Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.
“Your Network Is Your Net Worth”
You’ve probably heard that “your network is your net worth.” Let’s think about that for a moment. Your network is an investment, like your 401(k). You wouldn’t put your life savings into just one company’s stock. And you wouldn’t pick your investment portfolio based on where your friends or cousins or sorority sisters work. No, you would diversify! You would spread your money around so that a downturn in one company or industry wouldn’t leave you bankrupt. You might even re-balance your portfolio occasionally so your future investments didn’t get too concentrated in a single stock or fund.
Just as you wouldn’t put all your financial eggs in one basket, you also need to diversify your professional relationships. Your network, after all, is an investment of your time, your energy, and your reputation. Everything you will accomplish in your career will come from investing these resources effectively, efficiently, and wisely. The returns on this investment include access to jobs and promotions, market insights, industry knowledge, clients, mentors, business partners, and so on. The interest you will compound in your network will make you valuable beyond your wildest dreams.
Diversify Your Portfolio (or, Go for Difference!)
So why, then, do we concentrate our professional networks based on what’s easiest, closest, or most like us? And if we’re doing the work anyway, why not build our networks with diversity in mind? We need to recognize which perspectives we may be missing, and then we need to seek out people who are different.
In “The Bizarro Jerry” episode of the iconic sitcom Seinfeld, Elaine finds a new friend group that mirrors the show’s main characters. When George asks if he can join them, Elaine says, “I’m sorry…we already have a George.” How many of your relationships are simply mirror images of other relationships? People in the same industry, from the same schools, living in the same area, and so on? All of those relationships are valuable, to be sure, but how much additional value could you add by seeking out people who are different?
By investing our time and energy into connecting people and ideas outside of our own norms, we create new opportunities for ourselves and others.