How to Increase the Value of Your Network

adviceLinkedIn and other social networks are often hard for executives to get their mental arms around—precisely because business and government have had linear structures, which function very differently than network structures. Reflect on many of the metaphors and concepts on which we depend: supply chains, production lines, value chains, hierarchies: even the notion of a process is usually linear. Our habit of thinking linearly makes networks difficult to deal with, conceptually and practically.

However, society is morphing from linear to networked patterns in almost all dimensions, and, although LinkedIn and other social networks reduce transaction costs, they don’t save us from having to deal with networks. It’s also interesting that the world, say, biological systems, exhibits networked patterns, and humans’ communication and business patterns are just starting to get in synch with that. If we want to be more effective and secure in this environment, the question of the moment is, “How do we make networks work for us?”

To get better results within a network, we need to accept that we cannot see or control the communication path, but we can influence it by energizing key nodes in the network to increase the probability of a desirable outcome. We are no longer talking about a linear flow of information that we can control (like we used to control hierarchies).

The key organizing principle that drives activity (the energizing force) in LinkedIn or other networks is, “What’s the point, what am I trying to accomplish?” What is my plan? You will increase your value from LinkedIn when you have a strategy. Without it, large numbers of contacts are essentially data and nothing more. They could be evolved to higher value relationships, but that takes work, and no one has the kind of time to deal with such a huge network. In other words, you need to have a goal to proactively attract people and energize them. You need to understand your motivation and theirs, and you need to align them. Attracting without energizing provides minimal value.

Think about the last conversations you had at an executive “networking” event. Which ones went well, and which were ho-hum? The ones that are most rewarding were undoubtedly those in which you got to some kind of intense interest or passion that served to connect you with the other person. Nothing energizes a network like passion, inspiration. It spreads.

In addition, people are inspired when you care about them and they can feel it. If you have a vision for serving the people in your network, many of them will want to help you. Your plan helps you to prioritize your intention and communication within the network you have. You increase the value of your network when you actively connect people with each other. You also increase your value as a node, which motivates people to help you.

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