How networking works

wordcloud granovetterAnthony Haynes writes: In the previous post, I wrote that people often find the prospect of networking unattractive, because it evokes ideas of having to work the room and sell yourself.

There is a further reason, namely scepticism over whether networking actually works.

If you go to some event and meet people there, how do you know whether any of those meetings will prove fruitful? What are the odds? Couldn’t you just be wasting your time?

I offer three responses to those challenges:

  1. Yes, you might indeed be wasting your time. There’s no guarantee that any single meeting or event will prove fruitful.
  2. There is the simple, quantitative, point: the more events you attend, the greater the probability that sooner or later you’ll find a conversation turns out to be fruitful.
  3. The rationale for networking is grounded in theory.

The theory I have in mind is the kind associated with Mark Granovetter. In simplified form, it runs as follows:

  1. There are people you know well and interact with often (your ‘strong ties’) and those you don’t know well and interact with less frequently (your ‘weak ties’).
  2. Which group is more likely to alert you to new opportunities? You’d think the answer would be your strong ties, since they are likely to share your interests and understand your work — and may well be on your side, as friends, colleagues, and so on.
  3. Yet the answer may well turn out to be your weak ties.

Why?

Your strong ties are likely to have similar networks to your own. Indeed, your networks are likely to overlap. So the amount of information that your strong-ties’ networks bring into you is likely to be limited.

Whereas your weak ties are much more likely to have networks that differ markedly from your own — which means that the probability of them yielding information that is new to you is much greater.

It follows that having a well developed series of weak ties makes it more likely that you will discover new opportunities.

I find this has proved true, almost uncannily so, in my own experience of business and career development.

I suggest that ‘creating weak ties’ is a pretty good definition of networking.

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