Leveraging your network to navigate professional challenges.
A decade ago, Bill Gates wrote: “The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” This could not be truer today. But the way we’ve been socialized to think about information and knowledge is radically insufficient. Our educational system trains us to memorize facts stored in textbooks and then regurgitate them on an exam.
But as the modern professional, you can’t acquire knowledge this way, because the knowledge you need isn’t static—it’s always changing. You can’t cram your brain with all the relevant information that might possibly be relevant to your careers, then deploy it on exam day. In the world of work, every day is exam day—every day brings new, unpredictable challenges and decisions. Stockpiling facts won’t get you anywhere. What will get you somewhere is being able to access the information you need, when you need it.
You get the intelligence you need to make good career decisions by talking to people in your network. It’s people who help you understand your assets, aspirations, and the market realities; it’s people who help you vet and get introduced to possible allies and trust connections; it’s people who help you track the risk attached to a given opportunity. What you get when you tap into other people’s brains is called “network intelligence.”
To pull intelligence from your network, you need to map your network so you know who knows what, and then you need to ask questions or send out the queries that elicit the useful answers.
Understand how to pull network intelligence to navigate professional challenges.
Learn how to map your network to recognize who knows what.
Know how to synthesize information into actionable intelligence.
Add topic questions to discuss during class and take notes in the Notes column.
Add a topic
What does it mean to be network literate?
Who is the most network literate person you know? What makes them so?
How do you figure out who has the intelligence you need at any given moment, and how do you go about extracting it most effectively?
What are the three categories you should use to sort the people you know?
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Matchmakers. Divide the class into pairs. Each set of partners must figure out who they know in common, by asking each other questions. Then, they start asking each other questions to figure out someone they know whom their partner doesn’t know but should.
Who am I? A game in which the students must figure out who they are by asking questions. Beforehand, cut up some paper into small strips. On each strip, write down the name of a person, place, thing, idea, etc. Tape a single strip on each student's back. The goal of the game is for each student to guess what's on his or her back by asking only yes or no questions to fellow classmates. Additionally, each student may only ask any other individual at most one question.
Online Network Curation.
Have your students adjust their LinkedIn newsfeed to make sure it’s showing the information that’s most helpful. They should go into Signal (linkedin.com/signal) and save search queries on relevant topics.
If they use Twitter, are they following the people they should be following? They should review their lists and add or remove, as necessary.
Network Intelligence Map. Students will map out who they trust on different topics. Have them sort their connections into domain experts, people whom they know well, and people who may not have specific expertise but are just smart in general.
Top of Mind. Students will make a list of the 2-3 top issues they’re thinking about. Then they should make a list of questions about those issues so they can raise them in conversation.
Information Partners. Students should figure out who else in their network is thinking about similar issues. They should ask them to send information they find on the relevant topics and promise to do the same. Remind them that they’ll get more information faster when they seek it with others.