Bringing Global Worth to Your Network

My mom and her parents fled Eastern Europe from the Nazis. In those days you needed someone in the United States to sponsor you to be granted a visa. My great aunt had come over earlier to NYC and sponsored them. They got the last boat that made it across the Atlantic and all the Jews were taken off except my mom and grandparents, who were hidden by a ship’s steward that took a liking to them. About 60 members of my family were killed in Auschwitz. I was raised to understand I was alive because of America but my world was global. It was that global network that had saved some of my family.

To me, the purpose of a network is to learn and to solve wicked problems. Scope doesn’t matter. What is important are different experiences, viewpoints, and backgrounds so we can see things differently. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

I was raised to understand I was alive because of America but my world was global.

The broader, deeper and more diverse the network, the better. And that doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes time and intentionality.

Growing up in NJ, my mom took me into the museums in New York City every Tuesday because they were free; she pulled me out of school. We went in at night for concerts, Opera, Ballet, theater. My parents taught me to integrate these worlds. They taught me how to leverage my insatiable curiosity to cross pollinate seemingly disparate concepts, making it seem totally natural to think that learning to play the piano was just like learning to speak French – they are both ‘just’ languages to communicate ideas. In my home, a diverse network of thought was critical to be a well-rounded individual.

As an undergrad at Brown University, I had a terminal in my room hooked up to the computer center so I could do my programming homework and email my High School friends. At Bell Labs, I was a system engineer designing messaging services for the network, which it turns out was one of AT&T and Lucent’s biggest revenue generating patents. When I left AT&T/Bell Labs, it was the network that helped me launch my next calling – a successful strategy & innovation consulting practice and a partnership in a Venture Capital firm. Looking back, I went to Bell Labs because they were doing cool stuff related to my interest in cognitive science with amazing people, like Noble Prize winners, and it didn’t hit me until later that I went to work for a network company!

Leverage insatiable curiosity to cross pollinate seemingly disparate concepts

It’s always been the Network. The broader, the deeper, the more diverse the network, the more impact you can have in the world. My network is a mash up of artists, musicians, business leaders, scientists, innovators and academics. And the more I use it, the broader, deeper and more diverse it becomes. It is a virtuous cycle.

But the network isn’t all about you. It’s about the ‘others’ too. About finding out what others are doing, what their passions, issues, challenges are, what they are interesting in and discovering opportunities and possibilities together. Asking questions and learning in ways that will broaden both of your vision so that we can start dealing with some of the problems facing our world.

Lest I sound too altruistic, I’ll confess to an element of selfishness. Benefits do come back to me – intangibly in terms of joy and pride and tangibly in terms of business and opportunities. I get great joy from sharing my network when the timing is right– from seeing what results from the connections I helped initiate to the pride I feel when others start openly sharing their networks as well.

A big network is worthless if you don’t use it well.

I love seeing my clients’ businesses grow because of connections I made with someone with a new technology, business model or market. I love introducing the entrepreneurs I fund and mentor to others who can help in their supply chain and customer acquisition. I love seeing the college kids I mentor learn and think differently, as well as teach others to learn and think differently, because of connections I was privileged to make. Let’s face it; sharing my network is cool, fun and addictive.

A big network is worthless if you don’t use it well.

My network has always led me to some amazing fabulous people, many of whom are in this room. These people have helped my clients, my entrepreneurs, and me create solutions to challenges of all sizes and shapes.

So, what if you started putting yourself in the path of unusual suspects?

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Image credit- nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo

Deborah Mills-Scofield is a partner at Glengary LLC, an early stage venture capital firm in Cleveland, OH, and an innovation and strategy consultant. Her patent from AT&T Bell Labs was one of the highest-revenue generating patents ever for AT&T & Lucent.

  • r/ally

    That was a perfect example of the benefits of deep and shallow networks. Our ability to act as a boundary spanner between different nodes/cliques in our relationship graph is really want determines our success in life.

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