I watched Jon Stewart interview Willliam Kamkwamba on the Daily Show a few years back, and I happened to watch it again recently:
If you have a chance, I highly recommend reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; it’s a fascinating and inspiring read. But what struck me in the interview is what William says about Google, “…I said what kind of animal is this Google? Where was this Google all this time???” It’s impressive that this kid, who has almost no access to information or tools, created a windmill from scavenged resources. Can you imagine what someone with his ingenuity and drive could have done with access to the internet?
If I was going to build a windmill, the know-how is just a click away (there were 13.4 million hits for the search “windmill blueprint”). But Google isn’t giving me the knowledge, it’s just providing me access to a network – in the case, millions of websites – where I can find the answers. The network is really where the answers are.
For most of us, our daily challenges are not forays into the realms of unknown knowledge. Somebody, somewhere has probably faced a similar problem and documented their solution. For example, I was looking for new webinar software the other day. Finding the best solution was as simple as typing “webinar software reviews” into the search box and seeing how other people had fared with different products.
It works the same way with our interpersonal networks. Besides the social value of networking, by building relationships with others, we are giving ourselves access to people who have ideas about the scenarios we face every day. Have a problem with a co-worker? One of your peers can give you feedback about what they did in a similar situation. Looking to rise in your organization? Maybe a mentor can give you ideas on how to create connections with the right people.
That’s why I’m a big fan of social media – it helps build relationships. For example, LinkedIn isn’t about the technology, it’s not about the actual website, it’s a platform to facilitate engagement. It’s about finding ways to connect with each other … and therefore to connect with resources. We’re all going through our days solving problems, big and small. The solutions to those problems are rarely in our immediate vicinity, but they are in our sphere of influence.
And here’s the stark reality – your ability to find solutions is directly linked to your value in a knowledge-based economy (which we most certainly are in). So the larger and more robust your network is, the more access you have to the resources you need to succeed. Because to take it one step further – the value you bring by finding those solutions is directly linked to your paycheck.
So maybe it’s worth saying yes to the colleague who just sent you a LinkedIn invite…