Horizontal Connections; Vertical Connections – What Good Networkers Can Learn from a Great Journalist (A Networking Lesson from Lawrence Wright)

This is great advice for all who what to become better at “networking.” And, who doesn’t want to become better at networking?

Looming TowerLawrence Wright won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. His latest book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, is also an award winning work of journalism. And, this book was the selection of the Summer Points Book Club of the Dallas Morning News.

Mr. Wright spoke this past Sunday here in Dallas, sponsored by the Dallas Morning News. He gave a brief presentation, then had a terrific, lengthy question and answer session. Nicole Stockman, the leader of the Summer Points Book Club, asked him how he manages the research challenge for his books. He interviewed many hundreds of sources for his book The Looming Tower, and fewer, but still hundreds for his book Going Clear.Going Clear

Here’s his answer (paraphrased, from my memory):

First, he comes up with every name he can that could offer him information and insight. Then he talks to as many as would agree to talk to him. (As he talked about this, he described how he would fly to any city, to speak to any source for information).

Then, after each visit, he just knew when one visit would be enough, or… he would like to go back to certain folks time and again. He called these his:

Horizontal Contacts
Vertical Contacts

A horizontal connection was a one-time visit – valuable, but once was enough. Maybe once was enough because that was all that source had to offer. Or, maybe, once was enough because that person was not open to further conversations

Here’s a reinforcement of this idea from Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (The Ultimate Networker Reveals How to Build a Lifelong Community of Colleagues, Contacts, Friends, and Mentors) by Keith Ferrazzi:

Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior. But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to achieve only a single successful union. Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time.

A vertical connection was a person for whom one visit/interview was not enough. This person was perfect for repeat visits/interviews. Maybe they had more to offer; maybe they were willing to talk more. These were the folks he would go back to time and again.

(From somewhere back in my memory, I remember reading how David Halberstam, another Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, organized his research.  This sounds similar.  But I really like the clarity of the terms:  horizontal and vertical connections).

So, there’s your networking strategy. Practice Horizontal Networking; meet every one you can. Talk to as many people as you can. And, Practice Vertical Networking. Some of those “new connections” become repeat connections – those “we become evaluable to each other” connections.

never eat alone coverAnd here’s the challenge, again from Never Eat Alone:

The successful organization and management of the information that makes connecting flourish is vital. Tracking the people you know, the people you want to know, and doing all the homework that will help you develop intimate relationships with others can cause one heck of an information overload.

Lawrence Wright learned how to manage all of the information from all of those “sources.” In our lives, we have to learn how to manage all of our connections. Horizontal and Vertical Networking can be a good way to tackle this challenge.


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