Why Bother to Network If You Already Know Everyone You Need to Know?

In the LinkedInnovators Yahoo Group, the perennial debate has re-surfaced about LinkedIn linking behaviors — is it better to connect with as many people as possible? Or only those you already know? Or somewhere in between?

In the course of the conversation, Barbara Dobrinsky Holtzman posed the question:

If you already know everyone you need to know to accomplish everything you’d like to in life, why bother to network at all?

Here’s my take on this:

I’m not saying you should never meet new people – that would be absurd. But most people haven’t even scratched the surface of the potential that exists in the network they already have. To answer your question as to why to network, even if you know almost everyone you need to know to accomplish everything you’d like to in life:

Information – To learn more about them and share more about me so that we might discover those as-yet-undiscovered opportunities to be of service to each other. To brainstorm. To share expertise and ideas.

Character – People can’t know your character from your LinkedIn profile, and only minimally from a blog. When it comes to hiring people for critical positions or contractual work, character becomes extremely important, and you need people who know you well enough to vouch for your character.

Competence – Your LinkedIn profile shows what you claim to know. A blog is a bit better. But it is only through interaction – through seeing someone’s expertise applied in context, that we really see just how much someone knows about what they’re doing.

Strength leads to action. For all the talk of the benefits of weak ties (a misinterpretation of Granovetter, though, as I’ve written about before), there is in networking the concept of an “action threshold”. People have to know you well enough to be willing to take action on your behalf. Simply put, the better people know you, the more willing they are to do more for you (and you for them).

Can you honestly say that you have tapped into even a tiny fraction of the potential of the network you already have? What’s the point in adding a bunch more hypothetical potential when you haven’t even tapped into what’s there? It’s like buying more land to drill for oil when all you’ve done with the land you own is start drilling one or two wells, and you haven’t even surveyed the rest of it.

I frequently hear the argument for making more connections that, “You never know where your next opportunity might come from. If I don’t connect, I might miss that next opportunity!”

To my thinking, that’s “lack consciousness”. How much opportunity have you “missed” in your existing network because you haven’t really worked it?

The way I see it, there is more opportunity in my network than I know what to do with – than I can possibly ever act on. The purpose of my network, for me, is not to continue spreading like wildfire in search of new opportunities, but to filter out all the noise and let the really great opportunities rise to my attention.

In the course of that activity, a few really interesting people will get added, but I don’t really seek them out just for the purposes of making new contacts. They come naturally as a part of the more focused activity, and they are typically far more oriented to doing something immediately that’s of mutual benefit.