Everything I Know About Networking I Learned In 3rd Grade

September 30, 2010

Editor’s Note: We’ve got a lot of voices on Idea Peepshow … but we want more. So we’re reaching out to interesting people doing interesting things, asking them to share their inspiration and insights.

Our first post in an ongoing series of guest submissions comes from Lars Leafblad, a principal with KeyStone Search, an executive recruiting firm. Leafblad is the creator of Pollen, a Minnesota-based networking organization.

If you’ve got an idea for a guest post, we’d love to hear from you. Shoot a note to: info(at)fasthorseinc.com.

Everything I Know About Networking I Learned In 3rd Grade

By Lars Leafblad

Lars Leafblad

Lars Leafblad

I’m grateful for the invitation to tell you a bit about Pollen, a digital community that includes several thousand civic-minded people — or “connectors,” as I like to call them.

Primarily based in Minnesota, we share career and civic-engagement opportunities and peer-to-peer recognition through a twice-monthly e-newsletter and LinkedIn group. Our goal is to create personal and professional growth for our members.

So how did Pollen form and what are we learning as we grow?

It’s 1985 and my 3rd-grade class from Calvin Christian School is on a hilltop in Edina preparing for an annual rite of passage: the pre-addressed postcard-tied-to-a-balloon launch.

As we release our balloons and watch them soar away, we begin speculating where the first returned postcard will come from. St. Paul or Stillwater? Maybe even somewhere in Wisconsin.

A few days pass and Mrs. TeWinkel shares that our first postcard had been returned.

A cheer erupts as we watch a lucky classmate mark the large map at the front of the classroom with a pin and piece of red yarn connecting our school to a small town somewhere in western Wisconsin.

Farmers have found one of our balloons in their fields and returned the attached postcard wishing us well.

Over subsequent days and weeks, more postcards are returned, more stories and greetings from strangers are shared and the red lines begin to stretch across the map, intersecting each other and forming a vivid red spider web at the front of the classroom.

Staring at the map we are left with a lasting impression that interesting stories and connections emerge when you share, connect, and engage with others, even if by balloon. It’s an impression that’s made a powerful impact as I’ve intentionally sought out ways to help others engage and connect with new networks, new connections, and new opportunities throughout my life.

Pollen was launched in early 2009 as an attempt to manage the numerous forwarded job opportunities, nonprofit board openings and networking requests I was receiving from friends, acquaintances and new connections in my role as a principal with KeyStone Search, a Minneapolis-based executive search consulting firm.

Rather than trying to respond to, or sharing, each individual request with my network, I decided to start collecting the information and sharing it in one email that I’d forward to my network every few weeks.

My hope that was by bundling this information and sharing it more broadly, there was a greater likelihood that the information would reach people who could directly benefit thereby ensuring the pay-it-forward cycle would be completed and extended.

Pollen has subsequently grown from those few hundred spam-tolerant recipients to 1,500+ subscribers to our twice-monthly email, most recent edition here and to 1,200+ members of our LinkedIn group.

Hundreds of different companies, nonprofits, foundations and public sector entities are represented within the Pollen community in addition to an incredibly broad range of functional and leadership roles within those organizations.

My observation is that the common thread uniting “Pollenites” is a “pay-it-forward” mindset that strongly resonates with the opportunity to participate in a community that supports its members through the sharing of career and civic-development opportunities.

Pollen has grown because our members have shared their time, their content, their ideas, and their networks. We’ve built a “we-cruitment” engine and it’s been a blast to be part of.

Where will Pollen go next? That’s a question that will be answered by our members but my hope is that Pollen will continue to grow and provide even more opportunities for personal and professional growth for our members and that our community will find new ways to engage with each other in the off-line world to work together, volunteer together, and support one another in our collective efforts to make an impact on the world and in our workplaces.

To all who’ve contributed to the growth and evolution of Pollen, a very sincere thanks!

To those who have not, we’d love to have you join us!

Email me at larsl(at)keystonesearch.com to put your own red string on the Pollen map or join us directly on LinkedIn.