Indulging several of my worst habits simultaneously, I’m going to mangle and extend a folksy aphorism about networking. With history! As the saying goes, “no man is an island”; and LinkedIn has become a multibillion dollar company by combining individual professional social ties into the largest network of its kind.
The size of the site’s userbase and the number of interconnections that users have logged makes LinkedIn’s information exponentially more valuable due to Metcalfe’s Law of network effects. (Originally describing Ethernet and fax, this law really came into its own in Web 2.0). Using LinkedIn is often about as exciting as a fax machine, so it’s a surprisingly good comparison. Just like that technology, which is more useful when you have a Rolodex full of fax numbers, having many other connected users to communicate with makes the LinkedIn network worth billions.
So, no man is an island – I’d say we’re more like European microstates. And making our networks more densely connected is going to make us into little Liechtensteins – Linkedinsteins? (Don’t hate me.)
Liechtenstein is one of the world’s tiniest countries, and frankly doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of resources. It’s only 35,000 people, sixty-two square miles, totally landlocked in the middle of the Alps. But tiny Liechtenstein has the highest GDP per capita of any country in the entire world, and its prince is worth $5B. It’s got the world’s lowest national debt, and only about 1.5% unemployment. Well, wait, that’s not so bad.
What’s the secret here? Certainly not industry – Wikipedia tells us Liechtenstein is “the world’s largest producer of sausage casings, potassium storage units and false teeth.” It’s networking.
From the way Liechtenstein helps out its connections, Davos should be in Vaduz (Where? Yeah, I know. It’s the capital) and not next door in Switzerland. [Our expert-networker friends at Swissnex Boston might beg to differ, though.]
From early on, the little principality was a master networker – the country was created so that its princes would be more powerful and get into best parties at the court of the Holy Roman Empire. More recently Liechtenstein has a strong financial presence by being one of the best global tax havens for foreign investment. And the tiny country has a soft spot for startups – it’s Europe’s “Delaware” with the continent’s lowest business taxes and easy incorporation processes – bringing in 30% of its revenues.
By thinking proactively about positioning itself in an international network, Liechtenstein not only stays out of trouble but it wins a world-class quality of life for its citizens. If you’re currently just a small-time player in your own networks, taking Liechtenstein’s lead isn’t a bad idea. They prove that if you want to network more effectively, you don’t need to be more impressive yourself – you need to be more thoughtful and more helpful to others.
Blogger James Altucher is on the right track when he encourages you to create “mini-LinkedIn”. Maybe a mini-Liechtenstein is the way to think of it:
“Why is LinkedIn so successful? Because it connects people. LinkedIn is worth billions. You don’t need to be worth that much. How about you become a mini-LinkedIn today? Find 5 sets of two people you can connect. Its just like combining ideas only now you are combining people. You don’t need any benefit from it. If you can think of two people who can help each other and you put them together then the universe will take care of your benefit.”
Your networking doesn’t need to be super-ambitious to start. Just like any startup, identify straightforward needs people in your network have, and help them help one another. The value you create for others will make the community better for everyone, but will benefit you in particular. To help yourself, help your network.