Network Before You Need It: Networking Saves Lives

How do you think about networking? Do you enjoy it? Or do you see it as a somewhat distasteful but necessary part of professional life? What if I told that cultivating your networking abilities can literally save lives?

I’m a Bostonian, so I’m sharing a story that I think is relevant: The aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings highlights why networking—especially before you need it— is so important.

The survival rate for emergency room admissions was 100%

Tragically, three people died where the bombs were detonated. Hundreds more were rushed to Boston’s hospitals after the bombings. Despite many horrific injuries, there was a 100% survival rate. This wasn’t by chance. After the September 11, 2001 hijackings (also from Boston), the area’s local, state, and federal agencies and hospitals began a new crisis preparedness practice: Networking regularly. These departments and agencies that were previously fiercely independent began meeting monthly to plan and coordinate on crisis strategy—and, for the first time, Boston’s hospital emergency rooms began a daily practice of sharing their counts for available emergency room beds with each other every morning.

For many this new networking practice wasn’t easy at first

Discomfort, awkwardness, competing priorities and practices, egos, and turf battles were part of the new landscape, but incrementally everyone worked through them. Over time these groups got to know each other, built new connections, and learned from each other. They even got to know each other’s families at barbecues and other social events. Incrementally, all these independent people and organizations found new ways to bring value to each other. At that point, they didn’t know when they’d need their network, they just knew that building a network they could tap, coordinate with, trust, and learn from would matter to each of them somehow, someday.

Almost twelve years after 9/11, when the Boston Marathon tragedy struck, these women and men had established connections strong enough to enable their individual and collective ability to function. They could call in a favor, take care of each other, and protect and serve a traumatized public. In the midst of the crisis with smoke still in the air they knew how many emergency room beds there were in each hospital—and they knew how to improvise, because communication was already strong in the network.

Networking will always be an important part of life—and your career growth and development (even if you don’t save lives for a living)

Think of networking as something that’s part of your daily life and work. Make time for it. Connect with others at events, for coffee, by volunteering , through LinkedIn, at Integrating Woman Leaders events and other professional conferences. Seek out professionals from varying generations. We all have times when we need the support of a network—and there are at least as many times when we can share an idea or make the connection that easily helps another achieve goals. Cultivating your ability to learn from, grow and help others, solve problems together, and simply enjoy social time together helps you build bonds and resilience. This makes you individually and collectively stronger.

So what if the whole idea of networking is intimidating or distasteful to you?

On any given day or in varying situations, most people feel this way at one time or another. Approaching networking as a two-way learning experience opens up a world of possibilities for everyone involved. Harvard Business Review’s article Learn to Love Networking by Tiziana Casciaro and Maryam Kouchaki (May 2016) offers four key strategies for success to make it a more enjoyable part of your professional life:

  1. Focus on learning.

  2. Identify common interests.

  3. Think broadly about what you can give.

  4. Find a higher purpose.

Looking at networking as learning and growth has pay-offs in everything from pay to promotions. Your network will make a positive difference in more ways than you can possibly know.

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