Many exclusive clubs and business schools use the idea of tapping into their network to attract members. I am skeptical about this. While I think these clubs and schools do bring together interesting people and probably increase the probability that you will find like-minded (perhaps even like-valued – if you are lucky) friends, I am still not sure access to their networks accomplishes all that much.
What I would agree with is that a network is incredibly powerful. Who you know is generally more important than what you know as it opens more doors to possibilities. So, the question still remains – how do you build a network?
I agree with an acquaintance who pointed out bluntly that “your network is proportional to your net worth.” While his focus was on financial net worth, I’ve expanded on his definition and arrived at the following thesis. Your build your network by building your net worth on 3 dimensions –
1. Build financial net worth. This is true – the more financially wealthy you are, the more easily doors open for you.
2. Build power net worth. Find me a powerful person who doesn’t have a network to call upon. This is related to financial net worth but slightly different in nature. A network born out of power is probably the most fickle of the lot. Ask any discredited politician. Perhaps it is no surprise that many of them work hard to increase their financial net worth while in power.
3. Build character net worth. This is the final dimension and is one that is often ignored. Building character is the longest and most sustainable method of building a network. The hard work lies in building a worthy character and proceeding to do great work. A reputation follows, slowly and surely. And, once such a reputation is built, it is the hardest of the three to bring down. You and I probably know of nice people who have built enormous networks, often by frequently connecting one person to another. It helps that it is fairly easy to tell a person’s character by looking at their track record around work and relationships over the long term. People of character will not always be liked, but, the chances are high that they are held in high regard for their character and work ethic – especially by those who’ve been in close contact with them over the long term.
This thesis has a couple of interesting implications. First, the more important part of building a network is not having access to individuals with high net worth. It is having a high net worth yourself. A beginner politician might be denied entry into a network of the most powerful politicians in the country. But, if the person doesn’t know how to build power net worth, he/she will not survive.
Second, each of these can combine with the others to make a formidable combination. While financial net worth and character net worth often go together, I find that power net worth and character net worth don’t do so nearly as often.
Finally, it is possible for anyone to have an excellent network. While one might not succeed as spectacularly on the finance dimension, we can all aspire to succeed over the long term on the character dimension.
Yes, it isn’t easy and yes, it isn’t guaranteed to work. But, find me a solution that is both on an issue as important as this… and I’ll show you a solution that is wrong.