The trick no one tells you about networking

Networking is an integral component of successful entrepreneurship – no question–but there’s a sensitivity to it that many are unfamiliar with.  Conventional wisdom dictates that the more well-connected an aspiring magnate is, the more likely and easily they will continue to furnish their network with new intuitive additions. This is sometimes true but not on principle.

In order to expose this misconception more concretely, an associate Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, by the name of Sharique Hasan, tracked 112 entrepreneurs attending a startup boot-camp in New Deli.  There he discovered that, despite popular belief, participants who arrived without previously knowing anyone beforehand networked more frequently than those who had established relationships with at least some of the attendees prior to the event and even outperformed them in the weekly challenges conceived  by the camp supervisors.

“A lot of prior research and even conventional wisdom say geography is destiny; place people next to each other and they’ll interact – that’s the basis for the popularity of the open-plan office,” Hasan explained in a press statement. “But we show that people who are already embedded in a social network of friends and advisers don’t network much at all.”

Nurturing your network

Hasan’s findings were published in The Strategic Management Journal  and were co-authored by Rembrand Koning of Harvard Business School. The boot-camp that served as the study’s model, was devised to give green entrepreneurs, designers, and venture capitalists hands on experience with accomplished veterans in their respective fields. Every week the attenders were randomly assigned to groups and tasked with developing a prototype for a mobile app.

In order to get a grasp on how the participants were interacting with each other, the researchers tracked their emails in addition to any other device used for digital communication via special software engineered specifically for this new study.  At the end of the week the prototypes concocted by each team were submitted and then analyzed by peers of their choosing. The problem is, members that were already familiar with each other didn’t share their projects with “outsiders”, which means they forwent input from other potentially insightful participants , even if these were seated directly next to them.

“Once you have a network in place, you tend to explore less,” said Hasan, who co-founded the experimental incubator titled Innovate Delhi. “As a result, you likely miss out on opportunities to learn from new people who might be sitting right next to you.”

The paper isn’t advising workers against prudence of course. A healthy degree of selectivity ought to accompany an open mind. When seeking consultation, everyone’s two cents should be considered, even if you ultimately opt not to adhere to all or any of it. An intentionally lean collection of colleagues often poisons opportunities for growth.

This effectively means that the best time to network is actually the day you first step into a new environment. People are more willing to pick your brain because your new, and your less likely to be hesitant by reason of comfort. The researchers suggest young workers maximize this time by casting as wide a net as possible, writing, “If you don’t do that in the beginning, it just doesn’t happen as easily.”