In his book "What the Dog Saw," Malcolm Gladwell titles one especially worthwhile chapter "The New-Boy Network."
According to Gladwell, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a speech to former Microsoft interns, and a young man in the audience posed an astute question. After the talk, Ballmer asked the college senior for his e-mail address. Soon Ballmer and the questioner were engaged in a lively discussion about the young man's "career trajectory."
The things that trigger career-shaping interpersonal contacts are changing. A mind-bending tweet or an imaginative Facebook post can snip through six degrees of separation in a nanosecond. What you used to know about networking might have landed you on the playing field. Today, it may not even click you through the stadium turnstile.
Readers tell me that my book "Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty" is a networking classic. While the tried- and-true principles it describes can still work wonders, I hasten to add: Networking is an ever-changing art.
Here are the nine most important new things I have learned about networking in the last 10 years:
•Don't network all prospects the same way. Tailor your pitch to each group. For Bostonians, for example, humble Roxbury roots sometimes count far more than a fancy Beacon Hill address.
•Create an appealing, inspiring presence for yourself in social media. Make sure it seamlessly supports your professional and business goals. Constantly update it, and pay special attention to the list of colleagues who link to you as peers. Share insights and tips.
•Monitor the networking abilities of subordinates. Networks are so powerful because of how well they expand your reach. Your own network is never enough. Whenever you recruit team members, learn about their networks. Industry and community contacts can open untold doors, and they speak volumes about people's values. Make networking goals as tangible and measurable as you can. Challenge subordinates to link networking to their personal development.
•Emphasize your mastery of teamwork. In today's leaner, faster-moving organizations, executives are increasingly picked for their ability to inspire and integrate teamwork.
•Plan your networking timeline. Look at where you want your business or career to be in five years and the contacts you will need to prosper and excel.
Cultivating future networks is second nature in great politicians. Ronald Reagan's road to the White House in 1980, experts say, was ignited by a speech he gave to support the losing Republican campaign in 1964.
•Be a competitive, sharp-eyed ally. Everyone values competitive insight. Respect business and trade confidentiality, but help others piece together challenges and threats they might neglect. There's always a place in the dugout for someone who can pick off the other team's signs.
•Showcase your developmental prowess. Top executives increasingly want to know what top people have you developed, and where are they today? Make it a point to keep the successful people you helped to groom in your network.
•Collect mentors. Nostalgia and sentimentality may attach you to the same mentor who brought you along in your earlier years. Be respectful, but add new mentors to your list.
•Teach your children to network in a disciplined way. In Connecticut, I spotted an ad for "Generation.Next: Dale Carnegie Training for Teens." Networking is indispensable for summer internships and first jobs. Networking may also be one of the most overlooked family values ... and assets.
Mackay's Moral: Don't overlook the "net" in networking.