ACET’s blog has discussed the importance of networking and professional development in the past, but today we’d like to look at what comes next, once a person has established networking relationships. How do you determine if your network is working for you? Are you getting as much value as you can from your networking efforts?
Beckstrom’s Law: Assessing costs and benefits
In 2009, Bill Gates reported to a New Delhi business forum that he’d quit Facebook. Why? Because the number of friend requests that he had been receiving was overwhelming. For him, having as many networking contacts as possible was actually a detracting factor, which may seem to contradict common sense: if it’s all about who you know, then you should know as many people as possible, right? This contradiction can be seen through Beckstrom’s Law. Originally applied to economics, it states that a network’s value is equal to the benefits minus the costs of using or interacting with it. For Bill Gates, the potential benefits of interacting with Facebook users were outweighed by the hassles.
Consider how this plays out with your own networking efforts. Is your network is so large, spread out, or unwieldy as to make maintaining it more time consuming than rewarding? Take the time to reassess these relationships and how you engage them.
Metcalfe’s Law: Maximizing connection potential
If you were to describe your relationships with your professional network, would it look more like a wheel or a spider’s web? That is, are you alone interacting with each of your contacts, or are your contacts also interacting with each other? Creating a spider’s web of contacts strengthens the network as a whole because it gives each of your contacts access to the same minds and talents that you have, and it encourages more people to join in and add their knowledge and expertise. Metcalfe’s Law, originally formulated for the telecommunications industry, states that the value of a network is based on how many people can potentially be connected to all of the others in the network.
Without even acknowledging a need for it, two people in your professional network right now may benefit from meeting each other. Some have addressed the need for these connections by starting professional groups to read and discuss papers or collaborate on projects, or by joining advisory boards to share their expertise with others. Consider making introductions through casual, small group meetings like coffee or lunches.
The Band of Brothers: Fostering a culture of support
Value isn’t just about human assets and what they have to offer. A network is also about concern and care for each of its members. Networks, like groups of friends, form because there is some shared similarity of experience or purpose among its members, and there is value in being able to discuss your fears and disappointments with people who uniquely understand what you are going through. Being able to talk about the emotions engendered by your work with your professional contacts can help you brainstorm solutions, build trust, and stave off burnout. A supportive network can help its members to overcome their respective difficulties.