Imagine meeting (finally!) someone that you have long waited to meet. An investor. A potential officer. Leader. New business partner. Someone who is going to be big and influential to you or your project and work. And imagine that they asked you to reach out to them again later when there was more time, or to please stay in touch. (Yes!) And now imagine that it was all because of your willingness to help them in return for their help.
Believe it or not, I witness this every day in the great state of Minnesota. At all levels. There are a few things that make this happen, but in the end, it’s about what people give freely. This state is something of a startup haven and has more than a dozen and half Fortune 500 companies. As this generates a lot of revenue, it drives and fosters a huge philanthropic culture, too; Minnesota has been cited as the most charitable state in the country a number of times over the years. Due to the nature of my work, I get to network with professionals from all walks here, and everywhere else. And what I’ve discovered is that the reciprocal nature of what I have described has created a cycle that makes giving and giving back part of the fabric of this state. But none of that could happen without the intentional reciprocity of people, or its role in networking.
Getting right to it, networking gets a bad rap. The word itself can suggest a name-dropping, room-working extroverted event, where people make a lot of contacts, collect business cards, and go home. Me, me, me. And there’s such a thing. It’s alive and well in every city.
The idea of reciprocal networking, however, doesn’t occur to many of us, much of the time. Consequently, we miss out on the huge value of it, and what it will bring us in return. But it’s probably no surprise that things are this way, if only because traditional business has largely been transactional in the past.
“You’ve got something I want; I’ve got something you want; maybe it involves money; we trade those things, and off we go.”
Why would professional networking be any different?
"Connections, not contacts: Engaging personally in a virtual world.”- Nathan A. Perez
But if we consider that networking is just information exchange, we turn a mysterious mountain into a molehill. Because it ain’t no big deal just to talk about what we know. And when we realize that we are all walking databanks of (all kinds of) information, we are instantly transformed into networking experts. Each one of us. We know what we know, and we have it to offer. We just have to put words to it. And ask others questions. And that just takes practice. (Like all other skills. Right?)
I know the idea may sound kind of quaint, but look deeper and you’ll see the potential profundity in every interaction you have from now on.
Here’s an example. I was speaking with a student who suggested a few unknown fly-fishing streams to try. I was thrilled. Because while this could be about secret fishing holes, it’s actually about fishing with my youngest son. New places to discover together. New memories to make. In this way, it was invaluable. And from a professional standpoint, there’s no doubt I’d answer executive career questions this person may have in the future. He helped me. I would help him in return. Simple. Reciprocal. But deeply valuable to both parties. And the fact that he was a student and not someone different has no bearing on the information or the value it brought me. We all have such things of value.
So where to begin in a world where innovation is constant and fluid? Stand still and take stock. Don’t just chase what you’re after; utilize what you’ve already got. It will have quicker, and longer-lasting returns. And for certain, get out there and actually meet people. You don’t have to work a room. (You don’t want to work a room.) Just talk with a few folks. Maybe some longer than others. In the end, it’s not about making contacts; it’s about making connections.
Career Innovations LLC