Idea Networking: How Disruptive Innovators Mingle

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Innovator’s DNA" by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s idea networking? How is it different from traditional professional networking?

Disruptive innovators don’t just network; they network for ideas. Idea networking is one of the five Discovery Skills that the authors discuss in The Innovator’s DNA. They explain what it is, and they outline three ways you can cultivate this effective practice.

Keep reading to learn how to mingle like the world’s best innovators.

Idea Networking

The authors introduce the concept of networking for ideas, which means interacting with people you have little in common with as a way to generate and test new ideas. Idea networking is how innovators widen their perspectives, form links between concepts, learn new things about the world, and gain feedback from experts and non-experts about their new ideas. The authors assert that mingling and talking with people from radically different backgrounds, industries, and life experiences increases your ability to think associatively and creatively by expanding your worldview and creating more opportunities for you to network for ideas. 

(Shortform note: As you network for ideas, you may interact with business leaders from different cultures. To successfully communicate and collaborate with them, it’s wise to develop your multicultural awareness and competency, which Erin Meyer outlines in The Culture Map. To boost your cross-cultural communication skills, she recommends asking open-ended questions to gain clarity, summarizing what was said at the end of a conversation to ensure you’re on the same page, and paying attention to nonverbal cues.)

Techniques for Building Your Idea Network

Diversify your contacts. Take stock of the circles of people you most frequently find yourself and assess how diverse your list is. Do you have regular contact with people much older or younger than you? How about people from different parts of the world or different political leanings? If your list includes mostly people very similar to you, try to expand and diversify who you network with.

(Shortform note: People’s social circles tend to be composed of those similar to themselves in upbringing, culture, socioeconomic status, race, and gender—a social phenomenon that researchers call homophily. People tend to feel more comfortable with those with similar values, interests, and experiences, and it can seem easier to build trust and rapport with similar people. As you build your networking skills, keep in mind that homophily can be overcome when you understand the value of diversity and work to expand your network to include people from all backgrounds and life experiences.)

Follow your curiosity. Idea networking can happen organically if you regularly engage in an activity that sparks your interest and curiosity. The authors’ research showed that, in about half the cases where innovators had new ideas, they stumbled upon them while pursuing their interests (outside of the business context) and connecting to people they didn’t normally rub elbows with. 

Make plans to network. It’s essential to intentionally network to find and discuss new ideas with people. You can pinpoint good people to network with by learning who has experience with elements of your idea or the problem you wish to solve. Consider tapping outside experts, attending gatherings that freely exchange ideas from various fields, or even creating networking opportunities within your company.

How to Get Started With Networking (Especially if You Think You Don’t Need To)

Some business professionals may have difficulty committing to networking because they believe they can succeed without anyone else’s input or help. The following steps can help you put yourself out there and become an effective networker for ideas:

Reframe networking. Many professionals who prefer working alone may view networking as unscrupulous, but this is a stereotype of networking. Reframe networking as a way to indulge your curiosity and discover and validate new ideas.

Pinpoint who you respect and create a “wishlist” of people you’d like to connect with.

Figure out your ideal networking environment. There are various ways to network, like by hosting networking dinners, inviting colleagues to coffee, or interviewing people for your blog or podcast. Form your networking plans around the environments and activities that you’re the most drawn to.
Idea Networking: How Disruptive Innovators Mingle

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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