Editor's note: Networking is not a mystery. Most importantly, understanding how it works makes finding a job much easier. Networking expert Dick van Vlooten shares with us insights and anecdotes around the seven fundamental laws of networking.

Wednesday afternoon, a warm, pleasant day in spring. We are sitting in the garden having a beer and discussing college, our grades, the world ... and anything in between. There are seven of us, students sharing a house. Everyone is getting a round of beers in turn--except Roel. When it's his turn, he goes to his room.

He always did that! He always ducked! I hated that. I really, really hated that.

So the next time we were sitting in the garden, I skipped Roel. I got six beers instead of seven. Harsh? Painful?! Maybe, but it only needed to happen once. Roel got the message and never ducked his round again.

And I too learned a lesson. Human interaction is about balance. About giving and getting. And giving first! Not giving equals not drinking!

I lost track of Roel long ago. But I still see some of my fellow students today, some 20 years later. We form a small network. Although working in completely differently situations, we share something: memories of our college days. The bonds that we made then still exist. Occasionally we have another beer. Now and then we inform each other, about a Web site, an article, an opportunity for one of us. Hey, after not seeing Jan for 15 years I helped him land a job. Later, he helped me in my study of the laws of human networks.

Five Interaction Modes

There are five modes of human interaction:

  • To steal

  • To beg

  • To deal

  • To like

  • To love

  • Obviously Roel was begging.

    Balance can only exist at the levels of Deal, Like, and Love. Therefore lasting connections, repeated interactions over time, sustainable networks, can only occur when based on deals, liking each other, or loving each other.

    It's as easy as that! In the end, all the fuss about networking boils down to dealing, liking, or loving. Of course, now you are asking: That's all very nice, but how on earth is liking or loving going to help me find my job? How indeed?

    We'll get to that later, but the good news is that even if you think you are a supernerd, you can do it. Networking is not a mystery. There are laws of networking. Laws that govern the way networking works, laws that apply irrespective of the people involved.

    Here are the seven most important laws to remember when networking:

  • The law of the small world

  • The law of the first mover advantage

  • The law of the fit getting rich

  • The law of the strength of weak ties

  • The law of the risk of referencing

  • The law of the crisp question

  • The law of the paradox of profit

  • 1. The law of the small world

    There are only six degrees of separation between you and anybody else. That means that within six steps you can connect to anyone else on this planet. If you don't believe me, check the studies that have done this in the field (look for keywords such as "scale-free network" and "small world,"1 or read Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's book2).

    The reason: Networks consist of clusters,3 connectors, and hubs.

    We still are talking about people here. If you look at Figure 1, you will see what I mean.


    Figure 1. Clusters, Connectors, and Hubs

    Our group of students is a cluster. We share a common interest. We are connected and interacting.

    Jan is our connector. He was the one that we all connected to. He often, though not always, took the initiative for the fun stuff that we did, including beers. If you were to count the number of connections that any given person has with the others, Jan would have the most.

    Still he was not a hub. A hub is a superconnector. Hubs are people with an extraordinary number of connections. Hubs are people that really like people. And know many, many people.

    So how does the small world affect you? The answer is simple: You are who you know.

    Answer this: What "clusters" are you in? What clusters do you want to be in? Which of your friends or acquaintances is a connector? Who is the hub, or knows the hub? The professor's secretary could be a connector. The long-standing chairman of the alumni association could be the hub, the gateway to clusters that you want to break into.

    Ah, if only you could. But you can! Remembering the five modes of human interaction I mentioned before, you can leverage. ...

    2. The law of the first mover advantage

    Start building your network early. As soon as you can.

    Why? Networks show preferences. That is, network nodes are not equal. Network nodes with a lot of contacts tend to get more. Hey, it is this simple. If you have one friend and I have 10 friends, then I get 10 invitations for 10 birthday parties against that pitiful one invitation that you are going to get. So guess what happens to the number of friends that you will have and that I will have after 1 year. Even if all else is equal, I will outnumber you. That is the first mover advantage.

    For you to benefit from the first mover advantage, all you have to do is travel back in time and make lots of friends, and nurture your relationships with them. And if you happen to temporarily have misplaced your time machine, consider this. Networks are dynamic. They grow and change over time. So your network is built up over time. It already has been building up from the early days of kindergarten.


    Figure 2. Past (Red), Present (Black), and Future (Teal) Diamonds

    In networking, time is not a straight line. You can imagine time as a series of encapsulated diamonds: the Past being in the middle, just growing and growing. The Present is a kind of shell through which the Future transforms into your past (see Figure 2).

    In layman's terms, start now and keep moving. Just do it. It simply takes time. Starting now is better then starting tomorrow. So pick up your old address book and start sending those Christmas cards. (Remember the five modes of human interaction!)

    Read in our next installment more about the fit getting rich, the strength of weak ties in your network, the risk of referencing, benefits of crisp questions, and the paradox of profit.

    Dick van Vlooten is founder and owner of di Cuore, an institute that studies the art of doing business from the heart. Networking is one of his major fields of interest. Dick has trained businesspeople, students, and entrepreneurs in the art of networking, published articles, and given lectures. You can contact him via the Web site: www.diCuore.nl

    REFERENCES

  • E. Garfield, "It's a small world after all," Current comments 43, 299-304 (1979)

  • Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: the new science of Networks (Plume, 2002, 2003)

  • Wayne Baker, Achieving succes through social capital (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, 2001)