A part of fulfilling your career intention is to develop a network of people and resources for you to lend your talents to and to avail when needed.
Notice that it’s not about what you can take from the network, it’s also about what you give to the network. Because if you take and take, and don’t give, you might be facing resources that have dried up and a ghost town of people that don’t have time for you.
Your (optimized) network is a pretty amazing thing. When it’s humming like a well-oiled machine, the right people, perfect answers, or the best leads show up right at the time they’re needed. How do you get it humming?
The logic behind a good network is YOU. Think of your network as a reflecting pool. It gives out whatever the looker is pulling into the view. You want your network to be more helpful? Be more helpful. You want to your network to offer free services to you? Offer free services. You want your network to point you to jobs that might fit you? Share jobs with others.
What I’m saying is that to optimize your network, first optimize your Inner Network. This is what I’ve learned over the years. It started when my time at one organization ended after a great 10-year run in various positions. Most if not all of my friends, social interactions, workout buddies, and work network were from the community of folks who worked at that same organization. I chose a layoff thinking I could get a new position within the four months of severance I received. But because my experience was in several positions and I didn’t have an outside network, was I ever wrong!
When I think about the Inner Network, I like this picture of interconnected sticks and connectors. Some just don’t connect. The more disconnects, the weaker the structure.
Check yourself to see if any of these disconnects seem familiar.
Security. Somewhere along the way, maybe you got burned by another human, likely a trusted one, and now a part of you interprets that experience with defining the parameters that aren't to be trusted. If so, this could create a disconnect of trust-building. If this resonates with you or irritates you, or you immediately dismiss it, then maybe it’s there, lurking unseen. Get help in learning how you can feel more secure and safe in certain situations. Understand that not all people or situations are like the one that chipped away at your trust. Find a coach or therapist to help you in this area, or if you’re a DIYer like me, then study teachings and topics about trust, security, and intimacy. I have grown a lot in this area, with help from a trusted advisor, by understanding my own thoughts about my place in the world and the lack of security I felt I from my childhood story, facing those things, and relinquishing their control on my behaviors.
Fears. After I reached a point of one loss after another, I finally realized my response to crumbling infrastructure in my weakened personal economy, career, and marriage was based on a series of crippling fears. They had driven my decisions for decades. I found ways to acknowledge fears, look it in the eye, appreciate it for its safekeeping objective, and then let fears go. More and more, these days, my decisions are based on fear’s cousin – intuition – and I can recognize fear and also keep it from running the show. There’s a logic to developing that reliable “gut response” and embracing the idea of “inclusive efficacy” or the realization that bad turns of events can have a positive impact. I feel like the more I develop this within myself, the better I can handle rough situations.
Lack Mindset. A lack mindset connects nowhere. Scratch that. A lack mindset connects to lack. Its language is “but,” “I can’t,” and other words of assuming the worst possibility. If you go to your network with this mindset, unknowingly your network will likely respond with pity or with no response at all. Do you feel like you’re not being heard? Take a look at your mindset affecting your comments and requests. This changes when you begin focusing on your strengths, your passions, and your skills. They form a unique story that causes people to connect and respond with similar passion, action, and support. They are your best assets.
Judgment. I grew up in a highly intellectual environment. It fueled my curiosity and drove me to research through books and articles. It also set my perspective of the world on seeing what was bad and scrutinizing it, judging what was wrong, and determining what others should be doing. This judgment caused my Inner Network to have disconnections to listening to people, to criticize myself and be harsh when I made a mistake, and to be less tolerant of others’ mistakes. I let go of that by noticing what was going on and softening my view. I made the most strides with this when I learned how to be kind to myself when I said or did something undesirable. Now, I experience connection to be kind to others in the moment. A much more enjoyable flow!
Self-Obstruction. Ever get in your own way? I think we all have. It’s a part of our natural protection mechanisms and it’s really a great system meant to support your safety. But if we’re not aware of it, it might be causing inner conflict or just flat out complacency. Conflict can be subtle, when “on one hand” we want to do something, but “on the other hand” we want to retreat. Or it can be aggressive, imparting control, negativity, or rage on others. Conflict or complacency can be resolved by understanding more about why you do the things you do and why you don’t do the things you think would be good for you. The disconnect happens in yourself. Bringing more purpose, enthusiasm, and acceptance in your own life will form new connections of integrity and courage.
When I strengthened these areas, my networking became more effective, focused, refined, and clear. The idea is to strive for improvement, not to achieve a picture of perfection. When you go to your network with a mindset of security, courage, personal strength, acceptance, and enthusiasm, you’ll find it can be a safe place to offer your skills, ask for help, collaborate, and achieve your goals.
It takes courage to ask for help in these areas. I help my clients look at strengths, their own response to situations, and their personality types as a launching place to build a career they are wanting. If you feel you would benefit from a deeper dive, develop a network of therapist(s), coaches, groups, and activities that will support you. Give yourself a break and relieve the pressure of time. It could take time, and in fact, the most rewarding efforts do.
