Networking. You’re told it’s something you need to do to advance your professional life, but the tactics most “networking professionals” suggest either don’t work or make you feel icky and awkward.
My guest today argues that you don’t have to go to networking events or hand out business cards left and right to network effectively. You just need to realize you’re already embedded in a really effective network right now.
His name is David Burkus. He’s a professor of leadership and the author of the book Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career. Today on the show, David shares what’s wrong with most traditional networking tactics and why they’re not really effective. We then dig into the power of the network you already belong to. David explains what dormant weak ties are, why it can be beneficial to silo yourself off from others, how to balance siloing with connecting, and how to turn work-friends into friend-friends and friend-friends into work-friends. Lots of great counterintuitive insights in this episode.
- The common approach people take towards networking
- Why traditional networking methods don’t work
- How David’s “friend of a friend” approach to networking flips that old model on its head
- Recognizing the networks you already have
- What are weak and dormant ties? Why are they more powerful than strong ties?
- Managing your weak and dormant ties in order to keep them alive
- How to find the structural holes in your network
- Why “silos” are important
- What extroverts and introverts can learn from each other in regards to networking
- What makes for a “super connector”
- How do you manage your network once it starts to grow?
- Why managing your relationships needs to be intentional
- How to cultivate a diverse network
- The idea of multiplexity in our networks — why our connections can be relevant in multiple contexts and facets
- The perhaps funny idea that should be the guiding principle of networking
- The “Don’t Believe the Hype” Principle
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How to Build Relationships That Don’t Scale
- Networks vs Communities
- How to Build Relationships and Land a Great Job After College
- Networking Without “Networking”
- The Importance of Building Your Social Capital
- How to Use Introductions to Strengthen Weak Ties and Advance Your Career
- Learning the Art of Charm
- Jane McGonigal
- Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal
- Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
- The Jordan Harbinger Show
- The Matthew effect
- The 5 Friends That Every Man Needs
- Tim Ferriss (and my podcasts with him — Tribe of Mentors & Tools of Titans)
Connect With David
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Networking, you’re told it’s something you do to advance your professional life but the tactics most networking professionals suggest either don’t work or make you feel icky and awkward. Our guest argues that you don’t have to go to networking events or hand out business cards left and right to network effectively you just need to realize you’re already embedded in a really effective network right now. His name is David Burkus. He’s a professor of leadership, a sought after public speaker and the author of the book, Friend of a Friend, understanding the hidden networks that can transform your life and your career.
Today on the show David shares what’s wrongs with most traditional networking tactics and why they’re not really effective. We then dig into the power that network you already belong to. David explains what dormant weak ties are. Why it can be beneficial to silo yourself off from others sometimes. How to balance siloing with connecting and how to turn work friends into friend friends and friend friends into work friends. Lots of great counterintuitive insights in this episode. After the show’s over check out the show notes at aom.is/friendofafriend. David joins me now via clearcast.io.
All right, David Burkus, welcome to the show.
David Burkus: Thank you so much for having me.
Brett McKay: So you just came out with a book called, Friend of a Friend. There’s lot of a friend of a friend of a friend there but a Friend of a Friend, understanding the hidden networks that can transform your life and your career. It’s a book about networking but as I was reading this and we were talking before the show, this is a book about networking that’s not like other books about networking that I’ve read. Start off, how you think, what’s the common approach that people take towards networking whenever they put out a blog or a book on the topic? What’s the typical approach?
David Burkus: Fundamentally I think a lot of people will take, they’ll take networking and they define it really as trying to meet strangers, trying to meet new people, trying to run up the count of their LinkedIn connections or their Facebook friends or et cetera. I think most of us think of that weird, awkward, unstructured room, maybe it’s a cocktail party, maybe it’s those sort of mixer hour before a conference or whatever. And then like you said, they end up kind of feeling, okay, this is icky and weird because we take a lot of people’s advice on how to work that room and then it’s their advice and it might work for them and then we try and apply to us and then we feel inauthentic and sleazy and weird. Like no wonder, you’re trying to be someone else in that moment fundamentally. Advice is great especially if you can get it from a lot of different people but if you just read a blog post and then you’re trying to take those insights and turn them into the perfect elevator pitch, you’re going to feel like someone else because you’re literally being someone else in that moment.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and I’ve found in my experience that stuff, the typical networking stuff, mixers, cocktail hours, pressing flesh, it’s not very effective either.
