“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” it’s about knowing who is a “friend of a friend.” It’s about getting a full picture of the network you already have access to, and learning how to improve it. Knowing who your friends are and who their friends are, so you can gain a better understanding of the community, will lead to better odds that your network will enhance your success. Your connections matter. But so does how you know them, why you know them, where you met them, and who else they know. All of these elements are explained by the network around you—all your friends of friends.
Find Strength in Weak Ties Or Why Your Old Friends Are Better Than Your New Friends
sociologists refer to as weak ties—people we maintain a connection with but rarely interact with. By contrast, strong ties are the connections we regularly return to—those friends and coworkers we feel comfortable around because we know, like, and trust them. Even though the strong ties in our life are more likely to be motivated to help us, it turns out that our weak ties’ access to new sources of information may be more valuable than our strong ties’ motivation. Our weak ties are irregular contacts precisely because they tend to operate in different social circles. They interact with people different from our inner circle and learn different information. As a result, weak ties become our best source for the new information that we need to resolve our dilemmas.
he noticed the role that former colleagues and long-lost friends played in helping individuals. “It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten.” Over time, other researchers would come up with a shorter name for such a weak tie that used to be stronger. They would label it a dormant tie, and their research would prove just how valuable these weak connections are.
First, like weak ties, dormant ties can hold a wealth of new, different, and unexpected insights. Second, reaching out to dormant ties specifically for advice is efficient; the contact with them is often much quicker than conversations with current colleagues who might be collaborating on multiple projects. And third, because many dormant ties, unlike weak ties, were once stronger relationships, their trust and motivation to help are much stronger than is true for current weak ties.
New Ideas from Old Connections. It’s those weak ties that give you the best chance of finding new information and learning about unexpected opportunities. Moreover, weak and dormant ties are likely to be much more plentiful in your network than your strong connections. If you want to maximize the value of your network, then you need to make sure you’re using all of your connections and not limiting yourself to just your current strong ties. The bottom line is that when it comes to new information and opportunities, your weak and dormant ties are much stronger.
See Your Whole Network Or Why It Really Is a Small World After All
The truth is that we are all one big network, and the people who succeed are not the ones with the best collection but the ones who can see and navigate their network best. To Milgram, the experiment explained why he was so often able to find a connection to complete strangers in even the most distant foreign lands he visited. His result suggested that we are all connected to each other, amazingly, by just a few introductions.
Watts and Strogatz had found out the reason for the small-world effect. They had found a way for social networks to feel incredibly vast and at the same time small and interconnected. We might actually be within far fewer than six degrees of separation from anyone else. We might be far more connected than any of us would suspect.
Guare’s play outlines the real lesson of research into small worlds and the research on degrees of separation: We don’t grow or create a network—the truth is, we already exist inside of one. Our network is not a Rolodex separate from us, to be used by us. Rather, we are an integrated part of the bigger whole. The entire collection of humans, 7 billion strong and counting, is basically one interconnected network. Everyone is a friend of a friend (even if we haven’t met that friend yet). Every new person we meet opens up our ability to navigate that network, and any given person can open us up to an entirely new world.
Connecting with old contacts gives you a larger sense of your network and just how many potential connections are within your reach. In other words, former colleagues are more valuable than you might think. One of the best ways to stay connected to, or get back in touch with, these former colleagues is through alumni networks. Social media services like Facebook and LinkedIn are a great place to reconnect with old colleagues and start getting a feel for the larger network you have access to within a few introductions.
Become a Broker and Fill Structural Holes Or Why Climbing the Corporate Ladder May Be the Worst Path to the Top
Research into networks reveals that, surprisingly, the most connected people inside a tight group within a single industry are less valuable than the people who span the gaps between groups and broker information back and forth. when everyone in the local cluster knows or has access to the same information as everyone else, the contacts are likewise redundant. Inside of these clusters, as we have seen, information can move fast and collaboration happens easily, but the downside is that information tends to stay stuck inside the cluster and new information from outside rarely enters.
the gaps between clusters come with a large information advantage, and that those who span the gap are able to leverage that advantage. Indeed, the people who fill structural holes—the brokers, as they would later be labeled—end up with control over the flow of information and eventually with more power than those who just sit inside of a cluster. “People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations, which gives them a competitive advantage in seeing good ideas,”
“The more diverse an actor’s career history across groups, the more likely that actor is to engage in improbable category-spanning communication,” The research on structural holes sends a clear signal: there is real value to be captured by bringing two unconnected groups together. You might not always be able to see that value right away, but as you become the broker who fills the structural holes, you will
Seek Out Silos Or Why You Need to Spend Time in Clusters, but Not Too Much Time
Research suggests that the secret isn’t to ask which silos to join and which to avoid, but rather to focus on how long to interact with a silo and when to move on. breaking down all group boundaries may actually slow the spread of knowledge across a population, not speed it up. Some level of clustering actually makes it easier for best practices, complex ideas, and new opportunities to move across a network.
