I believe that it is important to build a diverse network of professional contacts that include people with different interests and backgrounds. The only thing that they should have in common with you is that they should be really good at what they do. Create a personal network like that, and you’ll have a network that can help you succeed at anything.
It is human nature to build friendships with people that are like us. The problem with surrounding ourselves with similar people is that they also tend to have similar contacts and know the same people as us. When networking, it may be difficult to make connections with new people or companies with whom we desire to do business. In running a large business networking organization for over the past three decades, I often speak to people who tell me they want to network exclusively business professionals who have similar clients. Although it is good to include these people in your personal network, networking with them exclusively would be a tremendous mistake. When it comes to business networking diversity, you never know who people know. One of the important keys to being successful at building a powerful personal network is diversity.
A diverse personal network enables you to increase the possibility of including connectors or “linchpins” in your network. Linchpins are people who in some way cross over between two or more clusters or groups of individuals; this allows them to link groups of people together easily. The best way to increase the number of possible connections in your network is to develop a diverse network. The strongest networking groups I have seen over the years are generally the groups that are diverse. I believe that one of the problems in understanding this concept is a somewhat built-in bias that many people have about networking with individuals that are outside their normal frame of reference. Let me share a story:
An incredible voice, an incredible connection from networking diversity.
Patti, a BNI Director, arrived a little early to a BNI meeting that met in a private meeting room and noticed an older gentleman setting up coffee mugs in preparation for the meeting. She struck up a conversation with the man while waiting for the BNI members to arrive. In talking to him, she was really taken by the amazing tenor of his voice. She mentioned to him that he had an incredible voice and asked what he did before this. The gentleman informed her that he used to be a commentator for CNN! He went on to share with Patti that in his later years, he wanted to work in a less hectic job as well as live closer to his daughter. He decided to take on the job of managing these private meeting rooms because it gave him an opportunity to be close to his family while having a less hectic career later in life.
Later during the meeting, one of the BNI members, Don, mentioned in his featured presentation that his goal is to host a radio talk show someday. He was looking for some contacts that could help him pursue this dream. After the meeting, Patti asked Don… “Do you see that guy over there (pointing to the ex-CNN commentator)? Have you seen him before?” “Yea,” said Don, “he’s the guy who sets up the coffee for our meeting.” Patti said to Don, “Did you know that he used to be a broadcaster for CNN?” Don said, “I had no idea!!!” Patti suggested that Don introduce himself. Don had seen the man on many occasions but had not struck up a conversation with him because he felt that they had little, if anything, in common. The truth is when it comes to networking – not having a lot in common with someone may mean that they can be a connector for you to a whole world of people that you might not otherwise be able to meet. This resulted in creating an incredible connection for Don in the broadcasting industry. Don now hosts a local radio talk show.
Diversity in your network is the smart thing and the right thing to do.