The Secret to Networking

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career (Kindle), edited by Behance’s 99U editor-in-chief Jocelyn Glei, features an interesting question and answer with Sunny Bates — an expert in human network development.

Sunny believes that who you surround yourself with is the single most important factor in unlocking your potential. And like Robin Dreeke (see Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport With Anyone), she's an expert at cultivating relationships.

What do people struggle with the most?

I think people get very narrow-minded, thinking that they can only reach out to people who are already doing a similar type of job. But the underlying network science says that it's all about weak links Those people who are the friend of a friend of a friend. That's a much more likely place for something important to happen to you than your inner circle of close friends and colleagues.

On asking people for help:

If you don't ask, you'll never get. Sure you may only get a little bit at a time. But if you don't ask, 100 percent of the time you won't get. You've just got to get over yourself.

african proverb

Is networking disingenuous?

The underlying spirit of networking is generosity. If you engage with people in the spirit of generosity, as opposed to tit for tat — “I gave you three things, now you give me three things”—you'll go so much farther. What's more, the process can become joyful rather than an onerous task. Building a network is like cultivating a botanical garden: You don't want everyone in your network to be one color or one species. You want a variety of ages and stages and professions and passions, and to tend them carefully.

How to reach out? Just do it.

Look at the people whom you admire most in your field. And literally map it out. Here are the four people that are doing great work at the organizations I respect. And just reach out.

You always want to be specific about what you're asking for. Are you asking for a relationship? Are you asking for advice? Are you asking to follow up with them along the way, and occasionally reach out with a question? I think the best gauge for what's fair to ask is flipping the tables: How would you feel if somebody approached you and asked this exact same thing.

People in the creative world are different.

In the creative world, there is a lot of love for the shiny penny. People are attracted to what's new and are quick to leave behind what's tried-and-true in favor of what's getting attention. I think that's interesting fodder for how you think about intentionally building your network for the long term.

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career is full of wisdom for helping you take control of your career and navigate the waters yourself.