That is, some preferred to be more clustered and some were more open. Some companies and company leaders chose to do business only with a small circle of trusted allies, what Uzzi labeled “close-knit ties.” Others chose to do small amounts of business with a large set of relationships and to keep their relationships purely transactional. Uzzi labeled these “arm’s-length ties.” Uzzi’s research revealed that the most successful companies had leaders who maintained a healthy mixture of close-knit and arm’s-length ties—whose real-world networks resembled Centola’s models. These companies were in a position to choose the best options from among a diverse set of relationships.
There’s a reason for our tendency toward transitivity—our desire to gravitate toward silos. Clusters are good for us, and good for our growth. The trick is to make sure we’re not so clustered that we ignore opportunities to be structural holes. At the same time, we need to make certain that pursuing our goals as brokers between clusters doesn’t leave us clusterless. Pulling that trick off can be difficult. In many industries, the balance of close-knit groups and arm’s-length ties has already been decided.
If You Can’t Find Clusters, Create Them. The most connected, most successful individuals oscillate between working with a variety of teams and acting as bridges from their primary team to elsewhere in the organization or network. If you don’t have a team that you can interact with briefly but regularly, it’s time to be like so many in this chapter and just start your own.
What are you working on right now? What project is top of mind and dominating your time right now? This gives everyone in the cluster a sense of each person’s priorities. What is holding you back? In other words, how can the group help you? Maybe the group can help with advice, access to resources, introductions, or something else entirely. Spending time on this question helps ensure that everyone leaves each meeting with something valuable.
What do you need prompting on? What can we do to keep you accountable? Everyone has projects or tasks they know they need to do but forget about from day to day or week to week. One of the benefits of enlisting a team is that they can remind you to check those items off your list each time the team meets—making it harder for them to hide from your attention. If you do hold some of your meetings virtually, it’s still a good idea to commit to a regular cycle of in-person meetings. Even if it’s only once a year or once a quarter, being face to actual face is an important element of growing the trust and commitment of group members.
Build Teams from All over Your Network Or Why the Best Teams Don’t Stay Together Long
In the end, having a large network and a tight-knit team isn’t as valuable as having a loose network and temporary teams. The best teams appeared to be only temporary. The lesson of networks of collaboration is that the best team for working on a project or even just providing advice is temporary—one that probably works together for less time than you would think necessary to be truly effective. To get that team, however, you need a network that’s loose and diverse enough to build or rebuild a new roster frequently. The best way to judge whether you have that network is to audit your calendar and see how you are currently interacting with teams of people.
While this may be a somewhat arbitrary cutoff, it’s a major red flag if more than half of the people on your list serve on multiple teams. Ideally, even if you’re serving on only one main project team, different meetings should be held to draw and attract new attendees from your network or the networks of others. Another red flag is if the same people are meeting in the same room on a regular basis.
Become a Super-Connector Or Why Some People Really Do Know Everybody
But the evidence also suggests that most of us have the ability to grow our network large enough to become a super-connector. We just need to grow it carefully. a big part of becoming a super-connector is serving the people in your network by connecting others. Being generous with introductions adds value to those around you, but it also makes it more likely that others will reciprocate and be generous in introducing you to their contacts. It’s best if you can make introductions part of your regular routine, aiming for a goal of about one introduction or more per week.
In addition, once introductions become part of your routine, you will regularly start thinking about your existing network when you meet new people. When making introductions has become almost second nature, you will be acting like a super-connector in your current network and be well on your way to growing a super-connector’s network. While some social media services make introductions even easier, enabling you to link to people at the push of a button, it’s best to stay away from these options.
Leverage Preferential Attachment Or Why the Most Connected People Tend to Stay That Way
two things became clear. One is that you never know the value of your network until you need it. And two is that when you hit rock bottom, you’ll be left with only two things: your word and your relationships.” As your network grows, as the number of your connections increases, the process of meeting new people becomes easier. the Matthew effect. The term comes from a puzzling passage in the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
In trying to find an explanation for power laws, Barabási and Albert introduced two new concepts to the realm of network science.11 The first was growth. Most models of networks were static, fixed in time and never changing. But real-world networks, particularly networks of humans, evolve. They change often, and the most common change is the entry of new people into a network. Over time networks have to grow—and new people have to connect somewhere.
