I know I am getting old when people ask me to help their parents network! This economy is brutalizing families and their futures. Yet, there are opportunities and jobs. The question is trying to help people connect with others who can help them with these opportunities. It is virtually impossible to go online and find a job. We need to help each other by connecting our networks to one another. You visually can see it on Linked-in. There is untapped power and influence when we plug our networks together.
“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
Epictetus, Greek philosopher
Like looking in the mirror, we don't see ourselves any more. When is the last time we reflected on the quality of our networks? Have you ever spent a few hours doing a full SWOT analysis?–thinking about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your networks. No wonder our networks seem a bit limited. Without such an evaluation, there is little chance your network will adapt to your needs and your future goals. You may take comfort in the stability of your network or feel burdened by how stagnant it is. In so many ways we end up in habits and routines that make us very comfortable. This is reflected in the circle of friends, our cliques, and certainly our confidantes with whom we surround ourselves. Just how our personal kitchen cabinets are formed is a unique process to each of us.
Most of us have developed or find ourselves in a constellation of connections. At the core is our trusted friends and family–the ones we turn to for unconditional support and advice. Then we are connected to groups of others from work, church, hobbies, fraternities, alma mater etc. These networks rarely connect, despite overlaps, and serve other professional and personal needs. This conjures up our multiple networking personalities and the different ways we interact with others. Your network can look like a zodiac constellation of stars and planets
or a molecular structure. Your network starts with you and the closer points represent your inner network and then there are nodes and hubs representing your connections. The point is we are part of unique networks that often happen and we rarely re-engineer them. We think we are stuck with these structures and there is little we can do about it.
As Epictetus queries, Is your network uplifting? Our networks can be formed through obligations, duty, responsibility, and sheer luck. We may not notice how bound we are to history. We can't tell if our network is a hindrance or a help. Our well-meaning parents, even best friends may be holding us back. I recently had someone ask me if they could remove themselves from their own network because it was "toxic" to her new goals. Just this act of stopping and considering who is in your network and how it is doing are huge steps. But let's go further and take 2 more steps:
- Map your network. Use concentric circles, or a constellation of circles. You are at the center and use proximity to determine the strength or the trust of the relationships. Just list your most trusted network members to start. Feel free to map as much as you want!How does it look? Are you happy with it?
- Rate your network. Give 1 pt for each question you answer yes.
- Do you trust your network to give you the truth about the real you? (not stuck on an earlier version of you)
- Does your network challenge you as much as it supports you? (diverse points of view, not a bunch of cheerleaders)
- Does your network feel vibrant and dynamic? (Are you adding new and different members on a regular basis?)
- Does your network represent your future goals as much as your past? (Can your network help you with your future goals?)
- Are the networks connected to your network strong? (Your network has strong hubs that are connected to other strong networks)
5 pts You can stop reading. Your network is in great shape!
3-4 pts You need to enhance your network
0-2 pts You need a makeover!
If you feel your network is out of date, then its time to upgrade! The consequences for a stagnant network are considerable. Dr. Lisa Berkman of Harvard University, mapped the social networks of almost 7000 people over a nine year time frame. She found that "isolated" people were 3x more likely than the "well-connected" to die—Die!. There have been a dozen studies that have shown that greater health, happiness, and success come from better, slightly bigger, more diverse and active networks.
Additional research reveals we have "strong" ties and "weak" ties. Simply put, strong ties occupy that inner circle and weak ties are less established. Adding people to our networks is time consuming, especially strong ties. It requires an investment of time and energy to have multiple "best friends". Trying to stay in touch with new acquaintances is just as challenging. But adding new weak tie members to our network gives our networks vitality, new connections, new opportunities, and even more cognitive flexibility–the ability to consider new ideas and options. Put another way, if you are not adding new members to your network you will deprive yourself of information, trends, viral impact, and greater possibilities.
New relationships invigorate the network by providing a connection to new networks, ideas, and opportunities. Mark Granovetter's ground breaking work The Strength of Weak Ties
and many other social scientists have shown conclusively that adding new ties enables new "communities of interest" to be formed. This is the premise of facebook or linkedin. Connect to people you know and then the people they know and so on. You start with strong ties that logically and trustingly lead to new weak
ties that build a stronger network. So you do not need to hand out your business cards at street corners, use your existing network to add members and reconnect with people.
What do you want? Your networks have to reflect where you have been as much as where you are going. I am always surprised that new graduates or career changers have not joined the professional associations that represent their future career paths. Hanging around with, attending conferences, reading the journals, keeping up with the lingo of your future self is so easy– yet often overlooked. I just advised my daughter Jenna to join the Occupational Therapy Association, her presumed career path. She will experience what her profession does and try on for size her future world. Adding people to your network who reflect issues, jobs, industries, areas of interest is essential. Again, by probing your strong ties you find new ties (or old ties you have lost touch with) that relate to your future destinations. This will help you hone down your job search, clarify career aspirations, or help others.
Taking inventory of your network and where it is lacking is time well spent. Engaging your trusted inner circle in filling these gaps is a good place to start. Your mere awareness of your needs will connect you with new and more relevant networks pretty quickly. Your network will become more more powerful through the strength of weak ties. Here's to a network that give you a more uplifting and longer life!
Thanks for reading. John