We deliberately find comfort in our inner circle. Our family, group of friends, a cluster of professional contacts. People we already know. People who can potentially protect us from a financial or emotional downfall. This is what research from Northwestern University on "How Socioeconomic Status Impacts the Way We Network", suggests.
Nonetheless, although our inner circle feels like a safe space, it may actually do more harm than good. The research goes on to warn that our inner circle may become a limiting factor to our network's future development.
As it points out, "new opportunities and novel information" can only come from our wider network. For this reason, it is important to expand our network, meet new people and get outside of our comfort zone.
Therefore, how can we unleash the power of our current and future networks effectively? London Business School's John Dore recommends a 4-step process.
Step 1: Filter and prioritize your contacts
Who do you keep in touch with? Who matters to your career? Not just for now, but also for the future. It may be a classmate, a former colleague or a friend. Dore recommends creating a list and assessing how accessible each contact is.
Step 2: Reach out to them
Reach out to people, to the people you have marked as accessible, your inner circle. Even if you haven't talked to them in a while, they can still be classified as accessible. Dore highlights that even "if you're hesitant about their likely response, consider how you've responded to a suddenly revived contact from the past? Perhaps a former colleague or an alumni contact from University."
Step 3: Power up your relationships with them
Spend time learning more about these contacts. To catch up with their most recent updates. What are they working on? What are the things they are interested in? Then start contributing. Do you have something to share or offer that may be of interest to them? In this manner, you will strengthen your active relationships and rewarm the dormant ones.
Step 4: Use your current network as a ladder
Start reaching out to people who are two degrees away from you. The contacts of your contacts. Ask for an introduction from your network. This is the best way to reach out to someone. As a Harvard Business Review article points out, references may be the best way to validate someone's professional credibility.
In a nutshell, get outside of your comfort zone, scout for new opportunities in uncharted territories, and do so by using your inner circle as the first stepping stone.