Jenny bw3It’s natural to want to be around people who share the same interests and backgrounds as yourself. As kids, we often become best friends with someone who lives in our neighborhood, or someone we meet playing sports or learning to dance.

The same often is true in business. Executives tend to associate with other executives in the same industry. After all, who can understand your challenges better than a peer?

Yet by limiting our network to executives in the same industry, business owners and en-trepreneurs are missing out on relationships that can drive a lot of value by providing an entirely new perspective to challenges.

I recently was struggling with an issue around sales compensation. I was looking for some innovative ways to structure commissions and was seeking opinions from other entrepreneurs in my network. I found that if I only asked executives who are in the same industry as me, the answers seemed rather “templated.”

Of course, business templates can be valuable. Templates are based on best practices and that’s why executives replicate them. However, I found that by reaching out only to those in my world, it’s easy to stop innovating. Without innovation, executives can’t lead.

By seeking advice from entrepreneurs outside of my industry, I was given other ideas to consider that were quite creative. In addition to providing me with innovative practices, building a network outside my industry also has allowed me to significantly grow my network of useful connections.

If you think of your industry network as an extended family, it becomes clear why most of your connections already know each other. There is no access to new connections. Building a new network that is not industry specific, however, gives me access to an en-tire world of professionals who are new to me and to each other.

So what should you look for in a network of business owners or professionals?

1. Diversity. This should take many forms, in addition to industry. Look for groups that also are diverse in ethnicity and gender. As a female, it’s tempting to reach out to groups of other women entrepreneurs. But, what if I need a man’s perspective on an issue?

2. An engaged organizer. Is the facilitator profiting from this group or is everyone in the group giving and deriving value?

3. Views on sharing. Is the group organized to share information and best practic-es?Or, do members simply give advice? This is an important distinction. If the group is designed to give advice, what happens if members don’t take the advice? Does the relationship change? Are there hard feelings? Look for a group that brainstorms solutions and offers members the opportunity to share information.

4. Commitment. Some groups are structured to ensure members are committed, show up for each meeting and respect the group’s time. With structure, there is accounta-bility and a commitment to the group, which makes the group more valuable.

Written by LeadJen President, Jenny Vance

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