Speak with any career advisor or read any book about professional development: networking with older, more experienced, more successful people is the most useful way to spend time.
There is a problem with this advice.
Networking is SO non-linear.
And the non-linear nature of networking can frustrate some Psychology Today readers. This article will discuss two free web-based resources to superimpose a more linear structure on top of a non-linear event.
NETWORKING IS SO NON-LINEAR
Life is lived in three dimensions: linear, non-linear, and random. Each dimension has its own rules.
In the linear world, you know how to set up events and can make reasonable predictions about outcomes: when you went to college, for example, you know before the first day of class that if you took a certain set of courses and got at least a grade point average of x you would receive a degree 4-5 years later some weekend in May or June.
That is a linear activity.
If I save all receipts, record payments faithfully, and send tax forms in on time I have a reasonable belief that I will not go to jail for tax evasion.
That is linear.
We like to live with the illusion that life is a set of linear events.
Of course that is an illusion.
I give talks about the three dimensions of opportunity around the world. Inevitably I ask people to think about the most important thing that has ever happened in their life (living partner, successful raising of a child, new career, etc). Such important events are seldom achieved through linear activity.
For that we require non-linear and random events.
The way I play golf is non-linear. I am in control of the set-up to the ball: my feet placement, how I grip the club, etc. The moment I swing, I have no clue what will really happen. I might imagine what I would like to see happen. But that seldom conforms to the reality of how I play.
Networking is another non-linear event.
You attend a local association breakfast. You control when you will be there. You can predict who will be there. Once you walk into the room, however, you have no idea \who you will actually meet or what opportunities you will actually achieve.
In your career, you will waste three million minutes.
And your life could change in just ten.
You have no idea when those ten minutes will take place.
Below are two web-based resources you can use to better control the outcome of nonlinear activities like networking.
PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE IN ONE GLANCE.
When you drive a car with a global positioning device, you are able to view the road through three dimensions of time at one glance. The windscreen displays the road you are traveling on—the present; the rear view mirror displays the road you just traveled—the past. And the global positioning device provides a visual representation of where the road will curve over the next quarter of a mile—the future.
Wouldn't it be great if there was something like a global positioning system for networking?
If you are going to be meeting someone who is on the Board of a public company, consider googling "investing businessweek (name of person)"
"Shelia has a networking meeting with Timothy Collins, CEO of Ripplewood Holdings. Using "investing businessweek Timothy Collins" she finds that Tim knows 113 Board members in eleven different companies across nine different industries.
Sheila clicks "See Board Relationships" to find out the networks of these 113 people. David Gross-Loh sits on the Board of Directors of D&M Holdings with Tim Collins. But he also is a partner at Bain Capital. Shelia is interested in talking with David Gross-Loh about opportunities at Bain Capital. Sheila asks Tim for an introduction to David."
In the above example, Sheila was able to use "investing businessweek (name of person) to clearly articulate the networking relationships she wished to obtain. This simple process allowed Sheila to impose a more linear structure on a non-linear activity like networking.
Investing businessweek limits its focus to networks of members of boards of U.S. public companies. Linkedin.com contains information about 100 million individuals around the world. You can go to linkedin.com and look up Tim Collins. You might be able to view his networks. Some people allow others to see their networks and some do not. If you are connected to Tim Collins, you can email him asking him to introduce you to David Gross-Loh.
That is another way of using technology to impose linear structure on a non-linear activity like networking.
ASKING FOR HELP
Are you uncomfortable asking a more senior professional for a favor?
Get over it.
Senor level people are used to being asked for help.
If Tim wants to help you, he will appreciate your not wasting his time.
You have conveyed to Tim that you know what you need and can articulate how Tim can be of help. You are saving Tim the time/effort required to come up with good people for you to speak with. You are giving Tim the names.
But suppose Tim Collins does not want to help you or cannot help you?
Leaders say "no" all the time.
The better leaders say "no" in gentle ways.
Any good sales professional will tell you that you cannot grasp the gem of "yes" without first wading through the sea weeds of "no."
You don't have to feel positive about rejection or negative about rejection. It just "is."
Take the rejection and move on.
LINEAR, NON-LINEAR, AND YOUR SUCCESS
Linkedin.com and "investing businessweek" are two tools you can use to help you achieve your goals in a focused manner.
These specific web tools may be replaced next year by other, more powerful tools.
But the basic idea is the use technology to smooth out some of the non-linear aspects of networking.
If using technology helps you do more effective networking, then you will be more successful in your professional life.