Generally speaking, most networks of people are “clumpy” (that’s the technical term). Human beings, by nature, have a tendency to congregate and surround ourselves with people who are similar to us … whether by race, gender, religion, or professional status.
This approach to networking, unfortunately, prompts an unintended consequence. If we aren’t intentional about building our network, we end up surrounding ourselves with people who have networks very similar to our own.
Having a network of likeminded people can be a liability for entrepreneurs and business professionals because it seriously compromises our ability to gain access to various companies, organizations, or community groups. It’s difficult to network into new organizations when everyone in your network knows the same people!
As a matter of fact, you can make the argument that the more two networks overlap, the less benefit (defined as new people you and I can interact with as a result of our knowing each other) both of us receive. That’s why it’s important to have a diverse network.
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 intentionally develop a diverse, heterogeneous network instead of a homogeneous one.
College alumni networks serve as a perfect example of how valuable linchpins can be. We’ll use ourselves as examples. Ivan went to University of Southern California (USC) while Brian went to Duke University. By knowing each other, and being in each other’s network, we exponentially increase the number of people we can connect with through our respective networks.
Ivan doesn’t have the Duke connection with Brian’s alumni friends, and Brian doesn’t have the USC connection with Ivan’s alumni contacts. By being connected to each other, though, we each are the linchpin to an otherwise out-of-touch group for both of us.
How to Diversify Your Network
Let’s look at three ways you can diversify your network.
First, find others who are involved with other community groups that you are not. If you’re a member of the Chamber of Commerce and Business Network International, then a great way to diversify would be to find someone who’s a member of the Rotary Club and Parent Teachers Association. This shouldn’t be your sole criterion for meeting with someone, but it’s a good start by “fishing in a different pond” and meeting people who aren’t in your natural sphere.
Next, volunteer more. This is something we highly encourage not only for the community benefit but also for the diversity it brings to your network. Brian used to volunteer and coach seventh- and eighth-grade boys’ basketball. This experience brought him personal fulfillment because he was able to demonstrate a positive male role model by displaying a series of positive characteristics—sportsmanship, accountability, communication, and thoughtfulness—to a group of kids who may or may not have been exposed to that in the past.
In the process, it also diversified his network. Brian talked to parents and met people who he would never have come into contact with otherwise. Volunteering in your local community can provide the same benefits to you. Find something that you like doing and see how you can get involved. A quick search online will likely show you several options, and you’ll be on your way to doing something you love and meeting new people.
Finally, join the board of a local organization. Becoming a board member isn’t as straightforward as volunteering for an organization because it’s not something you can directly seek out. But to the degree that you can, learn what it takes to join the board of a local business community group. Once you’ve gained this information, take the necessary steps to achieve that goal. For some clubs, like Kiwanis and Rotary, you might get asked to sit on the board after having expressed an interest. Sometimes, letting people know your interest in assuming a leadership role is all it takes.
Gaining a position on a leadership team might also be a good first step if you’re unable to become a board member. Regardless, by being on a board or in a different leadership position, you’ll gain exposure to people you wouldn’t normally encounter in your day-to-day networking.
The Bottom Line
If you want to build a powerful network, realize the value of diversity and branch out. Build a diverse network of professional contacts that include people that don’t look like you, sound like you, speak like you, or have your background, education, or history.
The only thing that they should have in common with you and the other people in your network is that they should be really good at what they do. Create a network like that, and it will help you succeed at anything.