Most people are familiar with the benefits of networking when applied towards a specific objective. For example, in a job search, raising money, or career development. In addition, with the vast adoption of Facebook and Twitter, people are also using virtual networking for social purposes.
However, I believe that there are even greater benefits to networking than simply advancing specific short-term objectives.
First, one must make a conscious effort to meet (in person) and network with people who are outside her usual circles, both professionally and socially. Regularly meet and connect with people from different industries, demographics, cultures, and gender.
You should seek to meet and know people that have different experiences, lifestyles, backgrounds, and views, than yours. Doing so, on a regular basis, will enrich your life and provide you with some great benefits.
Innovation. You can learn about new ideas, technologies, and business models from other industries and markets and apply them in yours. For example, many technologies that were initially developed for military or space purposes were later adopted for commercial applications. Another example is the Gillette razor business model that is effectively used in multiple different industries and product categories.
Problem-solving. By connecting and interacting with a diverse group of people you can learn to appreciate the fact that there is always more than one perspective to any issue; more than one way to look at things. It will also enable you to explore problems and solutions from multiple angles and develop different alternatives.
Expand your knowledge. You will have an opportunity to learn from people who possess different knowledge, different experiences, cultures, and beliefs than yours. This is a great way to expand and increase your own knowledge.
Expand your reach and influence. By connecting with people who are outside your current professional or social network you tap into their networks. That effectively expands your own network. This has many benefits, including increasing your network value and your influence. Also, it increases your ability to reach a much larger and broader audience.
Building, cultivating, and maintaining your network requires time, energy, and commitment. Like any other long-term relationship, it needs to become a priority in order to succeed. However, I believe the return on this modest investment can be very high.