The second concept was what they labeled preferential attachment. If growth is assumed, and if growth always means that new people have to connect somewhere, then given a choice between two nodes with which to connect, new nodes are more likely to connect to the more-connected node. If a node is twice as connected as another, then it should also be twice as likely to make a connection to new nodes. When new people enter a network, preferential attachment assumes that they are more likely to meet highly connected individuals than those off on the fringes.
To make sure your event is a success, there are a few things you have to consider:
The size: At a minimum, invite six people. A gathering any smaller than that can make new people feel left out as old friends reconnect. At a maximum, make it no more than twelve people. Any more than that and not everyone will get a chance to interact with every other guest.
The guests: Ideally, you want a good mix of old friends and new contacts. You can do that by reaching out cold to people you want to invite or asking for an introduction through a friend. If you don’t know such a person, then ask your guests to bring a plus-one—not in the romantic sense but a person that the entire group would benefit from knowing.
The location: Your home is a great choice, as it’s personal and comfortable enough to encourage people to linger. If you are traveling or need to host the event in a restaurant, make sure you coordinate with the manager ahead of time to ensure that you get a large table in a quiet area (and to make sure everyone is clear on how the bill will be settled).
The frequency: If it’s your first event ever, don’t worry so much about this one. However, once you try it and it works, you need to think about how frequently (weekly, twice a month, monthly, quarterly) you would like to hold events. Just one time is not enough to leverage preferential attachment.
Create the Illusion of Majority Or Why No One Is as Popular as They Seem
the majority illusion explains how easy it is to trick a population into believing something is true and widely believed, when the reality is just the opposite. largely unknown companies, brands, and even people can appear to have big followings if they target the right early adopters. That illusion of majority preference then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and can turn the unknown into the well known. 158
Resist Homophily Or Why Opposites Rarely Attract
In short, politicians weren’t redrawing boundaries to pick their voters; voters were moving inside of new boundaries to pick their politicians. In networks, opposites don’t attract. Like-minded people do. The bottom line is that who you know affects how you think, and it also affects which friend of a friend you’re likely to meet, for better or worse. The biggest implication from homophily research is that we are much more likely to make, and to already have, connections with people who are similar to us. While that’s good for making us feel comfortable, it’s bad for making decisions with lots of variables. We need our network to give us alternative perspectives, and to do that we need to know if our network has any alternative perspectives.
Skip Mixers—Share Activities Instead Or Why the Best Networking Events Have Nothing to Do with Networking
According to Uzzi, we tend toward self-similarity for two reasons: comfort and efficiency. It turns out that the best strategy might be to just stop trying to meet new people. Instead, we are more likely to develop new relationships with a diverse set of individuals by focusing more on activities to participate in rather than relationships themselves. Brian Uzzi also has a term for this phenomenon: he calls it the shared activities principle.
Build Stronger Ties Through Multiplexity Or Why Who You Know Includes How Well You Know Them
There is a phenomenon that sociologists call multiplexity—that is, two people may have more than one type of relationship. The types of multiple ties connecting individuals may have been transformed, but the research shows that humans still tend to gravitate toward certain people for more than one reason, and that the more types of connections there are between two individuals—the higher the multiplexity—the more trust tends to develop in the relationship. it is more likely that personal will become business than it is that business will become personal. So friendship connections often become work connections, and at work, coworkers can become friends and everyone’s performance is boosted. Beyond productivity, multiplex connections also appear to enhance the innovation and knowledge-sharing inside of an organization.
Conclusion Or Why You Should Choose Each Friend of a Friend Carefully
Social networks certainly have value because of the potential connections they can unlock, but they also have value because of their influence on ourselves. You aren’t just influenced by your friends and by friends of friends. Who you have become as a person, in whatever career you have chosen, was influenced by the network around you—and around your friends, and around friends of your friends—most likely without you even being aware of it. We don’t have a network; rather, we’re embedded inside a massive network that we must learn to navigate. Social networks aren’t just transactional, and they never were. They’re developmental.
Your network is influencing you, and so you better begin influencing your network. Navigating your network deliberately—making choices about who your friends are and being aware of who is a friend of a friend—can directly influence the person you become, for better or worse.
Your friend of a friend is your future. All of these resources are freely available at my website, http://www.davidburkus.com/resources.