I was thinking about how networking is more effective for me when I go fully prepared with goals for the event. Especially if an event costs money to attend, I want to activate my story by putting it in action and making the most of my time and money. It’s almost as if I can think of that money as sponsorship, then I’m taking my investment more seriously. After brainstorming some ideas to activate our story at events, I came up with five areas of the story by name, characters, narration, setting, and message.
Sponsors get to place their logo/company name everywhere. Well, we’re not technically sponsors at an event, but we could prominently display our logo on a shirt or badge. Name recognition is huge, because it takes folks several times of hearing or seeing it to get who we are and what we do.
A business story includes several characters that will progress the story of our business, profession, or current project along. Who are these people and what specifically will we ask of them? For an introduction to a certain person? A question about an industry or a how-to? A sponsor typically answers these questions before attending an event.
It’s up to us as storytellers to set the direction of the plot – to offer ourselves as connectors and resources when we network. This builds goodwill and extends our network for mutually beneficial connections long term. We can even place ourselves prominently by volunteering at the event. One time without asking the organizers, I stood at the door and greeted hundreds returning from lunch at a conference. It gave me exposure and a sense of authority. In fact, someone came up to me to ask a logistics question about the conference, as if I were an organizer!
The event type, place, and agenda might affect our story. Is the event primarily other people in our profession? Are there connectors there with a high sphere of influence? The conversation might be different at a sit down dinner than it would at an event of open networking. Follow the rules of good networking, and adapt your story to the setting. Sponsors know in advance what to expect and how to best use that setting to frame their objectives.
Was our presence felt at the event? Did we leave an impression through connecting, sharing, or asking? It’s good for us to know our message and leave a positive impression of it by the end of the event. This is not done by pushing cards or flyers at people. Think of the sponsors that have left an impression on you – isn’t it mostly because they had something to offer or give?
Did I miss anything? What do you think of using the idea of sponsorship as a way to think about our attendance at events?
This past weekend, I had the honor to volunteer as part of the executive team for one of the premier events of the area, ProductCamp SoCal. This is an unconference that focuses on markets and products. Topics range from Agile development practices and market research to product execution methodologies, market launch, and social media. The beauty of an unconference is that participants drive the theme and topics by proposing sessions and then voting on the ones that will get selected.
While most participants come (424 this time - our fourth event!) to learn in sessions and facilitate sessions, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes with participants who choose to be volunteer for this vibrant event. A lot of planning and execution goes into it all, including engaging sponsors, utilizing the facility, getting the message out, registering, counting votes, and providing food, conference materials, and up to date information for attendees. We had a crew of over 60 people - including students - who were part of this well-oiled machine.
It’s amazing how every person that participates adds to the flavor (hunter-bear-ranger, anyone?) of the conference and create these moments. Not necessarily the conference moments, the ones in between the logistics of pulling it together, around planning meetings, in preparations, between the sessions or in session interactions, really anywhere there were two or more willing participants, opening the opportunity for magic to happen. New collaborations were formed, new friendships made, old ones renewed or strengthened. Business opportunities were found and new light was shed on old ways of doing things. And that’s just from the immediate feedback!
If you have the opportunity to be a part of a collaboration like this, take it. It will enrich your life in ways you didn’t think it could. I know it has for me.
Photo: Volunteers preparing the conference bags at CSUF.
The basic story in this video is about how Mandar Apte launched a program called Empower which is system of nurturing innovation inside Shell Oil Company. Besides the cool factor of using meditation and breathing in leadership techniques, there are many aspects that fit in the Storycology paradigm.
The Roles of Innovation, Idea to Story to Fruition
When someone has an idea, that person needs support roles to see the idea happen. There's the role of being able to persuade others on the idea, creating a story so it can be socialized. At 3:25, Mandar said the roles are:
how to sell; the ability to build a story and a network and circles of trust to get good feedback and build the idea; and authentically connect with people who can help bring idea to proof of concept. Not everyone has to have an idea.
Feedback and Mentorship (i.e. Editing)
At 7:15, Mandar talks about his own journey of learning the importance of having social skills, creating a circle of trust, getting feedback from mentors, and he uses this model within the Empower program to grow ideas and make them happen.
This reminds me of you and the story of your product. As it is socialized, it builds on itself and become more and more valuable to the people buying and using it.
And as you develop your story, be sure to get plenty of feedback through the editing process.
Measurement through Stories
And, my favorite, when asked how he would measure it (12:18) and how he would quantify the results, he says they are measuring stories of empowerment and changes that have been made in their own work habits.
He's received stories of how people are making unique connections and how participants in the program are connecting and co-creating. I think this is awesome too: "It's not an I win, you lose world, it's a world where I win and how can I make you win?"
I hope you were as inspired as I was by this story.
Dori "Story" Gilbert is Chief Storycologist; passionate about professionals, their journey, and their ability to direct a career story they love.