Rethinking networking – understand the power of your outer circle to enhance your creativity. Every person you encounter teaches you an important lesson.
I was told that there are three ways to answer a scientific question:
- Ask someone who knows
- Literature search
- Perform experiments
Point number 1 is arguably the most underused by many, perhaps because we do not want to appear stupid by asking a silly question, but I would attribute most of my success in science and real-life to point number 1. I ask. And I ask many people about various things, and by doing so, I am continually amazed by the wealth of knowledge and experience within my circle of family, friends, and colleagues. This saves you time from multiple attempts of trial and error, although I must add that it is important to correctly identify the experts of the area before asking.
But of course, networking is essential for personal development and the cultivation of new ideas. Day in, day out, we network and form relationships with those around us. Networking is natural, whether in an informal context or in a formal networking event. The mistake that most people do is to “network” and expect a golden ticket from someone appropriately successful, so that it reflects well on them in the public eye. (Very. Important. For. Social. Media).
After all, “You are only as successful as those you frequently associate with,” Tom Corley writes in his Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals. While like-minded, goal-oriented people tend to flock together and probably work better together, actively only meeting people like you may not be a strategic move for creativity and innovation. You have underestimated the power of your outer circle. Why?
- You have already found yourself: By a certain age, you would have found yourself, and understand your wants and needs, so you are likely to mix with those who reaffirm your belief system. Whether you are in Peru or your hometown, you are still you whether you have actively decided to make changes to yourself for self-improvement or otherwise. Of course, surrounding yourself with successful people will make you strive to fit in, but over time you will listen to the same old ideas, over and over again, and rarely something that will challenge you. But does meeting with people that you deemed to be less successful decrease your drive for success especially if you are already a motivated person? By the way, what is success? Is it money? Popularity? A list of 40+ publications? Or to be kind and use the knowledge we have for the greater good? Remember, you will not be successful even if you mingle with successful people if you never see yourself as equally if not more successful.
- Encouraging empathy and humility: Going out of your normal circle of buddies to interact with others from backgrounds different to yours will teach you to understand the realities of life, good and bad. You learn empathy and humility, and when you encounter a bad day, you learn to be resilient by taking lessons and inspiration from those who have suffered more than you have and have risen to the occasion. Those who know me know that I do not judge others by which school or university they went to, what grades they have achieved, or which firm they work for because stupidity is universal and real intelligence can only be measured through your actions (by which we could attempt to understand your thought process). If you are motivated and intelligent, no matter where on Earth you are thrown, you will make the most of what you have and do a billion times better than those who have the so-called advantage. Don’t be fooled by brand names. Get to know the person and you will be opened to a world of opportunities (friendship, career, etc).
- Becoming culturally aware: Today’s world is not constrained by boundaries, and yet many choose to put a wall between themselves and those whom they do not wish to understand. As a Malaysian with a Muslim background, I had once been many a time associated with the Chechnya people by a top-tier university graduate. Despite my attempts to explain to said person that Asia is a large continent and Malaysia is located within South East Asia, this person was persistent in associating my Malaysian-ness with the cultures of the Chechens and former Soviet Asian countries. This was a minor point to me, but to others, such mistakes could cost a potentially fulfilling friendship or a romantic relationship, or that multi-million contract in business situations because it is impolite to assume anyone’s beliefs and lifestyle based on your limited knowledge about geography, culture and the person. The cultural ignorance is clearly attributed to a lack of opportunity or readiness to network with others perceived to be dissimilar to them. Of course, one can put an act in public, but soon this pretense will be uncovered the longer you interact with such a person. So, don’t put a wall in your brain.
- Encouraging creativity: Judging people by the book is really not the thing to do. Creativity and innovation sometimes come from places and people you least expect, and to limit yourself from this resource is unwise. Inspiration could come from anywhere. It could come from your colleague working on a similar project or from a patient asking a question. It could point you in the right direction. As a clinician/ researcher, I feel it is important to be engaged in patient groups to understand how a condition affects them and to see if my work has any impact at all, on the very people that I want to help. I am fortunate that my day job allows me to interact with people of various backgrounds, and this widens my worldview in a way not possible with a typical office job.
So, my advice is to actively seek opportunities to connect with people outside work, outside your culture or religious tradition. Make full use of your outer circle. Reflect on what success means to you. To have a friend, you need to be a friend. Get out of the box!
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