Listen, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of William Dawes. Er, who?
Dawes spread the word that the British were coming that fateful night along with Paul Revere. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem would make you think it was a galloping call to action, but what they both really did was more like a Pony Express ride with stops at important militia officer’s homes.
So why is Revere revered and Dawes forgotten? According to Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, Paul Revere was able to rouse the militia because he knew the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns that he rode through. Revere "wasn't just the man with the biggest Rolodex in colonial Boston," Gladwell writes. You’ve heard of Paul Revere because he was also a "Connector," one of the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together."
Networking is important to all kinds of small businesses. Imagine you just started a niche business, Revolutionary Militia, Inc. If your network doesn't include information brokers, personal or paid, the news that “the Red Coats are coming, the Red Coats are coming” will never spread.
Your network of friends and acquaintances is more than just a communication channel. It gives you access to information, skills and power. To make the best use of your network, you should find the nodes you rely upon, strengthen existing relationships and encourage others to share their expertise.
1. Find the nodes
Look carefully at who you rely on, sources of business and social information, creative inspiration, specialized expertise, and so on. Consider the strength of your relationships, how often you exchange information and what you offer in return.
Now see if you can diagram your network: Who’s connected to whom, who introduced you to whom, who you introduced to others. It won’t take long to find the nodes, the information brokers, the key contacts. Take special note of relationships you created. If there are a lot of them, if you’ve mostly introduced people you like to other people you like, you’ve built a network of people just like yourself. What you need is diversity.
Sure, it’s easier to trust someone who thinks like you, someone with shared experiences. They’re easier to communicate with because they know what you’re thinking and they’re likely to agree with you, which makes you feel good.
But that’s not all good. You need exposure to different views to access creative and novel problem solving approaches. Conferences, for example, often turn out to be an industry talking to itself. It’s rare at such meetings to hear a truly unique point of view. If you design heavy earthmoving equipment, try going to an entomology (bug) convention. Some bugs are extraordinarily good at moving dirt—you might discover some creative solutions.
2. Build better relationships
Strong relationships are not created through casual interactions. That’s why team building exercises usually involve some activity that forces people out of their comfort zones. Paul Revere’s militia was born from strongly held, shared values—and, to use a modern phrase, they had skin in the game.
Sports, community service, volunteer associations, charitable foundations all offer the opportunity to develop relationships with people that can become nodes into other networks. Such relationships, based on extra-curricular activities, are likely to rest on spontaneous, unscripted, even unguarded interactions that are seem more genuine and thus stronger.
3. Develop your information brokers
The strong brokers in your network are important to your success, especially the ones that aren’t in positions of formal authority. Most will be flattered if you admit that you consider them crucial to what you do, and will offer to help even more if you show them you are genuinely grateful and sincere.
It’s no exaggeration to say that who you know is as important as what you know. With modern social networking applications you can create connections, but building a useful network takes more than that. You have to know the value of the networks you create, and you have to know how to build on them.