The Nature Of Networks And How To Work With Them


Sunday, 5.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich inherit it. I don’t mean just inheritance of money. I mean what people take for granted among the middle and upper classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network. – Toni Morrison

I’ve used a few posts to explore ideas around communities and how you’re positioned in relation to them.

I Want to carry on exploring the nature of networks today to see what kinds of strategies might apply to your own situation and what to do next.

What’s your current level of privilege?

There’s always a distribution – a range of values or circumstances when you look at a situation.

Take privilege, for example.

Let’s think of privilege as something that gets handed to you, something you don’t have to work for.

Something you get right from the start, from the moment you’re born.

I don’t think it’s the same as what you make in your lifetime.

For example, you’ll hear things like, “the richest 250 people in the world have the same amount of money as the poorest 2.5 billion.”

Some of those rich people inherited their money, to be sure, but an increasingly number of them made it.

But money does show you where privilege exists.

For example, when our children were born we went to two training programmes for new parents; one free and one that we paid for.

The free session had a mix of people, single parent families, clear socio-economic differentials, disparities in education.

In other words, you could see that here were families that were struggling now – in terms of money, education and prospects.

The sessions that you had to pay for attracted stable two-parent families, all professionals, in good jobs.

The small additional cost for the second programme showed me, possibly for the first time, just how privileged the children in the second group would be from the day they were born.

They would be born into households filled with books and resources, with parents who believed that you could do things with your life.

By the time that group was ready for school, the second parents would have invested three, four years of effort and resources into those children, giving them an early advantage over many in the first group.

That’s not to say that the first group wouldn’t try their best – it’s simply recognising that they had fewer resources in terms of time, money and capability – and so children born to that group would have to try more, work harder to overcome that differential in privilege.

So, how do you build on the privilege you have – what does this mean for your life and business?

The power of the network

I’m going to look at this through the lens of network maps – the idea that you can represent your relationships using a structure of nodes and links.

I’m not sure I have all the terms right yet, but this is a first draft so we’ll see how things work out.

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you already belong to a particular network because of the position you are in – possibly because of the privilege you have.

For example, if you belong to a particular community, will you get support from that community anywhere else in the world?

That’s the way a lot of merchant communities operate in India – they trust you because you’re a distant relative.

It’s something like being part of a tribe – you are part of the network because you share much in common with the others in the tribe.

If your parents are wealthy and well-connected in the business and social scene where you live – then you’re also in a position where you can tap into their network – the old boys club approach.

In situations like there, what you’re doing is organising your activity in a web of existing connections – they way most people get started.

These networks have their dark sides – the exclude people not like them, it leads to nepotism and control.

But we have to recognise that this is how people have operated for millennia – the social, tribal system is part of our genetic makeup.

You cannot wish away reality.

But the positive aspect of such networks is that they dramatically reduce the time it’s going to take you to get started, by giving you access to people and resources that can help.

Instead of the 20 years I suggest you should plan for if you’re starting from scratch in a new place where you don’t know anyone, you’re looking at three to five years to get started and fit in.

The power of influence

You can build a different kind of network around the idea of influence.

If you’re a prominent figure, a politician, a rich person, a star, then you have a lot of people who connect to you.

That might be something that comes with your job, and you have to learn to live with being the centre of attention.

It seems especially hard for royalty – the poster children for privilege.

Influence is a little more hit and miss – it’s something that perhaps emerges as a consequence of what you do rather than something you create yourself.

Unless you’re born into wealth and status, of course – then it’s something that you use or fritter away.

Attracting people into your orbit

Then there’s a different kind of influence, something I think of as an attractor.

This type of network is something that’s been amplified by the Internet – as it’s created the ability to follow people.

If someone creates content you like then you can start to follow their work, subscribe to stay updated.

You’ve effectively started to orbit around them.

The marketing opportunity

I think it’s worth distinguishing between influencers and attractors, as they’re sometimes talked about in the same breath.

An attractor may become an influencer when they try and make stronger links between themselves and those orbiting around them.

When they try to monetise them.

If you aren’t already tapped into a network that will help you, or you aren’t an influencer that people connected with – then you can still access their power by paying for access.

This is the core element of what a marketer does – directly paying an influencer to promote a business or opportunity, or spend time developing a relationship with a network to tap into their organised influence.

The reason I draw a distinction between attractors and influencers is because with attractors, the people orbiting around them are a side effect of what they do.

With influencers, the people around them are also their product.

And attractors can become influencers over time by creating the links they need to monetise their audience.

And then there’s freedom

We must remember that there are people who don’t bother with the whole network, influence or attraction thing.

They are people who opt out of the mainstream – let’s call them monks.

The essential thing to recognise is that they’re free because they’ve matched their expenses to their income – or perhaps even their expenses to the income from their assets.

If you have enough money to cover your costs without having to work, then you don’t have to answer to anyone, try and influence anyone.

You can get on with your life, doing what you want and ignoring the hubbub outside as people try to get started.

You’ve done it already.

This kind of thinking underpins things like the idea of FIRE – financially independent, retire early.

And the less you need the faster you can get to this point.

Figuring out your network

If you’re reading this material then the chances are that you’re trying to get ahead in life – and a big part of that is figuring out what kind of network you need.

If you can tap into an existing one that will make life easy.

If not, you can try building a network, by going down the influencer route or the attractor route.

In the first case you get yourself into a position where you can become well known.

In the second case you make stuff you like and see if the world agrees with you.

Lastly, you can just choose to want and need less – and you’ll probably get to that point much faster – maybe you’re there already.

Once you’ve got some level of clarity on what you need to do in terms of your network – it’s time to think about how to do it.

And that comes down to thinking about the kinds of resources you have.

We’ll tackle that next.


Karthik Suresh

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