Awesome You Be


   

Art Rohloff 

The Value of the Deepest Reaches of Your Network

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

If you are thinking about making a big career change, such as from being an employee in a big company to running your own business, you probably know your network is important. But do you know who in your network will be most helpful? The answer may surprise you: when you are making professional changes, the most useful people in your network are those whom you know least. Moreover, the people you know best will be least useful and most likely to misdirect you. Allow me to explain.

Your inner network

Let's look at your inner network first. Your friends and close associates know you well and almost certainly like you. They believe in you and want you to succeed. They do not want to hurt you. This has two effects on their advice. Firstly, they probably all know each other and you. They probably do not know of opportunities that you do not know about; but if they do, they will share them with you right away. So, looking to your network for opportunities in advance of career change is unlikely to introduce opportunities that you do not already know about.

Secondly, they don't want to be unkind to you. If you tell your friends you intend to give up your job in marketing to start an on-line business selling handicrafts, they are likely to tell you it's a great idea. They know you are stressed out at work and that you love handicrafts. They want you to succeed and want to believe you can do it − rather as you probably feel. That kind of support is great, but it is neither honest feedback about your idea's business potential, nor is it useful in getting your new business going. Being a chap who has too much imagination, I often put business ideas to friends and their response is often, "Yeah, you should do that!" Fortunately, I've reached an age where I realise that in most cases: "No, I absolutely should not!"

So, when making big changes, look to your inner network as great for support and probably great for reassuring hugs and inspiring words during difficult periods of launching your new business. But, don't look to them for much business help.

Your outer network

People further out in your network, on the other hand, can be more pragmatically useful for a three reasons that relate to the simple fact that they do not know you terribly well. Firstly, they may know of opportunities and connections that you do not know about simply because of their social distance. Secondly, they do not know you well enough to tell you what you want to hear. Thirdly, they are not as concerned about maintaining a friendship with you as your closer network members are.

What all this means is that if you go to people at the edge of your network and ask them for advice and feedback, they are more likely to be able to give you useful advice and feedback. They are more likely to know people, that you do not know, who can help you out. They are more likely to be aware of relevant opportunities that you do not know about. They are more likely to listen to your idea and give feedback based on the idea itself, rather than feedback based on a long friendship with you. Moreover, that feedback is unlikely to be based on what they believe you want to hear − because they do not know what you want to hear.

Connecting with your outer network

cartoon: man shouting to deepest reaches of networkWho is your outer network? It is people you know, but do not interact with regularly. It might include colleagues at a previous job; old school friends whom you meet perhaps once a year; old school friends with whom you've connected on Facebook, but whom you haven't seen since school; the person you had a great chat with at a conference last year − you took her card and although you meant to follow up, you never got around to doing so.

You have some kind of connection to all of these people, you have a certain level of trust in them. You have the means and excuse to contact them.

You may initially be reluctant to get in touch with them. Do not be, for two reasons. Firstly, everyone loves to be asked for advice and to give advice. Asking advice from someone is a compliment. It recognises their expertise and your respect for that. Secondly, imagine it the other way around. If one of those people contacted you with an invitation to meet for lunch in order to ask your advice, how would you feel? Pretty good, no? They will feel the same, I assure you.

Make some lunch invitations

So, if you are seriously thinking about starting a business or making a big change, look to your friends for emotional support and start inviting people in your outer network to lunch. It will be a great investment.

 

 

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