Robbie Abed has a great post going around talking about the difficulty of growing a professional network. For those of you who haven’t read it, you really should. If you want the summary, I’ve grossly summarized it into three points:
- Networks don’t just happen - you have to make them happen. Coffee, emails, unsolicited help - the works.
- Build the network you want, not the one you have.
- Do something to build that network every single day.
But people still get fat
This is great advice. But so is telling people to eat healthy, get exercise, and not eat junk food, yet the US still has on obesity rate greater than one in three.
At the root of the problem is immediacy. Weight gain isn’t immediate; neither is building a network. Humans, by nature, simply aren’t good at picking up slow changes over time; without the benefit of immediate feedback, the natural assumption is to think that nothing’s happened at all.
This isn’t to say that it’s not worth it to have good diet and exercise or to build your professional network. Not at all. All I’m saying is that by admitting it’s all your fault, you are giving your consciousness far too much credit.
Well that was quite fatalistic. So what do we do?
Manipulating yourself for fun and for profit
We make it a habit. Habits overcome our conscious mind’s shortcoming by tapping our subconsciousness, and they make doing things without immediate feedback much easier. Think about washing your hands or covering your mouth to sneeze. Both are habits we’ve integrated into our culture to benefit society, but neither provides any immediate positive feedback to the person who does it. Magical! Manipulative! Super effective!
For a person to pick up a habit, we need three things: tangibility, repeatability, and durability.
Tangibility is making it measurable. How much does a coffee chat help your network? I have no idea. We need a system to measure each action to give a sense of progress on every action. Habits don’t work unless you see something happen.
Repeatability is making it as easy as possible to do every single day. This comes either from lowering the effort required (See: Zynga games, Facebook, etc) or through brute repetition (See: Mom making you brush your teeth).
Durability is having a way to get back into the habit when you fail. Note that it is a when, not an if. Nobody’s perfect, so we need some sort of mechanism which either enforces the habit, like the dirty looks people give you when you don’t wash your hands, or makes it easy to start again, like training wheels.
People have their own systems for making a habit happen. Some people put money on the line. Some people like the [Seinfeld calendar][calendar]. Others tie a string around their pinkies. But I came up with something different.
I love this networking. I love the dedication, the resiliency, and the slight inanity of it all. However I never managed to find a methodology that kept me going on a network longer than a few months. Seinfeld calendars get forgotten; coffee chats taper off. Eventually it just… vanishes.
That’s why I’m working on Picomine, a tool that makes building and maintaining a network less of a pain. Think of it as a personal assistant that remembers all the little things that you don’t: emails that need replies, contacts who need an update or a congratulations, or even old friends you’ve slowly lost touch with. It’s making managing and growing your personal network measurable, repeatable, durable and even a little fun!
Sound interesting? I’m looking for people all across the networking spectrum, from admittedly networking-obsessed (author included) to the network averse, to help test. If you’re interested, sign up at picomine.com - I’m looping in alpha testers as they arrive.