Network as Broadly as Possible
In my programs on networking, I stress the importance of diversifying your professional network. This includes expanding your network beyond your current industry. The first step in assembling your CHAMP network, after all, is to build a relationship with your customer. And customers almost always work in a different industry.
Recently, Tony Cañas, a Super Networker in the Insurance industry (his collaborations include the InsNerds blog and the book Insuring Tomorrow: Engaging Millennials in the Insurance Industry), asked me a question that surprised me.
It’s an interesting perspective. My network is very diverse in race, age, experience, etc; but it’s very undiverse in industry, it’s 95%+ insurance. Why would I diversify it into unrelated industries?
Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.
Why You Should Include “Outsiders” in Your Professional Network
My response to Tony was specific to the insurance industry. But these rules apply to everyone, in just about every line of work!
1. Innovation requires a variety of new ideas
New ideas come from new places. And evaluating them requires you to get outside an echo chamber of people who only know what you know.
2. Talent (and skills) can transfer between industries
Your next star hire might be working in a dead-end job in a different industry. Conversely, you probably have numerous transferable skills that make you attractive to companies outside your wheelhouse.
3. Industries affect one another
In Tony’s case, the Insurance industry affects every other industry, and vice versa. Consider how your industry is part of the larger economic picture, cultural landscape, or community ecosystem. What other industries affect your work? Which industries stand to gain or lose by changes that directly affect your company?
4. Industries overlap
Information technology, human resources, training and development, management, consulting, and other industries are often embedded within companies whose focus is elsewhere. Similarly, an HR consulting firm probably has an information technology department.
Consider a company that provides nurses with on-the-job technical training for medical devices. Would that company be part of the training industry, the nursing industry, the medical device industry, or the consulting industry? How might new training technologies or changes in nursing students’ demographics affect this company? These are simple examples, but they illustrate the power of thinking beyond industry silos.
5. Better understand your customers’ needs
Your customers are focused on their own problems, challenges, markets, and opportunities. By better understanding those forces, you can serve your customers more effectively.
6. If your industry lags others in technology, social trends, etc., you need to stay on top of what’s coming
Has your company seen the impacts of wearable tech, bitcoin, and artificial intelligence? If not, you can network with people in industries that are leading the way. Learn from them how they’ve adapted, what lessons they’ve learned, and what opportunities they lost to their competitors. This allows you to think strategically by applying this knowledge within your own company or industry.
7. If your industry leads others, you can create new business opportunities
Is your company or industry a leader in trends and tech? If so, consider all they ways you could share what you’ve learned…and monetize it. Blogs, consulting gigs, speaking engagements, books, and e-courses on these topics could all create new revenue streams for your company.