Canadian Underwriter

Does your professional network help or hinder you?

March 9, 2018   by David Gambrill

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Insurance is based on relationships, as we all know, but is your professional network helping you or hindering you?

One of the biggest misconceptions about networking is that relationships should form and grow spontaneously among people who naturally like each other, says a blogger writing for Harvard Business Review. For some, thinking about networks strategically and methodically is manipulative and maybe even unethical.

“The problem with this way of thinking is that it produces networks that are neither useful to you, nor useful to your contacts because they are too homogenous,” observes Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior and the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning at Insead.

Writing in her blog, ‘5 Misconceptions About Networking,’ Ibarra says decades of research in social psychology shows that, left to our own devices, we form and maintain relationships with people just like us. We know them because we bump into them often, and if we bump into them often, they are more likely to be like us.

“These ‘narcissistic and lazy’ networks can never give us the breadth and diversity of inputs we need to understand the world around us, to make good decisions, and to get people who are different from us on board with our ideas,” Ibarra writes. “That’s why we should develop our professional networks deliberately, as part of an intentional and concerted effort to identify and cultivate relationships with relevant parties.”

When networking, you may be inclined to think your strongest ties with people are your most valuable ties. Guess again.

“Another misconception that gets in the way of building a more useful network is the intuitive idea that our most important relationships in our network are our strong ties — close, high-trust relationships with people who know us well, our inner circle,” Ibarra writes.

“While these are indeed important, we tend to underestimate the importance of our ‘weak ties’ — our relationships with people we don’t know well yet or we don’t see very often — the outer circle of our network.”

Trusted contacts in your inner circle may in fact be an “accident of the past,” rather than a source of support for you in the future, Ibarra says. Innovation and strategic insight actually flow through these weaker ties in your outer circle, where we reach people we don’t currently know.

“That’s how we learn new things and access far-flung information and resources,” Ibarra says.