Many professionals are familiar with business networking groups, such as Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, and trade associations. They frequent events in order to be more visible in their communities, and hopefully, build business. Members often include a cross section of businesses, including banking, insurance, health care, IT and staffing.
Things are different at BNI, where their networking allows only for one professional from each sector. Groups are typically smaller, and the dynamic is changed because there’s only one banker, one insurance agent, one IT person, and one recruiter.
Which approach is better business?
Ron Burt is a professor of sociology and strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is the leading academic researcher studying how social networks create competitive advantages in careers, organizations and markets.
When looking at networking, the dynamics of course have changed with social media. Should emerging leaders affiliate with clusters of groups online rather than exploring the bigger, massive landscape of personalities and people?
Writer Michael Simmons on Forbes.com captures Burt’s research on the science of the network. Think about LinkedIn groups. Simmons writes:
“A basic pattern of network science is clustering. People tend to gravitate to clusters for a lot of reasons whether it be working in the same company or industry, living in a neighborhood, or going to the same school. These clusters get stronger as people gain mutual friendships, establish norms and build reputations.”
However, Simmons warns there are consequences attached to the cluster approach.
First, information moves quickly and repeatedly within a group. “Information travels more quickly and you hear the same information repeatedly within any group. In Burt’s words, “People tire of repeating arguments and stories explaining why they believe and behave the way they do and develop shorthand symbols and even dialects. Knowledge becomes unwritten but mutually understood.’”
Another consequence of clusters, according to Simmons, is that information doesn’t travel between groups. “As a result of groups using shorthand, it is hard for individuals from other groups to understand the full value and relevance of what is being said…Translation is required for the ‘dialect’ of one group to be understood by another group,” says Simmons.
The trick is to understand how people exchange information between networks.
It’s the leaders who share information and serve as connectors who are more likely to be successful in their careers. More opportunities will likely come their way as well. Burt explains, “What a broker does is make a sticky information market more fluid. Great ideas will never move if we wait for them to be spoken in the same language.”
The Booth School of Business calls this the Social Capital of Brokerage. The so-called connectors have these advantages, described by Simmons:
- Breadth. They pull their information from diverse clusters.
- Timing. While they may not be the first to hear information, they are first to introduce information to another cluster.
- Translation. They develop skills in translating one group’s knowledge into another’s insight.
Combine these three and an individual has a greater overall vision to see, create and take advantage of opportunities, writes Simmons.
The other folks who spend their time in smaller groups distance themselves from diverse perspectives, as they repeatedly hear the same ideas and values, of which they already know or believe.
In this time of social shifts and communication, being part of an open network will expose you to the conditions you need in order to build the skill-set and mindset of an information broker and connector. It may feel uncomfortable, as Simmons writes, but in the big picture, it will bring newfound opportunities in leadership and business.