Over afternoon Coffee several months ago, my friend Munro asked, “In networking, how much is enough?” He recalled to me a scene from the 2010 movie, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” in which Jacob Moore (played by Shia LaBeouf) questions Bretton James (played by Josh Brolin):
Jacob Moore: I find that everybody has a number and it’s usually an exact number, so what is yours?
Bretton James: More.
Munro wondered, is “more” the answer?
The answer may be “more,” but not at the expense of meaning. Just like friends and books and information and experiences, we can never have enough. Our worlds expand to receive new connections into our lives.
To answer Munro’s original question, “…how much is enough?” I go back to a guiding principle of networking that I preach again and again: Quality, not quantity, is what matters most. We must each assess our own capacity, our own needs, our own ability to manage relationships in a way that is meaningful and enduring.
Of course, a natural reaction to the concept of “more” is that one’s volume of contacts may become too large to manage. In their book, The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself and Transform Your Career, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, cover the topic of how many relationships can one reasonably have? They say,
“Just as a digital camera cannot store an infinite number of photos and videos, you cannot maintain an infinite number of relationships. Which is why, even if you are judicious about your choices, at some point you hit a limit, and any new relationship means sacrificing an old one.”
They cite evolutionary psychologist, Robin Dunbar, and his research on the maximum number of connections we can make. This number, 150, came to be known as Dunbar’s Number. It’s hard for me to stand up – number to number – against Dunbar’s research, but, in my own experience, this is simply not the case.
Having been networking quite intentionally for the last five years or so, I have had the privilege of connecting with thousands of people. No, I don’t keep up with every one of them every single day… not even every single year. And, no, not every interaction was the most meaningful I’ve ever experienced. But, hey, a lot of them have been extremely meaningful. And when we interact again, I am genuinely happy to see and visit with them. It seems they feel the same about their interactions with me. Developing meaningful relationships is something that is done over time and requires nurturing.
As such, though I respect the research and the notion that we may only have enough “brain power” to store a discrete number of meaningful connections in our internal database, I reject the idea of this relationship ceiling. We each have the ability to expand our relationship base to suit our lifestyles, aspirations and goals. In fact, I believe we may store an infinite number of meaningful connections in our database. The intensity of our interaction with each connection is based on our – and their – need for the relationship at the time. We activate our individual relationships at the times that they make sense. If the original interaction was sincere, if it was authentic , if it was truly meaningful, then it will be again. So, get out there and strike up some meaningful connections and tend to those you already possess. We will explore the idea of relationship activation in tomorrow’s post.