“It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
I believe I first heard that expression when my fifth grade social studies teacher cynically made an observation about a neophyte state politician seeking national office. While I disagree with the part about discounting one’s knowledge, there is certainly truth in the notion that your network of peers and colleagues are critical to succeeding in your career.
Recently released, Jane McConnell’s annual report “The Organization in the Digital Age” looks critically at how people, organizations and technology intersect in the workplace, as well as how decision making specifically occurs within organizations. The report contains 10 key takeaways, which range from the correlation between strong digital workplaces and customer satisfaction to how the top driver of change is the “sense of why” (i.e. the power of why). One of the takeaways that resonated with me in particular is how meeting with the people “who know” often trumps merely obtaining the information we need. In essence, people who are bombarded with a variety of information sources and data are relying more on a network of human relationships, as opposed to seeking out the source of the information. When considering this takeaway in an organizational context, it’s more effective to encourage (as some organizations already do) information and knowledge flow across organizations instead of a top-down, single-source approach.
With regard to a learning lens, some might be familiar with the 70-20-10 framework, developed through research done at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in the 80’s. The model looks at development through three types of activity: 70 percent experiential learning (job and practice), 20 percent social learning (learning with/though others) and 10 percent formal learning (structured programs/courses). This framework complements the idea of finding people “who know” within our networks so that we can learn something new or how to do something better. I know I’ve been in that situation countless times, where in order to find something I reach out to those within my network or down the hall. Furthermore, when we’ve surveyed SWE’s membership on professional development in the past, we usually see people not only valuing many of our learning programs, but also highly ranking community relationships as sources of new learning.
It’s clear we value the power of these networks, but we often lack the impetus to strengthen our connections or reach out to newcomers. So, take this as an opportunity to do just that. Get out there and speak with your peers, strengthen those connections and take advantage of one of the most underutilized resources in your professional skillset.
Peter Finn is SWE’s deputy executive director and CLO