When you look at your network, what do you see? Is it people just like you?
Most people spend their careers in closed networks, connecting with people in the same industry, with similar demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. It’s human nature to gravitate towards others who are like you. However, a closed network can limit your potential. In fact, according to network science, the number one predictor of career success is the openness of your network.
A closed network is comfortable. Typically, members know each other well and can connect over shared experiences. However, they often lack diversity. Many of us make the mistake of thinking we need to network with others who are doing the same work we’re doing, or with those who have the same types of clients or contacts. But in reality, it is harder to be exposed to new connections, clients, or jobs when everyone in your network knows the same people.
Open networks, on the other hand, consist of diverse members across dimensions such as industry, role, gender, age, and race. Members of an open network do not know each other well, so it may take longer to develop trust and connection, but these networks expose you to new perspectives and contacts. In fact, research shows that business leaders who have more diverse networks have access to more innovative ideas and opportunities, which leads to more value for their firm. What’s more, as a member of an open network, you add more value to other members by providing them with new contacts and ideas.
Not sure if your network is limiting your potential? Ask yourself these questions:
Am I able to connect others to contacts they don’t know?
A telltale sign of your network being too closed is when everyone you know knows everyone else in your network. By branching out, you’ll be able to add more value to others when you can connect them with contacts and opportunities they don’t know about.
Do I know coworkers in departments or specialties other than my own? By spending time with colleagues, who work in different areas of your company, you may get insights about how to collaborate and share resources. This is the goal of many new office designs like Apple’s new campus.
Do I know contacts in different industries?
Sometimes radically different industries can have similar problems, or various experiences in one field can inspire creative solutions for people who work in other fields.
Does my network have contacts of all ages and levels?
Please do yourself a favor and connect with professionals who have more wisdom and experience than you. You might feel intimated reaching out to older, more senior colleagues, but many of them can and want to help you. Their knowledge, experience, and contacts are invaluable assets, and your senior connections can deliver opportunities and help shape your career in a way your peers cannot.
Do I know contacts from different genders, ethnicities, races or socioeconomic backgrounds?
By exposing yourself to diverse contacts, you will increase your understanding of those who are different than you, and decrease your susceptibility to biases. Also, you’ll be able to form a more diverse team when you need to, which are proven to have better financial performance over less diverse ones.
Your current network may have gotten you this far in your career, but if you want to reach your full potential and seek new opportunities, expand into open networks outside your comfort zone. Highly successful people develop and maintain open networks. Real growth and creativity happens when we step out of our comfort zone and into networks rich in diversity, ideas, and experiences.