Reid Hoffman Tells TED Attendees to Know and Grow Their Network

Posted by · March 1, 2012 5:00 am

In the fall of 2002, Reid Hoffman recognized a revolution.  He saw the transition being made from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Ultimately, that foresight led to him found LinkedIn and invest in sites like Flickr, Facebook and Zynga.

Reid Hoffman3“The information age (Web 1.0) was all about content. The networking age (Web 2.0) is about relationships and how those relationships are the conduit for interpreting the content you consume,” Hoffman said during his talk yesterday at the TED conference.  “In the networking age, people can and should be the entrepreneurs of their own life.”

And that is exactly what Hoffman encourages people to do in his new book The Startup of You. According to Hoffman, the job market doesn’t operate the way it used to. In today’s economy, people should look at their network of personal and professional contacts as a company and try advance their career through building their network.

The Lie We’re Spreading

I hate to break it to you, college students, but there’s a good chance that one of the adults you love and trust has lied to you.  If you’ve ever discussed your career with someone over 40, they’ve probably told you that it will go something like this: graduate from college, start working at a large company and move from role to role in an upward trajectory until you retire.  Hoffman calls this the escalator career model; and he says it’s irrelevant in today’s networked world:

“We teach young people to think that you get an entry level job at the bottom of the escalator with a company like GE. Then you are whisked up the escalator, frequently at same company; and on your way up you clear room for other new grads to come and move up the escalator,” Hoffman says. “The problem is that a networked world is a globablly competitve world and those who understand networks both online and off will have an advantage in the job market.”

Network Literacy

Unfortunately, there’s not a college course you can take to become proficient at networking (at least there wasn’t when I was in school). So, Hoffman, who I think we can safely call a professional networker, shared his four tips for network literacy during his TEDTalk.

Tip #1- Understand new technology
Technology doesn’t make us social, but it does augment our ability to connect with new people.  Hoffman said that while his immediate LinkedIn network consists of 2600 people, he is connected to over 15 million people through third degree connections.  (In case you were wondering, that’s more than the entire population of Greece and Portugal.)

Tip #2- Know your network identity
“In a networked age, identity is not so simply determined. Your identity is actually multivariate, distributed and partly out of your control. Who you know shapes who you are,” says Hoffman. The actions you perform and the content you distribute on social networking sites and other online communities not only influences people’s opinion of you but also shapes who you are as a person. Make sure you’re creating the identity you desire.

Tip #3- Have network intelligence
These days, it’s not as much about finding information in the first place as it is about finding the right information.  Knowing who in your network can tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it is key to career success. Hoffman said he never makes a hiring decision without first consulting people in his network who might know the potential employee. “I ask people to rate someone on a scale of 1-10. A seven or below is bad. An eight or nine means I’ll probably hire them and a 10 means the person I asked probably isn’t telling the truth,” Hoffman says.

Tip #4- Recognizing network capabilities
Rather than searching for start-ups to invest in, Hoffman says he relies on his personal and professional contacts to send him companies he might want to hear a pitch from. “I don’t form a thesis and then go look for entrepreneurs who fit that thesis,” says Hoffman. “I position myself in a network and surround myself with people who bring me interesting people and companies.”

Whether you’re about to graduate from college, currently unemployed or looking to climb the corporate ladder, Hoffman’s advice is something I’ve found to be true in my own career. I’ve never interviewed for a job, much less been hired by a company where someone did not first put in a good word for me. Whether you have five LinkedIn connections or five hundred, there’s always room for more. So build your network then put your network to work for you.