Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes. ~ Ronald Burt

The collective market cap of Social Networks (Facebook, etc.) is in the trillions of dollars. In part, this value is derived from Metcalfe’s law: the value of a network is proportional to the square of participants or… bigger networks can achieve exponentially greater value than smaller networks. For individuals though, this begs the question of how to manage, cultivate, and participate in your own network. All connections and interactions are not created equally.

Leaders should consider their network with three main goals in mind: 
  1. Access to ideas/concepts 
  2. Visibility & influence
  3. Camaraderie and trusted, honest feedback 

The ability to find and operationalize new ideas is critical to every leader. In an age of consistent disruption, developing and maintaining an advantage depends on how well an organization can access innovation. Deliberately building a network drives access to novel concepts.

How a network “looks”

In their research, Paul Leonardi (Professor of Technology Management at UC Santa Barbara and Noshir Contractor ( Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University), examine how certain network patterns result in different levels of success against certain goals. They have identified a number of “relational analytics signatures” associated with certain outcomes. 

Most relevant to access new concepts is the Ideation signature. Ideation is focused on the generation of concepts or ideas. Leonardi and Contractor’s research found that the best idea generators are ones that can synthesize information from multiple disparate groups. For someone seeking out access to new concepts, it is highly advantageous to have a connection with people who have fully independent networks of their own. 

Existing facilitated network opportunities are helpful but insufficient

A network that enables and encourages interaction with multiple new and independent connections creates a safe environment focused on sharing will offer the best opportunity to find and bring new and valuable ideas into your organization. The advent of LinkedIn and other social networks has certainly accelerated the ability to find connections but does not actively facilitate an Ideation signature. Likewise, traditional Peer Group organizations (like Vistage or YPO) have a primary focus of developing a deep connection with a consistent small group of peers. 

These groups provide a great deal of value in camaraderie and comfort as well as the ability to reach outside day to day life. Moving beyond this tight-knit group is more difficult though. The problems a leader faces may require them to develop relationships and easily interact with an even larger group of individuals. The Peer Group of the future actively encourages an Ideation signature and  is structured to support that. 

The right network

By necessity, COVID-19 has accelerated how we meet and connect virtually. Geographic and time constraints have been weakened. Instead, connecting with others is mostly dependent on commonality of objective. In Advantary’s CEO Roundtable Series, we have found a highly flexible environment to draw together CEOs across multiple demographic characteristics, organizational profiles, and challenge sets to actively facilitate ideation on the most relevant problems they are facing. 

We first filter for high quality individuals to incorporate into the network. Because a core component is to drive larger network interactions we build substantive interaction opportunities across the multiple objectives of members of our networks. The result is meaningful connection both within and beyond our roundtables that drive ideation and increase opportunities for success within the organizations of participants.

Driving your network

In short, one of the most important things a leader can do is to actively build, cultivate, and manage their network. It increases the innovative capability of your organization and helps you to connect to critical partners outside of your company. Use your time and resources right to do it! 

Read more about the author: Advantary Partner, Matt Sitter.


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