By: Kathy Shalhoub
I wanted to talk about networking today. I did a Google search and found tons of secrets, tips, steps and tricks on how to effectively network. But what’s the point of networking in the first place? Where or what is it meant to get you?
Amidst the many pearls of wisdom provided, networking was said to be important in:
- Finding a job
- Developing industry links
- Keeping abreast of news, events and opportunities
- Growing your business
- Bringing in clients
And I’m sure there are many other good reasons that in theory, can help improve your work life tremendously. Strangely, though, none of them listed networking as a means of improving your creativity and your innovative potential.
One website said that ‘Attending networking events can be a big boon to your business, or a huge waste of your time.’ But here’s the thing, networking is NEVER a waste of time, and the advantages reach so much further than just where your next client is going to come from. It’s where your next idea is going to come from!
A scientist interviewing a group of entrepreneurs from Stanford (766 of them!) found that their network of friends generally consisted of people who came from the same place and did the same thing as them. BUT they also found that a small subset of these entrepreneurs had a very large network of casual acquaintances.
Instead of going to an event to network, these business people were making new and unexpected connections with different people all the time! They were chatting with strangers in coffee shops and making small talk with street cleaners, they made conversation with people at train stops and regularly spoke to acquaintances at work.
So what’s the big deal? It was this exact group that was THREE TIMES more innovative that the people with a small network of close friends. While it was thought that people were born with creativity, scientists are now finding that being in the right place and doing the right thing are actually more important factors than what you were born with!
Why are people with many casual connections so much more ‘creative’ than those with a few close friends? It turns out that the innovation in people doesn’t happen when we’re alone, it happens when we’re surrounded with collections of acquaintances who inspire novel thoughts in us.
Here’s how it works. Think about it, if you’re surrounded by the same people who think like you do (and generally you are, because that’s our natural psychological tendency!) then the ideas and thoughts you’re exchanging are more similar than not. When you step out of your comfort zone and make contact, connections, with people from all walks of life, with people who think, feel, see and do things very differently than you, your brain has to work so much harder to understand them, categorize them, and to find a common thread between them. In doing so, it takes leaps that it may not have taken otherwise, and at some point presents you with a little nugget of creativity that you transform into something new, innovative and inspiring.
For me, networking is a lot of effort, it’s stressful and I often wonder how to make an impression, how to make a connection, what to talk about. But when I think of it as simply making connections and exchanging ideas, suddenly it’s so much easier and less daunting. And yes, suddenly I have so many more ideas flying around in my head.
Give it a try and tell me what you think!
For more detailed information, read Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, in particular, the chapter on Urban Friction.
Blogger’s Bio: Kathy studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has a PhD in Marine Sciences from the University of Paris. She is also a writer and published her first book, Life as a Leb-neh Lover, in 2010. Kathy is fascinated by matters of the mind, self discovery, self acceptance and personal development and is currently researching these topics. Check out her blog, ‘like’ her on Facebook or follow her on twitter @Lebneh_Lover.