Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

How a diverse network pays off

One of the effective ways I have discovered to build a diverse network is by being part of recreation, sports and hobby groups

There is no guidebook on how to go about networking—though management gurus will have you believe they can tell you how. While networking within one’s profession is normal, what’s important is to widen one’s network to people beyond our own or allied fields.

When I started out on my entrepreneurial journey, I didn’t have a diverse network and faced significant challenges. I couldn’t get information or work done quickly as I didn’t know enough people across domains. It took me 10 years to realize that I needed to start building a diverse network that would hold me in good stead when I needed something.

A diverse network doesn’t necessarily mean high quantum network. It’s not about who you know but how you know them. When we are in college, for instance, we don’t know many people outside of our class and hostel. Volunteering or being a member of non-profit organisations that work in varied areas is a great way to know people from multiple domains. It will eventually have a snowball effect, as people introduce people.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Later, in our careers, becoming part of organisations and groups is a good idea as it gives us the opportunity to develop relationships over time. A lot of people talk about attending events for networking. The problem with that—as compared to joining a group—is that it’s a one-off where we may not meet those people again. When you’re part of a group that meets regularly, the bonds you form are far stronger.

One of the effective ways I have discovered to build a diverse network is by being part of recreation, sports and hobby groups. You meet people who have similar interests but are from diverse industries.

For instance, I am a foodie, so I joined a group that enjoys trying out different restaurants. There are around 25 people in the group, and once a month we meet and try a new place. This group includes an actor, an IAS officer couple, advertising industry folks, and a Korean couple living in India—people I’m unlikely to have met otherwise. And since we bonded over food, we’re friends as well as a support group.

What a lot of people end up doing is that they join a group that is aligned to their profession, which is great, but you should join other groups too. Meeting people from different professions and worlds widens your perspective and gives you new insights and ideas.

I recall when we were fundraising in different parts of the country, it was useful to know people in those cities, and when I reached out to them, they were happy to help. Most of these were people I hadn’t met through work. For instance, when I was in Kolkata to meet potential investors, someone I’d met playing rugby helped open up a lot of doors.

COMMON CHALLENGES

What holds most of us back is the fear of leaving our comfort zone. We don’t grow because we are afraid of embracing the new. Taking on something new requires emotional stress. I have had friends who turned down promotions thinking they would not be able to handle additional responsibilities that come with the role. And it’s the same when it comes to networks, where people think they won’t be able to connect or relate to people who don’t share the same background or career.

Being aware that one needs a diverse network is half the battle won. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, there is a concept called “satori", which means, “knowing where I have to go".

When we know where you need to go it’s easier to get there. Of course, there is always a risk of sliding back into one’s comfort zone. So be careful, even if you intend to have a diverse network, you may end up with groups that are all pretty similar.

I know a number of people who have done well in their careers, but they haven’t created a diverse network, and this has held them back. Success can, therefore, open doors for us to meet people from various walks of life, but nothing happens without nurturing and consciously working on our diverse networks.

The other consideration is before committing to paid groups, which charge high fees. So it’s advisable to check who the members are and maybe spend time with them to understand if those are the kind of people you are going to enjoy being with.

Lastly, beware of group fatigue, where you end up joining too many and stretch yourself thin. Choose wisely, as we all have limited time.

As told to Rashmi Menon

Rehan Yar Khan is managing partner at Orios Venture Partners and co-author of Make Your Own Luck.


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