Whether you work in education, the corporate sector, or from home, a diverse network is crucial to removing biases and enhancing personal and professional development.
Having a big network isn’t enough — to be effective, it has to be a diverse network as well. Strong connections to people of different demographic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, with each bringing a set of diverse skills and experiences, create higher value in any organization. While a single individual may have a valid perspective, adding a variety of perspectives simply rounds out an idea or a situation to create balance, understanding, and collaborative thought, ultimately producing a better product or response.
The Three Networks
To increase focus, it helps to think about a diverse network in three categories:
Personal Networks refer to one’s direct contacts: current or past colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors.
Local Networks refer to one’s geographical area: those who share the same city, county, zip code, as it relates to professional or personal location.
Global Networks refer to the world at large. While overwhelmingly broad, our world today is made much smaller with the ability to connect and share. Though one may never meet these members face-to-face, their videos, blogs, newsletters, and social posts can be great references of perspective. This network can become passive – by just observing experts we are able to use them as authorities in our own work even if we never interact.
Determine why you need a Diverse Network
Creating a network of contacts isn’t difficult. However, creating the right network and reaching the right people takes work. You need to whittle down why you need the network in the first place. Focus on the goal: Is this for a unit? Is this a student interest? Is this network for a Project Based Learning exercise? Why do I need people beyond me, and what do I need from them? The MVIFI Adventure Grid tool is a great way to get started with focus and hone in on the specifics to keep you track.
Connect with a Connector: Probe your Network to Start your Diverse Network
Who knows whom? With your purpose and focus clear, you can begin branching out. Start asking questions to find the right people. You can’t be afraid to find out who knows whom. In a school or office setting, this can be as simple as asking your co-workers if they know anyone “who specializes in X” or “has familiarity with Y”.
Determine how to reach out
If your contacts are local, don’t shy away from a simple invitation for coffee and an interview. We all love to talk about the things we are passionate about, so take advantage of that. Your network will fill with experts who often want to share their knowledge – and nothing starts a lasting relationship like a personal 1:1 connection. Additionally – reaching out via email, phone calls, and social media helps to solidify the connection.
Follow up to strengthen your network
The difference between a connection and a network is the longevity of the relationship. With your purpose and need clear, you’ll be able to create a true partnership with your connections for the current, specific project or work. However, to truly mold that diverse network, be sure to offer your own expertise and skills, keep in touch and keep the network going.
So, I challenge you: Go Forth and Conquer. If there is a project or assignment you are struggling with or just starting on – remove some of that burden and find someone in a personal, local, and global field that would help to support your work. You never know where the relationship will lead.
MVIFI Design Thinking Field Guide – More tools like The Adventure Grid to help you solve problems
Diverse Networks in Action – A three-part story about students working with Biomedical Engineers
Harvard Business Review – Research: CEOs with Diverse Networks Create Higher Firm Value