Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn wrote a wonderful article on The real way to build a social network that is a must read for anyone who recognizes the value of networks for innovation.
While not talking directly about the role networks play in the innovation process, Reid makes a number of great points about the importance of networks in careers and in starting companies. His most important point being the difference between social networking, which entails meeting people, trading cards, and linking/friending them, and social networks, which entail building the kinds of enduring relationships that become the cornerstones (or maybe trailheads) of everything worthwhile you will accomplish. You reap what you sow.
Building genuine relationships, in Reid’s words, depends on two (very related) abilities: seeing the world from someone else’s perspective and being interested in helping them rather than getting help from them.
I’ve often mentioned that the more powerful are the people I meet, the more willing they are to help me. This is not an accident—they’ve gotten where they are by helping other people who, in turn, have been willing to help them in return. Think of your network as a bank. It’s easier, when you find you most need help, to withdraw from an account you’ve been paying into over the years than to ask for a loan when you first walk in the door.
Reid’s point about sincerity is also invaluable:
When you can tell that someone is attempting sincerity, it leaves you cold. It is like the feeling you have when someone calls you by your first name repeatedly in conversation. Novelist Jonathan Franzen gets it right when he says inauthentic people are obsessed with authenticity.
Having taught networks for a long time, I can’t tell you how important this point it and how easily it is lost on people who think networking is a verb.
Reid also offers perhaps the best advice on networking I’ve heard yet,
Relationships are living, breathing things. Feed, nurture, and care about them; they grow. Neglect them; they die. You might be nodding your head at the importance of staying in touch. But behavioral change isn’t easy.
His advice: set aside time, money, and energy (the limiting factors for all of us in anything we try) to build and maintain the most important people you know. Where networks are concerned, it’s too easy for the urgent and unimportant to take over your calendar and attention. Appreciate, and tend to, the more important and more enduring of your relations.
Finally, don’t fail to check out Reid’s Rules at the end of the article. They’re great practical advice for thinking about your network.