I'd like to build my network of colleagues, not so much for business referrals but to exchange business and technical information about my field. How is this kind of network building different than traditional network development?
Every kind of network (e.g., social, business, informational, bartering) differs in the criteria for participation, the pathway to develop it and the types of behaviors and skills needed to be a valued participant. Informational networks are among the most difficult in all these criteria. This is because the currency by which transactions occur (information) is the most intangible but, at the same time, the most valuable. The information most valued by the network is often hard to come by, is known by few but valued by many, and frequently has a short shelf life. Imagine how valuable advance information about emerging technologies is, your personal contact with someone who is connected to someone in demand for their research (this is the principle behind LinkedIn), or research you have just completed on a complex problem in business, technology or a particular technical discipline.
Setting up the network usually starts with a core set of people trading a limited set of information, say information about cutting edge research or innovative examples in construction financing. Establish rules for trading this information, confidentiality, types of information you collectively would find valuable, and acceptable levels of contribution (i.e., how much information of what value constitutes a fair value provided as compared to value derived). Finding the right people you trust to contribute quality information and to keep it confidential to just your group is essential. Grow the network organically from a small core of people and content to a network that works for you. Remember, an information network requires commitment and trust, much more than a casual business referral network we are more familiar with. Tip:
See whether you can build and sustain a network by arranging with 3-5 colleagues a deliberate effort to trade in a specific set of information. Plan out the growth of this network over the coming year, adding types of information and planned uses of this information, Discuss how each of you receives value from the network as compared to what you are putting in. Finally, set up rules among you for continued participation and how you might dissolve the network. If this sounds like a partnership, in a way it is and many of the rules, advice and caveats of setting up a partnership apply here. © 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA