From the time I was very young I enjoyed playing connect the dots. It is such a simple concept. Connect the random dots of similar sizes and the shape of something familiar is revealed. While some connect-the-dot layouts are more difficult to negotiate than others, I’ve always found it satisfying to solve the puzzle.
I’ve met and talked with many people who have had severe career upheavals as have I. While the initial reaction from nearly all is shock (and awe), after the shock wears off then next thought it – what now? For many people who’ve been in the workplace for more than fifteen years the first answer is to find another job. For those of us who had been working for the same company for many years (much less running your own), finding a job, or more likely the next career move is an unwelcome odyssey.
Everyone seems to inherently know that their network is the key to future success. Yet so many people have little idea on how to leverage their network. The answer is as simple as connecting the dots. Here’s how:
1) Group your contacts into industries in which they work or have influence. This is a task and not an easy one but it is critical. How many groups should you have? That depends. Some people can appear in more than one group and that’s completely acceptable. Create categories like finance, publishing, marketing, engineering, healthcare, construction, advertising etc. The list can be endless but should probably not be any more than ten categories to start.
2) Highlight those contacts that have the most clout and influence both in their organization and their respective overall marketplaces. These are people that can if nothing else, serve as advisors in aiding you on your future career path. Many people actually do like to help and even more like to be asked for help by someone they know and respect. Note: be prepared to only have one of those ‘asks’ with each of those high-influencers.
3) Evaluate your network with a relational database mindset. Think of the people in your network and those that might benefit from being introduced to others in your network. Putting people together that were unknown to one another is at the crux of connecting the dots. Do not always look for a way for you to benefit or profit from putting people together. Of course it’s fine to help manage the new relationship in order to find opportunities where you might be able to add value.
4) Pay attention to what is going on with your network members’ individual companies and industries. Example: I have an associate/friend that develops software to manage complicated inventory control systems and would like to expand his client list. I connected him with another associate who is involved in importing/exporting and distribution of commodities and natural resources. I put them together and while no deal has yet been arranged, both parties understand the value of their being connected. I look good for putting them together and…you never know if, when and how they might be able to work together.
5) Keep apprised of news and developments in the industries in which your network operates. Sometimes all I do is send an article to someone in my network related to that person or the industry in which they are involved. The feedback is nearly universally positive. First you almost always receive thanks for thinking about them and their business. You might also have an opportunity to learn more about the situation straight from the horses’ mouth.
Too often people spend their time performing tasks without really thinking. It’s easy to plug in every morning and just start toiling. Connecting the dots oddly enough is a linear (one line through a bunch of dots – what could be more linear?) yet non-linear exercise as it takes creativity and some abstract thinking to do something that other people may not have considered.
I remember the movie Working Girl with Melanie Griffith from 1988. In the movie Ms. Griffith’s character (Tess McGill) is a stockbroker’s secretary who comes up with an idea to purchase a radio network when everyone else was thinking about purchasing a television network. It’s a great example of connecting the dots in a non-linear way.
By thinking about your network and how you can help put people together, you may well hatch ideas on how to create new opportunities out of those new relationships so that everyone benefits. Yes even you!