I just finished watching “The Social Network” for the second time. I don’t know how much of it is true, but what an amazing story! Makes me think of many things. The first time I watched it, the main takeaway was the reminder that good ideas are nothing without execution (yes, I side with Zuckerberg on that point). The second time, the takeaway was no less subtle, merely more evidence of the significance our individual network has on both our ability to get things done and our ability to enjoy life.

Those of us who work in a computer related field are well aware of Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every 18 months. Some are familiar with Metcalfe’s Law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. Those of us in the “getting things done” business might take a slightly different angle on both. I offer that the value of a personal network is proportional to the square of the number of quality people in our network. At the same time, the speed of that personal network getting things done exponentially increases through the deliberate growth of that network over time. In essence, these computing laws apply to the world of human interaction. Clearly not rocket science, and though many will call it common sense, it is far from common practice.

As a junior officer, I was not the least bit interested in growing my network. I was going to repay my education by completing my minimum service obligation and nothing more. Due to that approach, I missed numerous opportunities to learn from my peers, grow in meaningful ways, and create partnerships that would only increase in value over time. I ignored the laws of both Moore and Metcalfe and my ability to contribute was marginalized. As I near the 20 years of service milestone, it is obvious that I did quite a bit more than my minimum five-year payback and though time is a metric, in isolation, it is hardly a metric of value. What was different about the most recent 15 years when compared to the first five? Easy, I grew to understand the value of the network.

Like so many great lessons I continue to learn in my professional life, the source of this epiphany was my Chief Petty Officer. The way “My Chief” worked within his peer group to magically get things done was not lost on me. There were many times when we would hit a wall. He would simply excuse himself and return a short time later with a smile. His smile came to mean, “Don’t ask me how LT, just know that our problem is no longer.” We talked many times while underway about the strong traditions within the Chief’s Mess and their uncanny way of working together to get things done. I wanted that ability to get things done, yet I knew as an officer I would never “be accepted by the Mess.” From that point on, I committed to doing my part cultivate a “Mess-like” culture. A peer-centric environment focused on self-correction, teamwork, and selflessly getting things done.

Upon my decision to make the Navy my career, I purposefully…

  • Reached out to strong nodes in hopes of plugging into their network
  • Cast nets in hopes of collecting additional nodes with the intent of making them strong over time
  • Created a Tribe of people who get things done regardless of their current job title or position description

I can tell you that 15 years later, that network is large in number and larger in strength. I’d like to say there is nothing this tribe of deliberate actors cannot get done, but we do hit obstacles. Obstacles in the form of careerists, those who are quick to remind us a given initiative is not our job, and those who are simply far more comfortable admiring the problem than helping to fix it.

Though I am thankful for “My Chief” helping me to see the flaws in my approach, I do wish I had changed my ways earlier. It is said that the best day to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best is today. The day I planted the proverbial tree, was a day that changed many things for me. It simultaneously started me down the equivalent of Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law.

I can tell you that I purposefully use social media in that quest.  I don’t measure the network by the number, I measure it by the strength of the nodes. Those in the network are there for a reason. They bring value to my life and I do my best to return the favor.  It’s not necessarily about the online network, but it is about the network.

  • How strong is your network?
  • How quickly is your tribe getting things done?
  • How are you leveraging Metcalfe’s Law?