In a previous post (The Power of Circles), I compared one of the most compelling new features of Google+ --circles-- to a Harvard Business Review article (A Smarter way to Network, Cross and Thomas) on building efficient networks. On the surface, the ability to parse and filter your networks, creating targeted groups around specific topics, seems to fall in line with the points made in the article about the importance of limiting the size of your networks to get the most value out of them, or at least to enable you to refine your networks and focus on those relationships that will provide the greatest ROI (personally, professionally, spiritually, whatever).
However, while discussing these ideas over appetizers at a recent SharePint in Chicago, it became clear that an important aspect of networking is not just to surround yourself with the right people, but also to regularly purge people from that list. Not to sound overly rigid and harsh, but think about it: any successful business or business process is in a constant state of continual improvement. The Japanese have a word for it: Kaizen, the philosophy of continuous improvement.
If your goal, as the HBR authors recommend, is to build a personal and a professional advisory board (they could be the same people across both, but most likely are different groups of people), you will need to constantly review and, when appropriate, recycle your advisory board members to ensure you are maximizing the benefits of your network. You want the best people you can find, and replace those who stop performing.
Practically speaking, how to you accomplish this? The first step is to continue making new connections. Cast your net wide. Investigate friends-of-friends for shared interests, or expertise in areas where you have weaknesses. Seek out formal and informal relationships - anything to fuel your networking and introduce new ideas (i.e. innovation).
It's important to understand you end goal. I'm not suggesting that you ditch old friends who no longer "provide value" to your friendship. That would be shallow, selfish, and, well….silly. No, just know what it is you are trying to achieve, and create one or two circles/filtered views that seek to meet that goal. Identify those influencers that you can look to as a sounding board for ideas, and to lean on for guidance. Understand what each person brings to the discussion, and be constantly on the lookout for people within your general stream (that wide net) who may belong in those circles. And remove those who choose not to participate, who "go quiet" for an extended period, or who consistently do not provide value to the discussion.
Case in point: Twitter. For some, the strategy is to follow everyone and anyone who follows them. But is that just noise, and a waste of time? I don't think so. Using tools like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite allow you to create filtered views of that primary stream, allowing you to tune out the noise, and focus on topics of importance (using hashtags). You never know where those pearls of wisdom on an important topic may come from if you never give people the chance to join the conversation. We naturally want to keep connected to people who share our views, who actively participate in the conversations that interest us, those who re-tweet us, those who forward or favorite our messages. But we strengthen our ideas when we expand that network and invite a diversity of opinions into the discussion.
I'm just thinking out loud here. Any other practical/tactical suggestions for network renewal? I would love to hear your ideas. #Networking #socialinformatics #SharePoint #Google+ #buckleyplanet