LinkedIn billionaire and education policy enthusiast Reid Hoffman has an intriguing theory for a new type of digital literacy: “network literacy.”
Like search and data literacy, Hoffman shares on his site that network literacy involves the skills to sift through information overload. Hoffman’s theory is uniquely compelling, however, because it’s as much about people finding you and your skills, as it is about you finding information.
“Once you start thinking in terms of how the people you want to be found by might in fact find you — and tailoring your profile to maximize such potential discoveries — you have begun to think in a network-literate way,” he writes.
Here are three lessons from Hoffman’s theory which can help you get ahead in your career:
Identity as tags
Highlighting your various skills, rather than coming up with a meaningless title (like “chief ninja of innovation”), improves your chances of being discovered by the right people.
In the case of my own LinkedIn profile, for example, my headline isn’t ‘Executive Chairman of LinkedIn.’ It’s ‘Entrepreneur. Product Strategist. Investor.’ That’s because my LinkedIn profile is targeted primarily to entrepreneurs who might want financing from me.
Trust v. approval
Back in the days of Ford’s factory, children were educated to obey the rules because they’d eventually have a single, all-powerful boss. They needed to suck up to that boss and get approval for everything, because when they wanted a new job, it was his recommendation that was key.
Now work is different. Organizations, especially in tech, are more likely to be team-based. “Based on longitudinal surveys, less than 20 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies had team-based structures in 1980 compared with 50 percent in 1990 and 80 percent in 2000,” Texas A&M University Professor Stephen Courtwright wrote to me.
Now, it’s more important for children to be taught how to gain the trust of teams, rather than the adoring approval of their manager.
Access and introductions
Job hunting has changed, too, says Hoffman: “In the Networked Age, your professional identity expands well beyond your job title and the company you work for. You’re not just ‘you’ anymore. You’re also who you know, how they know you, what they know about you, who they know, and so on.”
Businesses don’t just want someone with skills, they want someone with access to more networks and knowledge.
It’s Hoffman’s last bit of analysis on building “alliances” that hits most close to home for me. Nearly every single job I’ve gotten since college began with an email introduction.
I helped people who were far more successful than I was by helping them meet other successful people. When I first started out as a journalist, I spent a few hours a week just introducing people over email. To this day, many of my best stories and opportunities come from residual appreciation from email introductions.
I was lucky that early on in my career someone showed me how to introduce people properly. (For a good book on building relationships, I recommend Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi).
Navigating networks isn’t easy to do and it’s certainly not intuitive. It’s a learned skill — a skill that hopefully our schools will adopt in the long-run.