Networking matchup: Marco Polo v. water cooler

Odd line-up? Both have historical roots to help us today with one of the trickiest of skills. Enter "The Economics of Networking" match with world explorer Marco Polo in one corner and your office Water Cooler in the other. Winning strategy? Meeting the right people at the right time who can help you advance your career.

Which strategy works best?

Economics of networking

Today's job search demands highly strong relationship-building skills. Talking to people, making connections and creating lasting impressions will increase your circle of influence.

It's often said that 80% of the jobs in the U.S. aren't secured through online applications but instead by people connecting with whom they know and trust.

Racing to hit the connect button to 20 people a day on LinkedIn? Networking isn't a one-time occurrence. There's a give and take, a back-and-forth with a mutually beneficial exchange of information that needs to occur over a period of time. Trust, common interest, and genuine altruism form the basis of intent.

Sharing an article, conversing about a topic over coffee, inquiring about an organization, supporting a cause all offer venues for networking interactions.

Done well, it leads to increased confidence, credibility, and social skills.

Fulfill a need

Effort alone doesn't land you a job.

The economics of networking implies a need has to exist within an organization. Your effort turns to success when your timing, your skills, your passions all align with what an organization or team needs when. Your job is to figure out where the company is growing, changing, and developing.

It's about opportunity.

So which contender will you choose?

Marco Polo strengths

A simple merchant in the 13th century, Marco Polo and his book The Travels of Marco Polo inspired and influenced major European explorers like Magellan and Columbus to trigger the impossible—multiple continent and cross-ocean journeys.

In today's world, Marco Polo is a symbol for the person who floats from networking event to event, from dinners to socials. Someone who joins clubs and volunteers their time for the sheer chance of meeting people and contributing. The person who is fearless about picking up and starting new, starting over. But despite the movement and involvement in so many people and places, Marco Polo had a mission. A focus. Being targeted led him to continually develop his journey.

Marco Polo learnings

  1. Be driven to find the intersection of needs and wants

  2. Seek locations where people trade ideas & goods

  3. Go with the flow on cultural adaptability and change

  4. Be determined to exchange information and knowledge

  5. Live out a vision by achieving more and more

  6. Move around and simply try new places and things

Water cooler strengths

The water cooler had a surprisingly older legacy than Marco Polo with its roots starting in Ancient Greece, Crete and India. However, it wasn't until 1859 in London when the first fountain was designed for drinking on the go.

Then in 1906, Halsey Willard Taylor and Luther Haws invented the first water fountain in the U.S. to bring water to locations without the risk of typhoid fever given the history the 19th century fountains had with metal cups on chains (designed for sharing drinks from person to person).

Today, the office kitchen is the most common spot in the office environment for chatting, connecting and learning what's happening in teams or the company.

However, in a global society filled with multiple offices and more than 13.4 million U.S. employees working at home, the water cooler is a symbol—a reminder that people need time and space to connect with each other physically.

Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites help with cross-office communication and quick updates. You can feel connected when you need to.

But the water color creates the environment for just-in-time communication, emotion and support. There's a spontaneity here unsurpassed by social media.

Even in single location offices, any artificial partitions like cubes, floors and walls can create divides in people. Social spaces that contain food or drink, like the water cooler space, eliminates borders—physical, mental and emotional. Perhaps in your world of virtual offices, it's a coffee shop or a restaurant—any stable place people gather for spontaneous news.

Water cooler learnings

  1. An environment for direct human interaction and conversation

  2. The opportunity for visibility and accessibility to information

  3. Consistent patterns of behavior for communication

  4. Moments to laugh, to relax, and to let our guards down

  5. Healthy, productive, happy and hydrated people

  6. Space to meet newcomers and get to know people better

Who wins?

You do. Just choose to play the economics of networking game throughout your career, not just when you want a job. Discover which approach works for you. Remember a need must exist within an organization and through networking strategies of continually interacting with people and building relationships, you can uncover the opportunity that may be a good fit for you. And don't forget to return the favor with people you meet.

Choose to interact vs. apply online to job vacancies. Socialize with people.

Economics is one of the most powerful keys to understanding decision-making in organizations—when their is scarcity of resources, what do people do?

Explore, venture into the unknown, move from event-to-event, or talk to folks in many markets. Or stay in one spot but strive to find consistently strong sources of people interactions (perhaps by repeatedly attending the same association events or restaurants or even your office kitchen).

You'll advance your chances for learning something new, getting to know people better and focusing your energy on productive career-oriented discussions by building strong ties.

How to fulfill the need to uncover opportunity

  1. Attend professional associations or volunteer in your industry

  2. Practice a succinct intro—who you are and why you're here

  3. Trade your time spent on social media sites with in-person events

  4. If you're shy, attend networking events with a friend

  5. Research companies you're interested in and track details on them

  6. Use LinkedIn to reach out to people doing jobs matching what you seek

  7. Read industry trends and inquire about shifts in organizations

  8. Return the favor—keep a mutually beneficial on-going dialog over time

  9. Track your interactions and dates—commit to re-connecting in 3 weeks

  10. Ask, "Is there anyone else you recommend I speak with?"

Coaching tips

  • Be memorable and refer back to your conversation in future interactions

  • Send articles, tidbits of info or helpful links...keep it mutually beneficial by "giving"

  • Make the exchange about them, not about pushing yourself.

  • Be friendly and approachable.

  • Learning whether the company has a need for someone like you is critical to where you spend your time.

  • Remember to always say "Thank you for your time"

Are you ready to play?
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