Networking is not a commercial activity. It’s in our DNA. Today, I’m talking to Margriet de Groot about the science behind networking.
Hi Margriet, welcome to our studio.
You’re doing research on the subject of networking.
How did you end up there?
Well, actually, it was by accident.
Yes, actually, by accident. I started out create Networkapp about six jears ago. We really wanted to create this product because we thought it was a pity that a lot of people were missing out on each other at conferences. And then I met a professor at the University of Eindhovenand he was doing research for networking. And in our Networkapp, I noticed that people were finding it very difficult to really ask a question. Because what we do in Networkapp is we offer people the possibility, who attend an event, to ask a question. And then they get answers from other participants and then they can set up a date and make an appointment.
And that’s then because they don’t know what they want or…?
Yes, exactly. We noticed that people find it very difficult to actually feel what they are looking for, from a crowd. And I was thinking, can we help them with it? And what would be useful? So, I ended up doing research at the university about networking behavior and why people network at all. And in the end, we noticed that it’s quite difficult to set a goal. But that’s because a lot of people are not networking because they really know what they want to do, but just because they think they have to meet a lot of people.
And what did you learn?
Well, actually, it’s not important to meet a lot of people. This is our main learning point. We already have a very large network.
Okay, we can cancel all the events, we don’t need them anymore.
Well, actually, I do think that there are a lot of people that are not aware of the amount of people they already know. And the enormous asset they already have within their networks. Because, as people, we are social, social animals and we are actually programmed to be social. And if you do that properly, and if you give attention to your personal network, you will find that there are already a lot of people at your disposal who can help you with so many things that are important. Like social support, knowledge, maybe financial support. Doesn’t really matter. But that social network is very important to be effective.
Yes, and then, also, to differentiate between the types of people in your network.
Yes. We’ve noticed, in research, that it’s very important. If you want to be successful in your job or also in social life, just being happy, it is important that you have an environment,a social network, with people from different backgrounds. So, it’s very useful to have maybe a mentor in your network. I have somebody in my network who is already helped me when I started out with my company. Because he is very experiencedin creating businesses. But I also help young people to get further in their careers. And it’s also very interesting to have people in different ages in your network, but also, with different skills. Because then you get a balanced, rich network which provides you with support when you need it.
I never thought about a network in that way.
No, a lot of people have a commercial idea with networking.
Yes. They go to an event. They’re exchanging business cards.
Yes. But even if you want to do business, it’s far more important to build up a relationship, a long-term relationship, than just getting to quick connections. But I noticed, if I go to events and I meet a lot of people, mostly by accident or by coincidence, I should say, then some conversations are very interesting, are fun. And if you don’t really follow up those conversations,then you forget who talked to. And maybe, after the first two weeks, you think, oh, I have to follow this up and I want to do something with that person, or it’s an interesting connection. And then, after a while, it slips away.
In best case, you just send one email and that’s about it.
Yes. Or you have a LinkedIn connection and then... that’s about it.
Yes, you have thousands of them.
So, what do you do with this big, enormous amount of LinkedIn connections? Well, what I advise is to have a look at all those connections and really try to decide which are the 150 most valuable connections.
150. Where does that number come from?
It’s based upon Dunbar’s Number. Dunbar is a professor of psychology and he investigated that we, as people, are actually capable of remembering, or working with a group of 150 people. This is a theory based on the capacity of our brain. And 150 is a good amount of people that you can actually manage. It’s also a number that you find a lot in organizations, as well. Business units are always 150 people. Army, how do you call them?
Yes, the troops. I’ve never been in the army.
But also, the platoons and things like that, 150 people. Small villages in the old days were about 150 people.
I can imagine it comes from there, of course.
From the communities, yes.
In our evolution, we were used to live in communities.
Just about 150 people. And that means that if you really want to work with your network, then it’s important to focus on the 150 people, that are maybe, closest to you or that you have the best connection with. And look into detail, into that network. If it suits your interest, if those people are people that will help you further. If not, if you’re maybe missing out some personal support. Or if you have a lot of people in that network that give you negative energy.
You have to throw them out.
Throwing out is a bit of an exaggeration. But you should try to shift a little bit. But I noticed that for example this person that I told you about who was very important for me in the beginning and the start-up of my company, I hadn’t spoken to him over the last two years. Then, I thought, that’s not a good thing. Those people are valuable as well. So, you have to maintain that contact, also.
Yes, and invest some time in it, keep in touch.
Yes, invest in time in it, every now and then.
But even with 150 people, it’s still a lot.
It’s quite difficult. You can’t talk to everybody and you don’t have to. You have to see it as moving targets. It shifts along with the phase in your life as well or with the project that you’re working on.
But isn’t that opportunistic, then? That you just choose the people you…
Or do we do this naturally?
I think it’s very natural behavior. I think it’s more opportunistic to go an event and meet as many people as possible in order to find people that you can sell your product to. I think that if you focus more or give more attention to your own network and actually build relationships, that it’s more valuable for both parties.
What can we learn from this? Because of course, a lot of our audience are event organizers. They are organizing the events where the organizers and the guests are saying, okay…
We want to network.
Networking is important for us. How can you facilitate that then?
Well, what I think is very important is that, before the event starts, you give them the opportunity to get to know each other to the network. What we do with Networkapp, we give them the opportunity to already post a question. So they can, in this whole group of people, find somebody to talk with who actually suits their network. The missing pieces maybe,in their network.
And that question can be: I’m looking for a solution for this or that?
Yes, could be. Or maybe, I want to have a chat with somebody on a financial issue. Or some knowledge that somebody’s looking for. Or maybe he’s looking for a new job that he wants to level with somebody on the same field.
Could be anything. But it’s very nice if somebody already knows a little bit what he’s searching for. But we often do know that. If you really look into what your point is in life and where you want to go, you often do know something that you want to achieve.
Yes. Networking is of course, also giving and taking.
If you ask a question, that’s mainly taking. Do you then also have to say, okay, this is what I can offer, or doesn’t it work that way?
No, I think you have to see thatin a long-term perspective. There’s a lot of theories about givers and takers in networking relationships. And we all think that givers are the best because that’s what the theory also shows, every now and then. And giving is about helping somebody. It’s not giving away a lot of things but could be something very small, as well.
A tip or…
Yes, could be a tip. Could be helping somebody out with some knowledgethat you have. Just small things. I always have this rule, if I can help somebody with five minutes work, I’ll do it. Because for somebody else, that’s very valuable and for me, it’s just a little effort. And if you can do that, then you’ll notice that in the end, you’ll get it back in return as well. Because that’s also natural behavior. We want to level, as people. But you have to be aware that you don’t get everything. Because when you give… it’s very wise, also, to ask a little bit. That’s not just because you have to ask for yourself, but it’s also because the other person wants to give as well. Because he wants to level, too. If I give you something, for me, it’s nice to know what you are looking for as well. Because then, maybe I can help youand we are even.
People always want to be even.
Okay, Margriet. That’s a great one to conclude with. Thank you very much for coming over.
Yes. Thank you very much for having me.
And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.