more events aligned with your personal intention, (2) removing worry about what others might think by remembering that relationship building is a multi-step process and continually generating value for others will create opportunities for them to praise you, and (3) set SMART goals for each event you attend (i.e. meet three new connections and leave, learn the person’s hobby and then exit the conversation). Each night, write down five acknowledgement statements recognizing yourself for actions you took that day to get outside your comfort zone.
Working hard, being active on LinkedIn, generating value for others, having a solid resume, being a subject matter expert, having an advanced degree, operating with integrity, genuinely caring about others, being innovative, having the ability to influence without authority… all of these can lead to career success. As you climb to the next level of success in your career, remember that what got you here won’t get you there.
If you truly want to distinguish yourself from the increasingly competitive crowd, don’t be meaningless and forgotten like the multi-million dollar ads that played during the Super Bowl. Live your personal brand, generate thick value for others, and create daily habits that will allow you to open and leverage your network so you can live the life you were put here to.
You have one job. To live an extraordinary life.
Go get it.