When it comes to business networking, one of the important keys to building a powerful personal network is diversity.

In running a large business networking organization for the last two decades, I often hear people tell me they want to network exclusively with other business professionals who work in a similar socioeconomic target market. Although it is good to include these people in your personal network, any attempt to focus on them exclusively would be a tremendous mistake.

It is human nature to congregate with people who have similar experiences or perspectives as ours. We tend to cluster together based on education, age, race, professional status, etc. Often our friends and associates are friends and associates of each other as well. When we surround ourselves with people who have similar contacts, it may be difficult to connect with new contacts with whom we desire to do business.

A diverse personal network enables you to increase the possibility of including connectors or “linchpins” in your network. Linchpins are people who in some way cross over between two or more clusters or groups of individuals. In effect, they have overlapping interests or contacts that allow them to link groups of people together easily.

When it comes to networking, diversity is key because it allows us to locate these connectors or linchpins between clusters of people. Connectors are the gateways to other people. The best way to increase the number of linchpins in your network is to develop a diverse network—not a homogeneous one.

Outside the Box

Having developed over 4,000 networking groups in more than thirty countries around the world, I can categorically state that the strongest networking groups I’ve seen are generally ones that are diverse in many different ways. The more diverse the network, the more likely it will include overlapping connectors or linchpins that link people together in ways they never imagined.

Let me give you an example. A good friend of mine in Boston, Patti Salvucci, recently told me an amazing story.

Patti runs dozens of networking groups for BNI (Business Network International) in the Boston area. She told me about one of the groups she was visiting recently that met in a private meeting room at Fenway Park. She arrived a little early and noticed an older gentleman setting up coffee mugs in preparation for the meeting.

Being a master networker, Patti naturally struck up a conversation with the man while waiting for members to arrive. In talking to him, she was taken by the amazing tenor of his voice. She complimented him on his incredible voice and asked what he did before this.

The gentleman informed her that he used to be a commentator for CNN. He went on to say that in his later years, he wanted to work in a less hectic job where he could also live closer to his daughter. He decided to take on the job of managing the owner’s suite at Fenway Park in Boston because it gave him an opportunity to be close to his family while having a less hectic career later in life.

Patti asked him about some of the people he had met during his time in broadcasting. He shared many great stories with her, including one about an interview he did with JKF a week before he was assassinated. He also talked about meeting Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela during his career. It was an interesting conversation she genuinely enjoyed.

Later when the meeting was in full swing, one of the regular members, Don, publicly mentioned that he would really like to do a radio talk show someday and was looking for some contacts that could help him pursue this dream.

After the meeting, Patti asked Don, “Do you see that guy over there (pointing to the ex-CNN commentator)? Have you seen him before?”

“Yea,” said Don, “he’s the guy who sets up the coffee for our meeting.”

Patti said to Don, “Did you know he used to be a broadcaster for CNN?”

Don answered, “Oh my God, I had no idea!”

Patti suggested that Don introduce himself and learn a little about the man he’d seen every week for the past several months because he might very well be able to make a connection for him in the broadcasting industry.

The irony in this story is that Don had seen the man on many occasions, but had never struck up a conversation with him because he felt that they had little in common. The truth is, when it comes to networking, not having a lot in common with someone may mean that they can be a connector for you to a whole new world of people you might not otherwise be able to meet.

If you wish to create a powerful personal network, branch out. Build a diverse network of professional contacts that include people who don’t look like you, sound like you, speak like you, or have your background, education or history.
The only thing they should have in common with you and the other people in your network is that they are really good at what they do.

Embrace and focus on diversity, and you will have a network that can help you succeed at anything.

DR. IVAN MISNER is founder of BNI, one of the world’s largest
referral organizations. He has co-authored several books on
business networking. His newest book,
Truth or Delusion? Busting
Networking’s Biggest Myths can be viewed at