The importance of personal networks

In today’s society the concept of a network isn’t foreign to us. Many of us use social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram to communicate with people about our life, what we’re doing, friends, family, pets and hobbies. There’s many articles written about the pros and cons of these networks, but they give us a way of connecting to each other and often to people we may not connect to otherwise. Take LinkedIn for example – how many of us have made professional connections through this platform that we would never have otherwise? At a lunchtime professional development event I went to some time ago, I was reminded of the importance of our personal networks. In particular, I was reminded that these networks will often hold the knowledge you need.

You may view a personal network as being made up of people you interact with outside of the workplace. This might be a somewhat narrow view as you could consider your personal network to include any means or avenue of interaction. Let’s think of it this way…you’ve encountered a challenge at work. You need to determine the most effective way to deal with the challenge. You understand what the end result needs to be, you’re just not sure how to go about getting there. 

Where do you go to for help?

I was faced with something along these lines a few months ago – I had a problem; didn’t have any experience to draw on; needed to find a simple solution; felt a little overwhelmed and confused; was unsure what to do. I knew I didn’t have the answers, so, rather than delay I headed straight to my networks for the answers.

  • I asked people I knew.
  • I did some research online.
  • I posted to online communities and asked for assistance.

Your network of people

Over time we subconsciously build our personal network, taking note of people we interact with who stimulate our interests and learning. Over the years I’ve built my personal network through conversations with friends, colleagues, acquaintances and other professionals I have met along the way. I will even admit to poaching a couple when I’ve been introduced to individuals from other people’s networks. One person I poached, probably now knows me better professionally than I know myself at times. I often seek their counsel on learning solutions, but what I have treasured most is their willingness to stimulate my interest in learning and how this challenges me to extend myself – personally and professionally. They are always there when I have a problem to solve, or a question to answer. Often our discussions invigorate our energy just through our sharing and shaping of ideas. You’ll hear us often use the expression “and then what you could do is…..”

Take a look at your personal network. Who is in it? What knowledge do they have? How can they help you? What are their experiences? Have you expanded your network recently?

Online

In today’s day and age, it’s not uncommon to turn to a search engine, type in words to describe your problem and hit search. The blogs, posts, podcasts, YouTube videos and articles you can find online can be helpful, but we may spend unnecessary time hunting for sources of information that will best answer our questions and us find our solutions.

Websites and blogs (just like Sense of Learning) can be helpful, but may provide merely opinion and experience only. Our interaction with them is likely one-way. We consume the information, use what we need and then move on. It’s a reason why Sense of Learning evolved. It’s intended to be an online source for information, helpful suggestions, knowledge and experience – but also to stimulate conversation, problem solving, sharing and a community.

Would we be better to use other networks first? How can we use these networks in a more meaningful way?

Online communities

I’ve mentioned Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Each of these have communities you’re able to join. These communities or groups will share common interests and are extremely useful for generating ideas and solutions.

For the problem I alluded to above,  I used a community on LinkedIn to seek information on a work related problem. I knew there would be people in the community with the type of knowledge and experience I was needing. People who would understand my dilemma without me having to explain every intricate detail.

These networks offer a variety of responses – from those who will give opinion, to those who genuinely want to help you and see you succeed. I was amazed by how many people were willing to provide their advice and extended a genuine offer to assist. People even emailed through examples of what they’d done themselves. I found this invaluable and was overwhelmed by their generosity in sharing knowledge.

How do you use online communities? Do you contribute or just consume?

Thinking globally

We live in a global world, so why not expand your networks. Online platforms can help everyone to build global personal networks. I’ll share with you my own personal journey with this.

In mid 2016 I was sitting in a waiting room watching a woman crochet as she herself waited. I was spellbound by just how fast she crocheted and how quickly she got through her ball of yarn. I had no idea what she was doing or what she was making, but I was in awe of the speed her fingers moved. I became inspired. I’d been unsuccessful at learning how to knit as a child and I’d never before been interested in crochet. I stereotyped crochet as an activity for older ladies, not someone my age.

I decided it couldn’t be too hard to figure out. Off to the shops I went to purchase a ball of yarn and set of crochet hooks. Then to Google, YouTube and any other source of information to assist my learning. It was trial and error for what worked for me – written instruction, pictorial guide or video. To use a crochet term, I “frogged” many of my early attempts and started over and over. Eventually, it clicked and I understood how to do basic crochet stitches. Cue projects and a (slight) addiction to the stashing of yarn, just in case I might need it!

It’s about twelve months on and multiple projects finished. I’ve joined national online communities on Facebook where people are more than willing to help each other learn, challenge themselves and coach. They are places for feedback and troubleshooting on projects. I take inspiration from others who share their projects or ask for suggestions on what to make (the question is often posted “What can I do with this?”). I follow international crochet bloggers who provide video tutorials and online help. I’ve been to face-to-face classes (and dragged friends along in the process!), read patterns and tried teaching others.

Why do I share this little journey? I share to encourage you to think about how your network can be expanded beyond your local environment. Building your network to be national and global is possible and easy. When you next want to learn a new skill, expand your knowledge or have a question to ask, think about who in my network can I start a conversation with.

Tips for using your networks

I recently read a post on informED by Open Colleges  and although it was published in 2013, it does provide a reminder of how we can create our personal networks and tips for using them. Although written in a teaching/education context and referring to a professional learning network, many of the tips apply to how we could further build our personal networks.

The first tip of keep the spirit of collaboration as your driving force resonates with me as we must consider how we ourselves contribute to other people’s networks.


Are you reciprocal with the people in your network?


This is a good question ask yourself from time-to-time to ensure you don’t just take and you’re giving the benefit of your knowledge and experience to others. Whilst they’re OUR personal networks, we must be considerate of what we can exchange in return.

How do you use your personal networks? 

 

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