I recently had the opportunity to join a few panels at Social Media Week in New York and was really impressed with how founder Toby Daniels' collection of events and people discussing social media has grown. If you’re not familiar with Social Media Week, it is less than three years old, but has expanded to 21 cities around the world with over a half million people participating. Toby is definitely an entrepreneur to watch—but that’s for a future post.
While attending this year's event, I also had the chance to speak with Reid Hoffman. You may know him as the founder of LinkedIn, but he’s also author of The Start-Up of You (with co-author Ben Casnocha), which shares many insights and lessons to apply toward being the CEO of your own career. My favorite lesson is on “Network Intelligence” and how to use your network to make better decisions.
While the book is about managing your career, I think Network Intelligence can be applied to any significant decision or problem you’re facing. Reid explains that when you are trying to get to an answer, it is good to start asking questions of domain experts. If you’ve got a question on selling your company, find some people who’ve done that a few times. You don’t need to know these people well; you are really just trying to ask open-ended questions to determine options. (It should be no surprise that he advocates to use LinkedIn to find these experts.)
Once you have some options from these domain experts, turn to your personal network. Reid argues that a close personal friend or colleague doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of the topic at hand. They just need to know your strengths and weaknesses so they can help you assess your options. For example, “I could hire a consultant to help me sell my company or go it alone. Which do you think would work better for me?” A close confidant will tell you that you’re a control freak and can’t delegate to a consultant or you hate details and could never pull this off alone.
Finally, if you are still struggling with an answer, ask the smartest people you can find. Reid has found that regardless of their relationship to you or their domain expertise, smart people just look at things differently. In the example around selling your company, they may talk about how the marketplace trends are shifting to be beneficial for your business and selling now would be foolish.
I don’t think I’ve been so structured in the use of my network, but I can imagine Reid’s approach works and I’m looking forward to trying it out. Let me know if you’ve tried this and whether it was helpful in the comments below.
The last nugget of this book I will share with you is that your success is based on a concept he calls “I to the We”, where “We” is the exponent. Remember from math class: Iwe. Basically, the larger your network (the “We”) the larger the integer becomes (the “I”). Grow your network and use it intelligently, and you’ll be more successful. You can start by attending events like Social Media Week; or by looking here on OPEN Forum.
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