What is a network?

In the past four years I have lived in San Francisco, London, Princeton (New Jersey), and I am about to move to Raleigh / Durham, North Carolina. This mobility has forced me to up my game as a professional networker to the point that I now offer seminars and workshops on the topic. As a recovering introvert I have come a long way in my ability to connect with people and build a network.

I owe a great deal to Keith Ferrazzi and his wonderful book, Never Eat Alone. His clear and straightforward style helped me understand that powerful networking is not natural. It must learned. Keith is a master and his book is an invaluable primer.

As I distilled and digested Keith’s ideas, I concluded that good networking comes down to three basic principals: active links, mutually beneficial introductions, and taking the call.

Today we will explore the first principal, which hinges on the idea that my network is not the contacts themselves but the active link between us. A network is not the nodes. My network is not the number of people in my database, nor my list of contacts on LinkedIn, nor my friends list on FaceBook, nor any other static list of people.

No, a network is the active links between the nodes. My network is the active relationship I have with everyone I know. These relationships create links that are activated, rejuvenated, and strengthened each time we connect. Their strength depends on a myriad of factors that depend on the relationship.

But one thing is certain: regardless of the strength of the link, it diminishes over time. In the same way that radioactive elements have a half-life in which the element decays, networking relationships fade with time. Hence, the key to maintaining a powerful network is to constantly be rejuvenating the links. This recharge happens most intensely face-to-face but can also be accomplished with a telephone call, an email exchange or even a profile update on your favorite networking site.

Your “network”, then, is the compilation of all the active links between all of your contacts. And “networking” is the never-ending process of keeping those links fresh and alive.

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