How much should you networking? How much is too much or too little? Regular contributor Dave Baldwin shares his insights on networking based on his own experiences and upon reading Great by Choice by Jim Collins. Enjoy and hope you leave here today with a renewed sense of where networking fits into your business.
In 2007, when I first discovered the concept of networking, I was excited. I saw that the human race had yet to discover its greatest potential. I realized that the world we live in was built not by great individual accomplishments, but by networks of people collectively committed to things greater than they were. It was not one lone individual that gave birth to the United States, for example. It was a group of people who devoted their mortal existence to the genesis of a new world. That is what networking is all about.
Jim Collins recently released a new book called Great by Choice. He examines companies that started out small in tumultuous environments, but managed to weather the storm. He refers to these companies as “10X-ers,” because every single one of these companies outperformed the general stock market by a factor of ten times. These companies were pioneers, rebellious by nature and fanatical about their core values. I asked myself: could mere mortals like me apply these 10X-er principles to networking?
For right now, I’ll just highlight one of the 10X-er habits that Collins places in the limelight: the “20-Mile March.” This habit simply amounts to identifying an aggressive-but-sustainable pace, and exercising the discipline to stick to it every day no matter what. By contrast, the poorly-performing companies in Collins’s study grew like kudzu on steroids, only to collapse like botched soufflés. They over-exerted themselves and burned up resources frivolously when they had the wind at their backs, and they retreated when the weather got rough. The 10X-ers, on the other hand, kept driving forward on bad days—and exercised the discipline to pace themselves on good days.
In 2007, when I first discovered the concept of networking, I did not approach it like a 10X-er. I jumped on the idea like a toddler in a candy store. My networking plan was simple: go everywhere and meet with everybody! I set up an account with Meetup.com, and within a week, I joined over 40 different Meetup groups. Sometimes, I would attend three Meetup events in one day. Shortly after this, I encountered business networking groups and did the same thing. I showed up for every business networking group I could find. When the going got rough and money started to run short, I pulled back and almost completely stopped networking altogether.
At the root of my inconsistent behavior was a lack of clear purpose. I made a habit of asking people to meet me for coffee “so that we could get to know each other’s businesses and see how we can help each other.” I sometimes made special trips all the way across town to meet with people without a well-defined purpose. Many times, I had one-on-one meetings with people that I never saw or heard from again. When I took an honest look at what I was really doing, I saw that my real goal was to feel accepted by people. The feeling of acceptance took hold of me like a drug, and I kept coming back for more until I could no longer afford my habit. I think that the underperforming companies in Collins’s study probably suffered from a similar addiction to growth.
If there’s one thing I took away from reading Great by Choice, it’s that discipline is quite different than I thought. I used to think that discipline was about forcing myself to do more when I felt like doing less. However, that’s only possible for short periods of time. The 10X-ers showed me that discipline is actually the opposite. Champions do less when they feel like doing more. Weight-lifters, for example, are known to stop when they’ve reached their prescribed number of reps for the day, even if they feel like they could do two extra sets. High performance begins with conserving excess energy and resources for when they’ll be needed later.
How does this apply to networking? In the world of networking, high performance comes over time as the result of doing just the right amount and no more. There comes a point of diminishing returns, after which it’s time to stop networking and get back to work. I exceeded this threshold by a long-shot, and I paid a price for it. Strategic networking, on the other hand, is about creating a long-term vision with short-term objectives and seeking out the specific people who can help make the vision a reality. The real art of networking is creating win-win relationships both in the long term and the short term. It takes practice to achieve mastery in networking, just like playing the piano or oil painting. Slow and steady wins the race.
At the time of this writing, I have three major networking events that I have scheduled into my calendar every week. I attend Toastmasters on Thursdays, BNI on Fridays, and my Pay it Forward group on Tuesdays. Any time I look at the possibility of adding something else, I ask myself how it will support my specific objectives. I also ask if I’d be willing to give up a networking opportunity to make room for it. If I wouldn’t, it’s probably not worth it.
How much networking is too much? How much is too little? And how much is “just right?”