Networking for Intelligence
Summary: Many more introverted technical experts hate networking. But by reframing how we all think about it - imagining it as intelligence gathering - can take us to the next level of technical brilliance. By Alistair Gordon
Written by Alistair Gordon 06 Apr 2020

Reframing how experts see and benefit from networking opportunities

Many experts we work with during our Expertship programs don’t see the value in networking. Networking events are often seen as primarily social, and possibly not a good use of an experts’ time (we’re busy!). Or experts don’t like the inauthentic behavior they observe among colleagues during networking events. Many of our expert colleagues are naturally introverted and shy, so attending such events and mingling is a challenge and outside their comfort zone. Plus, many experts are not self-promoting, and feel that often networking events are designed for precisely this reason.

For all of these reasons, many experts shy away from both internal and external events.

But, as we discuss in our Expertship programs , for experts to deliver exceptional value, rethinking the why and how of networking might be a significant step towards operating at the highest expert level – becoming a Master Expert.

In this article we’d like to promote a new way of looking at networking events – seeing them as Critical Intelligence Gathering Opportunities (CIGOs).

CIGOs? Are you for real?

A key enabler of creating value as experts is understanding and navigating our organizations beyond our technical domains more effectively. A further enabler is understanding the dynamics of the external market our organisation operates in to a much greater degree. Using networking events to gather intelligence in both of these areas is, we believe, a smart move. And worth our time.

It makes sense that the more people we talk to and the more perspectives we get from colleagues outside our direct technical domain, the better able we become to deliver enhanced value in our roles.

Thinking about networking as simply a social event is limiting. We believe experts should think of networking events as an opportunity to:

  • Understand what is happening (good and bad) in other parts of our organization;

  • Understand how competitors or rival service providers are operating and impacting our organization;

  • Connect with business colleagues we only otherwise see at formal meetings; at networking events we can ask more informal business questions, and get a sense of what is exciting (and worrying) colleagues from other departments;

  • Connect with other experts in other expert domains, to see what projects and challenges they face (or are planning that might involve us in the future);

  • And … well, many more that we are sure you will be able to think of.

If we approach networking with this mindset, not only will it become much more valuable to us, it will also be much more enjoyable, and less stressful because gathering intelligence is a valid and worthwhile pursuit. Its what experts do!

There are several personal reasons for considering networking events differently.

Firstly, intelligent networking helps us to do our jobs better by increasing our knowledge and widening our perspective. This increases our current and future value.

Secondly, we will greatly improve our personal brand. Colleagues from other parts of the organization will be enjoy the interaction, be encouraged about our curiosity, challenged but impressed by our penetrating and increasingly insightful questions, and relationships will be strengthened through professional interaction (not meaningless social chat).

Thirdly, as we improve our organisational knowledge, this helps us be able to better prioritize work and align where we spend our energy with strategic and business priorities. This means we are adding value where it is most needed, and are sufficiently informed to be able to push back on non-critical work. This is something most experts we work with want to be able to do better.

Finally, as we are seen to know more about what is going on more broadly in the organization, our relevance increases, and we’ll be building better relationships with our stakeholders, both immediate and removed.

How to be an intelligent networker – overcoming the barriers

Many experts face a few big barriers to becoming intelligent networkers. These include:

  • Many of us are introverts and shy by nature.

  • We may have had bad experiences with networking in the past.

  • We often don’t know what to say to people, or what to ask them.

  • We naturally don’t like talking about things we aren’t expert in. This often include areas such as sales and marketing, or wider business issues.

  • We often find networking events fake. People are only pretending to take interest in what we’re saying, or they simply want to know what’s in it for them.

The good news is that thinking of networking events at Critical Intelligence Gathering Opportunities (CIGOs), we escape the need to do things we don’t much like doing. For example, asking inane social questions that we find inauthentic. Or talking about things that are outside our current area of expertise.

Intelligent networking really only requires us to be good at two things. Asking some good opening questions at the beginning of a conversation, and then listening carefully to the answers (which will generate our next questions. Indeed, intelligent networking plays to the strengths we see in most experts we work with – an inherent curiosity, a desire to understand how things work, and a burning desire to do work that adds real lasting value to the organisation.

It is also possible to approach CIGOs with military precision and planning. We’ve seen experts consider carefully what they need to know from various parts of the organisation to inform their technical roadmap, and then identify the right “information targets”, and attend networking events on a mission.

As with many aspects of Expertship, re-framing the way we think about things can make an enormous long-term difference to the value we can add today and into the future. Re-framing our thinking about networking events is a classic example?

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