What is a professional network? I joined LinkedIn several years ago after a seminar by Rick Itzkowich in Dubai, and have, in theory, been growing my professional network ever since. I have well over 400 connections, but I can't say I've 'connected' with them. How can I or should I use this network? Is use even the correct term?

In reflecting on these questions, I remembered something that Mr. Itzkowich said. In a loose paraphrase - you can't get anything from your network until after you start giving to your network. This seems to me to be a cogent philosophical and psychological point. Philosophically, a connection can't exist until the relationship exists. Psychologically, humans are more likely to contribute their resources to people who are in their social group than to people who are not.

The social aspect of a network requires some sort of social connection. This presents a complication which I can best demonstrate with a 'picture' of my network. [Thanks to LinkedIn Labs]

I have a lot of connections to a lot of different groups. The issue this raises is that my network doesn't represent a single social group that I want to gain access to. In fact, it's safe to say that for any two randomly chosen individuals in my network, the only common element they are likely to have is me. Which isn't to say that the people in my network don't have some sort of common element (more than a third of my network has either worked at or studied at the Higher Colleges of Technology, for example), it's just that that common element isn't necessarily a social connection.

Which explains the initial dilemma: How can a network function when the defining social connection is a person?

I don't know the answer to this question - Yet.

But I think the journey to answer this question will be well worth the effort. Not only for me but for others as well.

So where to start? Coming back to the beginning, I think the place to start is with our philosophical/psychological point. You have to give to your network before it will give back to you.

A good guiding principle, but a bit too vague for execution. Let's translate it into two direct courses of action:
  1. Identify each person in my network in terms of our initial connection (i.e. determine why we came to be connected in the first place).
  2. Reach out to every person in my network in order to start defining what our future (functional) connection will become.
I'll provide regular updates of my progress here. Check back again soon to see how it's going!