It always was and always will be about the power of the network. It really does “take a village,” the mutual support we derive from friends, family and colleagues, not only to raise our children but also to help us every step of the way through life. We owe so much to those from whom we learned (and continue to learn) our craft, to whose who inspired us, and to those to whom we pass those lessons along. And professionally, nothing worth doing in my world has been an entirely solo accomplishment.
Long before anyone had thought of applying information technology to developing and sustaining, as well as tapping into and deploying, one’s network, there were some of us who were just naturals at understanding and unleashing the multiplier effects of a networked professional life — and many more who weren’t. And when that network lived only in the minds of its owners, or in entirely personal, manual records, we understood completely the very personal nature of, the entirely KSAOC nature of, both your network and your networking ability.
One of my earliest bosses, the head of sales for the startup consultancy cum software vendor with whom I made my first business trips, was pretty effective when sober but truly lost it at day’s end after the obligatory cocktails. I learned a ton from him about selling technology-enabled consulting services, and some things I probably didn’t need to know at 24 about the ennui of middle age. When I asked a longer-serving colleague about this guy, he told me that his real claim to fame was his meticulously annotated Rolodex. He’d carried this monster around over a 30+ year career (I realize now that this “old man” was then much younger than I am now — and that’s a scary thought!). Everyone who was anyone across a wide swath of industry was in there, along with their birthdays, wives, children, every contact ever made/product ever sold, and more. The little cards (do any of you even remember Rolodexes?) were printed in the tiniest accountant hand, with tic marks and color codes that only he understood. He was happy to share what he knew when you asked, but he kept that damn Rolodex under lock and key.
In our present world of nearly ubiquitous, easily searchable, online “rolodexes,” not to mention the activity streams we use to keep each other updated on nearly everything, it’s easy to connect with everyone you ever knew and many about whom you haven’t a clue. But the career amplification network effect isn’t about having a zillion connections (unless you’re a professional recruiter/marketeer/similar) but rather about the quality and usefulness of those connections. Are you connected to the people who matter in your industry/profession is an meaningful way? Do they reach out to you with their questions, industry/professional news, career opportunities and suggestions, further connections, etc? Do you respond in an equally valuable way? Can you reach into that network on short notice to get help with a client, project, professional dilemma, etc.? Is that help prompt and on point? It’s not quantity here that matters, it’s quality.
I’ve been blessed in my career in many ways, but my network is perhaps my greatest professional asset. And it takes work, it takes rising to the occasion, it takes honesty and reliability to create and sustain a high quality network, regardless of the technology used. And I continue to believe that we are truly judged by the company we keep.