When I received the news that I would lose my position due to restructuring, I started out by listing all the people in my immediate network.  I’ve always found that networking – talking to people in your network and letting them know what you are looking for or hope to do – opens doors and creates conversations like nothing else.

So, from a list of approximately 150 people I’ve started to expand the list.  In each conversation I am talking to people about what I want, and asking for introductions to other people that might find my experience interesting or valuable.  I always try to reciprocate, opening doors and making connections for others, but more often right now I’m in a position of asking favors more often than providing them.

What is always so overwhelming in these instances is how open people are to help, to talk, to connect me to others.  In some instances I am talking to people two or three levels removed from my initial contact.  Networking is like playing the Kevin Bacon game, but in smaller cities like Raleigh I often find that many people are no more than two or three degrees of separation away from almost anyone else.

As I talk with old friends and new acquaintances, I’m often struck by how powerful networks are and how willing people are to help.  People who barely know me, who have been introduced by friends or colleagues, open up their networks and introduce me to new people.  It’s a really interesting, positive experience, plus I get to meet a lot of new people and test my thinking and learn from them about their companies and roles.

If there’s one thing to learn from this, one thing to impart it is this:  building and sustaining networks takes time and requires commitment, but networks are exceptionally valuable.  I have to be careful to try to return value to the network even as I ask for help from the network, but more importantly keep the network fresh and constantly add to my network, something that can be difficult to do when I am working on projects or other tasks.  Networks are only as valuable and flexible as the work you put into them, so start early to build a network, keep it fresh by interacting with your network and provide value to your network by being a source of connections or information.