No one is smart enough to solve really important problems alone. Networking is critical. Being able to find, build, and test ideas through a network of diverse perspectives offers leaders, teams, and innovation projects the benefits of new insights and novel points of view, which increase the chance of uncovering real breakthroughs. Having a rich network of productive stakeholders can open doors for your employees and accelerate innovation across the enterprise.
The Core of Networking
Networking is, at its core, relationship building and learning. Sometimes these relationships are tied directly to the development and implementation of new ideas and other times the focus is on gaining new perspectives on the world. The goal is to expand your network inside and outside your organization, to extend your sphere of influence, and to expand the expertise and diversity of your peer group and potential innovation partners.
The Role of the Networker
A networker’s primary task is to work across organizational boundaries to engage stakeholders and secure innovation support. Playing the role of a networker means you are able to:
- Build productive linkages and coalitions across organizational boundaries within your organization.
- Draw others in as joint sponsors for your teams’ projects.
- Search outside the organization for innovative ideas and individuals who can help your projects.
- Maintain a strong professional network outside your organization.
- Build relationships with those who want to support innovations in your field.
Internal networking within your own organization is important, as many ideas and projects will cross the boundaries of your own area of the enterprise. Many ideas and projects can benefit from the expertise, skills, perspective, or even the contacts and working relationships that exist in other parts of the organization. Also, support from others whose work would change in response to an innovation can be crucial to getting buy-in and approval for projects with far ranging impact.
Networking is “playing organizational politics” in a positive way. The most effective internal networkers are those people who consistently push for win-win outcomes. They work from a mind-set that making connections and reaching out to others will help all involved, including the company and its customers.
Breaking down organizational silos is vital to encouraging communication and building relationships across the enterprise. Effective networking supports the role of barrier buster, as trusted relationships can bridge the interdepartmental chasms that too often hinder the flow and support for bold ideas.
External networking is equally important. Getting out of the office to interact with other leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, educators, artists, or thinkers from around the world enhances creativity and innovation skills. Expanded horizons often make it easier to see a larger solution set.
Networkers go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their knowledge and expand their paradigms. For example, Starbucks founder Howard Shultz’ travels through Europe allowed him to meet coffee experts and cafe owners, and to crystallize his thinking about how Starbucks could bring a new coffee culture to the United States. Schultz was later able to draw on this community of coffee aficionados to guide his vision and to help him grow the business to unprecedented levels.
In addition, in today’s digital world, innovation leaders now have a wide range of choices of online tools to enhance networking. Business-oriented social media, online innovation platforms, and knowledge management systems enable leaders to search for individuals with the specific expertise, connections, or perspective they need. An example of one of these systems is IdeaScale.
Internal online communities connect members within an enterprise and sometimes extend to include key partners, suppliers, or customers. Individuals can ask for information and expertise, for feedback on ideas and value propositions, for people with needed skills, for connections to individuals who could support or fund projects, and even to help find barrier busters when needed.
External online communities also now offer connections and discussion groups for linking individuals with similar interests across the globe (e.g., LinkedIn groups, industry associations, user groups, or specialty topic organizations). These communities exist for the express purpose of network building. They typically discourage individuals from simply trying to sell their own products or services, as they want to preserve the true working network. When there is a genuine question or request where members can help further a serious innovation effort, exchanges are generally quite lively as members enjoy the chance to contribute their insights and support.
Networking Opens Up Possibilities
Through network connections and experiences, leaders open themselves up to new possibilities and build their ability to embrace ideas that can be recombined in new ways. Successfully connecting seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different people or fields, is an invaluable asset to a leader and his or her team.
Networking is crucial in today’s innovative organizations. In the next installment of the series, we’ll dive deep into leading an innovative culture. If you’d rather not wait, download the complete chapter of Leading Innovation Ten Essential Roles for Harnessing the Creative Talent of Your Enterprise today.
This blog post is part of the Leading Innovation series authored by Laszlo Gyorffy, MS. Laszlo is president of the Enterprise Development Group, an international consulting firm specializing in business strategy and innovation. He also is an accomplished speaker, certified instructional designer and trainer, and co-author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Ideas and The Global Innovation Science Handbook. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator a cloud-based toolkit that teaches people how to successfully generate and champion bigger, bolder, and better ideas.