Throughout the course of history, not much has changed when it comes to getting ahead in business and life: People need people. That's according to former brain scientist, serial entrepreneur, and best-selling author Jeff Stibel. Currently vice chairman of Dun & Bradstreet, here's his take on what science has to say about networking and success.
1. You can achieve far more with help from others, compared with what you can do on your own.
Take a look at the ant, which isn't a particularly intelligent creature on its own. Ant colonies, however, are brilliant. They form complex social structures, use tools, farm their own food, and defend themselves against predators. Some species of ants have invented air conditioning for their nests and enslave neighboring colonies. Yet an individual ant cannot survive on its own.
2. There's a breakpoint in networking.
Research has shown that people can maintain only 150 authentic relationships at one time. "If you have a single telephone it's pretty much useless," Stibel says. "You have two, well--it's twice as good. You have four and it's even [better]. The reality is that that works up to a point [where] the entire network gets clogged." It's the same with ants, which grow a colony only to a certain size.
3. Quality of relationships is far more important than quantity.
In the brain, connections between neurons are strengthened the more they're used, and weaker connections eventually die. In terms of networking, build deep relationships instead of many weak ones. "If you're not developing connections in a rich way, you should lose them," Stibel says. "There's value to losing them, because we can handle only so much information in our brains."
4. Authenticity is key.
Whether it's your personal or business brand, people are adept at sniffing out what's true and what isn't. As soon as they see the tiniest discrepancy between what you're saying and what's real, you'll lose credibility. And once you've lost people's trust, you've lost everything. "It's a hard thing for businesses and CEOs to really internalize, because it's our job to position ourselves in the best way possible," says Stibel. "But the emperor's new clothes are apparent to everyone, and for better or worse we need to match that to what we do, how we speak, whom we're communicating with, and how we're networking."
5. How you network is less relevant than why you're doing it.
If you're networking to build valuable relationships, it's incredibly easy. Whether you're doing it through events, one-on-one interactions, or social media, the focus should be on building relationships you can maintain. When you get to the point of feeling you can't authentically manage your network, it's time to weed out the relationships you no longer have the time or energy to invest in.
"It becomes very deceptive when we have 500 friends on Facebook, 10,000 relationships on LinkedIn, and 30,000 followers on Twitter," says Stibel. "That is not manageable and it's not sustainable, and you have to think long and hard about how you use technology to build these stronger relationships as opposed to casting a wider net."