Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Mapping Your Network

at 5:00 pm

"We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations reassure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities. To ask for a map is to say, 'Tell me a story.'"

This line, written by Peter Turchi, comes from the beginning of his book, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. The very beginning--the first page, in fact, which I just read minutes ago. Normally, I'd never quote from a book I've just started. Something about that seems a little strange--as if I haven't yet earned the right (to support this, I searched a bit on Google to see if others had written about the etiquette of quoting from the first page of a book but came up with nothing). But Turchi's line spoke directly to a topic I've been thinking about for a while now: If you were to visually map your professional network, you might be able to better understand which people are really important to you.

I often encourage our team members to put energy into developing their professional network. Meeting and developing semi-professional relationships with people that you don't work directly with will enable networking and learning opportunities that strengthen your career. It's always healthy to get exposure to how other people see and do differently the things you do all day. Gaining that kind of perspective can only improve your own work, and of course may make it easier for you to find other opportunities if you need them. No, I don't necessarily want anyone on our team to "network" themselves away from Newfangled, but I trust that encouraging professional networking will always be a good thing. If it's good for our people, it's good for our company.

So with this in mind, I thought about what my professional network might look like if I mapped it visually. I tried a few different configurations, but was interested in what happened to the way I thought about my network when I mapped it in terms of how often I speak with the people in it. Besides the 16 people with whom I speak on a daily basis--my co-workers at Newfangled--I listed those with whom I speak at least several times a month in one group and those with whom I speak least once every few months in the other. What surprised me is that I found that there were more people in my extended professional network (not Newfangled employees) listed among the group with whom I speak less regularly than the the more frequent group. Now that I see it plotted out and think it through, it makes a lot of sense. It probably isn't that normal to expect to be in very regular contact with people you know professionally but don't work directly with. But what's even more interesting is that the two or three people that have significantly impacted my career in the last year (remember, not coworkers) are among those in the infrequent group, not those that I am in contact with even on a weekly basis. Perhaps my relationship with them is just fine as it is now, but when I consider how infrequently I'm in touch with these people I value so much, it makes me motivated to be in touch with them more often.

Here's the basic point, and it's a short one: Visualizing the make-up of your professional network, whether in terms of frequency of contact or some other metric, will tell you a story about the people you know and probably reveal to you their importance in a new way. Once you do this, you'll probably be in a much better position to extract value from your network than you were before.

Have you done anything like this? If so, what have you learned about your network that you didn't know before?

By the way, this week's Spark podcast included an interview with Andrew McAfee on Enterprise 2.0, during which he discusses strong and weak-tie professional networks. Check it out...

Comments

Chris Butler | April 19, 2010 9:37 AM
John, what an interesting idea! I do think you're right, though, that finding ways to refresh your connections is a really important thing. You really never know how someone "out there" might impact you personally and professionally, but being open to it by sowing into those relationships is more likely to benefit you than harm you.
John Roberts | April 18, 2010 9:36 AM
Hey ---totally agree about the value of visualization. I recently conducted a "test" inside one of my social networks. I sent out an admittedly silly message hoping to see who and how people would respond. I wanted to start to get my head around how viral messages work ---not scientifically, just anecdotal. Using your visual frame, I could see that most of the messages came back to me from people with whom I had less frequent interaction. They saw the message as a chance to just reconnect and the conversations went in a number of fun and interesting directions. When I did hear back from those closer to me, they teased me about the message's silliness. Well deserved. This is interesting to me as you had mentioned that some of the most profound impact for you came from people with whom you had less contact. When I add all this to some of the work I have done on influence mapping, it leads me to conclude, again anecdotally, that we should be coming up with strategies and tactics to refresh "links" with those who are farther out, because we cannot be sure where those conversations will go. Thanks.
Chris Butler | February 25, 2010 12:34 PM
Ryan, I think you're right about the appeal of visualizations, for some people anyway. Some people are just much more visual in their thinking and learning styles than others. What's interesting about mapping out your network is considering how your network might fit in with someone else's. Each of you would be a node in a fairly complex system, rather than an endpoint as my map above shows.
Ryan | February 23, 2010 8:21 PM
Chris, saw this one tweeted by another alumnus. Really intersting thought. Dataviz is the big thing right now, which makes me think there is something to the effectiveness of visual aid. Maybe it appeals to a more direct way of thinking for us? My network is a bit more fractured- particular people I work with on a project to project basis, then those that connect me with new projects, which tend to have their own teams, so it's more of a cluster to bridge image if you know what I mean.
Chris Butler | February 22, 2010 10:08 AM
Andy, Actually, I kept the social media connections completely separate intentionally, though you're right that trying to draw lines from me to each one individually would have been pretty messy. Also, the grid of dots there is not accurate in number--the actual number of people I'm connected to over Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook would be much too large to fit there. But I really wanted to focus on people with whom I'm connected to directly, or in other words, with whom I either email directly or speak over the phone. So, the people in the 'several times a month' and 'every few months' groups are people that, though I may be connected with over the social networks, are people I am in direct contact (email or phone) with primarily.
Andy Bright | February 21, 2010 7:06 PM
This was interesting. I'm assuming you didn't draw linear connections to the social media group because it would have been too busy graphically, but there must also be some overlap between the social media connections and the other groups. Surely you utilize social media to be in contact with the groups you organized by frequency?

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