Network of people
Why networks are like pensions

I’ve heard a phrase, ‘Network Science’, crop up in conversation more and more this year. Perpetuated primarily by that protagonist of social data and complex network interactions, James Welch, C.T.O. of Online Ventures Group. It’s a concept I readily buy into.

So I thought I’d explore a particular branch of Network Science, growth curves. Probably closer to Network Mathematics actually.

I posted a comment on Twitter last week comparing ‘Networks’ to ‘Pensions’. Despite the fact, the analogy appeared to be readily accepted by no finer judge than Phil Jones, M.D. of Brother UK, I’m not convinced I was able to rationalise my point within 140 characters. So I thought I’d develop the notion a bit further on here.

An era of door-knocking and collecting comp slips

Until the birth of social media, most networks were developed in what I would regard a linear pattern. You would meet x number of people a week, exchange business cards and gradually build a personal database of contacts. There was limited scope for a ‘secondary’ network, because it was so difficult to maintain effective contact and exploring potentially mutual connections was reliant on their intuition and keeping you in mind.

I visualise these old-school networks as a long thin rectangle, getting longer but never thicker. Using the pensions analogy, it’s effectively growing without interest or inflation and is the equivalent of stuffing cash under your mattress.

The evolution of the secondary network

Fast forward to recent times and I see networks that now develop radially in outward rapidly moving circles. You still build primary networks in much the same way as before but a secondary network is only ever an email or social connection away. It’s so easy. With each of your network having networks of their own, I regard the ‘area’ of these circles as being your total network, not the diameter. Think πr2 and that makes the numbers involved potentially huge.

This is proven by your own Linked In data. My current connections, as of this evening, apparently link me to 10,078,630 professionals. That’s ridiculous. But correct, if ever I had the time to explore it.

But why the pensions analogy?

Well, how many financial advisors have told you to start that nest egg early? How many extrapolations of future value have you been shown demonstrating the huge difference between kicking a pension off at 25 and 35?

Well I now believe that the same applies to networks. And it’s all due to those expanding circles.

The difference between a primary network of 500 and 1000 is obvious. It’s 500. But the difference between a secondary network of 500 and 1000 could be more like hundreds of thousands. And what happens to a secondary network? A percentage will end up feeding your primary network, creating positive growth.

Whichever way you look at it, the graph goes upwards exponentially and not in a straight line. Much the way the value of a pension pot should grow with compounded interest.

The difference between starting to build a network at 25 and 35, these days, will be huge in the future.

Pensions mature, so do networks

In the early stages of your career it might be somewhat daunting to rub shoulders with executives much senior to yourself. However, remember that the juniors and middle management of today are the decision makers and senior executives of tomorrow. Like a pension their value will mature. Nurture your fledgling contacts over the years and watch them blossom into gold potential.

Key points

1. Start building your network as early as you can to realise maximum potential later in your career. That said, it’s NEVER too late to get serious about networking.

2. Cultivate the power of your secondary network. Not everyone you meet will be of value to you. Nor you to them. Therefore, always ask the all-important question…”Is there anyone I know in my network that can help you?

Then see what happens next.

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