Monday, September 10, 2018

The Spider Web of Life

I gotta be honest, dissertation writing is kicking my back side right now, and leaving little room for any thought of writing for fun. So to my reader, Mom, I'm sorry for the delay. 😀

Actually, thanks to my dissertation analysis, I'm dusting off a presentation I gave to Colorado Mesa University's resident advisors on networking last year for this much overdue Stoll on Sports post.

The term "networking" gets thrown around in business all the time, we network to meet people, to advance our careers, we go to networking events, we have our own network, etc. etc. 
I visualize a network as a huge spider web that represents our life, the concentric circles of people with whom we interact. Almost like the classic road trip game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Sidenote: I just read a great book by Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point, and interestingly enough, there are many more actors that can more readily be linked to others than Kevin Bacon. Regardless, the book is worth the read.

Networking, in my opinion, is also a dwindling art. In the age of technology, you have to be diligent to achieve the same personal interactions that lead to a strong network. It's so easy to guise behind an email when you could walk across the building, or meet for coffee. I know, I know, time is valuable, but if you're as efficient as heck and don't know anyone that can help you leverage it, then weaving in some networking wouldn't seem to be a bad idea, would it?

Here are my Top 5 Networking Best Practices:

1. Be intentional. Refer to the previous paragraph.

2. Strive to meet new people at old places. Don't settle eating dinner with the exact same people at every conference you attend. 

3. Be genuine and selfless. Did you read that carefully? It's not about what YOU get out of it. It's one of those funny truths in life, the more you GIVE to others in networking relationships, the more you GET in return. Don't just network, be a connector. Here are more tips on this approach. 

4. Timely follow-up is MANDATORY. No exceptions. We are all busy. Yes, I know you're the busiest ever. One question, have you ever asked anyone what they are up to and had them reply, "Oh, not much." The answer is not once! It doesn't happen. Get off the busy high-horse, because we're all on the same saddle (I'm guilty, too). It's called life. So follow-up with people you meet.
This looks familiar to me personally.
5. Provide added value. Take note of what others are interested in and respond accordingly. Send a note, an interesting article, a token of appreciation for your relationship. Just today I received a congratulations card from a couple colleagues at another sports commission for an award. How thoughtful was that?!

In academia the spider web of life is called social network theory. It is the theory behind our interactions with groups or individuals in our respective networks. Here's a great article on how it works.

To wrap this sucker up and get on with my less fun writing assignments, here is a personal example of the result of networking in an image from my RA presentation and the somewhat lengthy - but worth the read - grammatically incorrect story below. Trust me, it was much more effective when I told the whole story in one breath at the presentation, nearly passed out and the projector and lights magically turned off when I finished the last sentence.

I went to Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, CO for my undergraduate degree, where I met Jamie Hamilton, the then CMU athletic director and chair for GJ's annual Junior College World Series. After graduation I headed off to the University of Louisville for my master's degree and on my way out the door I heard about a job opportunity with the PGA of America for the 2008 Ryder Cup. I applied, learned that the Ryder Cup was not horse racing (duh, Breeder's Cup) and was fortunate enough to get hired to coordinate the event's volunteer program. One of the volunteer committee chairs was a guy named Karl Schmitt, I got to hang with him and learned about the sports commission world from the former leader of the Team Kentucky. In my naivety I thought Grand Junction needed a sports commission and that sounded kinda fun, so I came back to GJ and pitched the idea to Jamie. He agreed, but timing was bad (anyone remember 2008?!), so I headed to Denver for another golf tournament then on (through a golf connection) to - what I thought - would be some relatively useless non-profit experience out of the sport industry. It was then that my phone rang and who was it? Jamie - whom I had stayed in contact with for nearly 5 years - notifying me about the sports commission opportunity...hello benefit of said non-profit experience. I couldn't pass it up, hit the road for GJ, and started attending industry events. Who did I bump into at the first event? My old buddy Karl, who was now the President of the Louisville Sports Commission. While catching up he told me he had a friend who was moving from NY to Grand Junction. First I laughed at him, then I politely told him people don't move from NY to GJ. Doesn't happen. Well, you know what? I was wrong, and Karl introduced me to Rich Rosenblatt, sports writer and new GJ resident. After one coffee meeting I told Rich he had to meet Jamie. Flash forward and Rich makes this happen for our community, a huge boon for the JUCO World Series, and great exposure for our community. And because when you give you get, the JUCO World Series also just received the Amateur Sporting Event of the Year award by ConnectSports. The paybacks to the whole community due to this crazy social network spider web started with one contact! And just last week I met my good buddy, Rich for lunch where we laughed and reminisced about the path to sharing Thai food in Grand Junction, Colorado.

What's your story? I bet if you're like me, you have your own remarkable spider web of social network theory in action. If not, start spinning the web today. I don't particularly like spiders, but that little guy hustling in the middle...well, that should be you.

As an old African Proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." This is Stoll on Sports. 

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