David Burkus: It’s not only ineffective, maybe one person out of a 100 is going to useful if we’re defining useful as that sort of immediate way that I can help them or they can help me type of thing. Instead of just thinking like, okay, this is a new person and I’m a good human being so now I have this connection and over time I’m going to continue to increase that connection that might work out. But that’s fundamentally I think a lot of people leave that room after doing the, I love that term pressing flesh. Shaking hands, kissing babies, whatever you want to call it. They leave that room and because they didn’t find that one in a 100 they think the whole thing was a waste of time.
And truthfully the whole thing probably was because there’s a lot of research that shows that people if you actually go to a networking event or any sort of unstructured time, a meet up or anything like that, you spend way more time talking to people you already know than meeting new people anyway. So not only are you not applying all of that advice for how to wow and dazzle new people that you’ve just met, you’re also not spending a lot of time. And it’s not you it’s the unstructured nature of the event in general.
Brett McKay: All right so is your approach that you took with Friend of a Friend towards network and we’re talking broadly speaking ’cause we’ll get into the details, how is that different from the typically approach towards of networking?
David Burkus: My big idea is that we don’t, we need to sort of redefine it. It’s not about meeting new people. To me, it’s not that you can grow a network. You don’t even have a network. You exist inside of one already. All of us exist inside of a network whether it be our community, our industry et cetera. And so if that’s true then maybe the right approach is to figure out how networks work. And so for the last two years I’ve been reading kind of basically every major study in the world of network science, it’s about a 60 year old scientific discipline and trying to find the things that are sort of universally true about all networks because those are the things that are most likely going to be true for you in your situation.
And I think people more so than needing to learn the perfect way to introduce themselves et cetera, need to understand the science behind the network they’re already in. And then they can act accordingly in a way that feels authentic to them.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Okay, I like that idea. Recognize the network you already have. You don’t have to go out and reinvent the wheel ’cause you already have the wheel.
David Burkus: It’s exactly right. In fact there’s at one point in the book we even say that if you don’t like going to those events, you don’t like meeting totally new people et cetera, you can actually sort of, you can respond, I don’t want to use the term build your network ’cause I just said you shouldn’t use it but you can actually sort of grow your connections and nurture connections and meet new people all through existing contacts and through working your way through the network you have. You don’t actually ever have to go to one of those events ever again and you can still have a thriving network that you’re able to help and is able to help you.
Brett McKay: I like that. So let’s talk about recognizing network that we already have. A chapter you talked about weak ties. What are weak ties and why are they more powerful than strong ties? So I guess you have to define, what is a weak tie? What is a strong tie? And why are weak ties better?
David Burkus: If we think about a network as that sort of three dimensional object. Circles and lines connecting other circles and if your listening to this and you’re like, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Run a Google image search real quick for the word network, you’ll see a bunch of clip art, it’s exactly what we’re talking about. So we think about think. We often use space, how close to another person you are as a marker for how strong the relationship is. And so strong ties would be those people that are very close to you in the network. They’re your close friends, they’re your social structure. They’re usually a lot of your family members et cetera and they’re really important for the what the sociologist Ronald Burke calls bonding capital, a form of social capital that’s really about support and about having people that you can rely on and can help you.
But in terms of new information whether it be new job leads, new perspectives, kind of a new alternative approach to something, just anywhere or new introductions to new people, any of those situations, those close contacts are actually fairly redundant. We keep people close to us who think like us, who are all interconnected with people around us. And so it’s the people further out, weak ties in particular that become the sources of new information, new introductions to people that are dissimilar from us, people that we might not have ever met in any other capacity. Those all come through your weak ties.
In particular there’s a very specific type of weak tie called a dormant tie which is essentially a strong tie that grew weak over time because you didn’t talk to each other for a while. Maybe you went to college together and now you don’t talk as much. Or somebody changed jobs et cetera. And those are actually the most powerful type of tie when it comes to new information, new ideas, new introductions et cetera because the strength of the relationship is already there but they’re somewhere else in the network kind of clustered around people that are different from the people that you’re clustered around. And so it’s easy to sort of rebuild that connection and get access to all of that information. It’s really easy to strengthen it again because it was already strong once than it is to meet a total stranger and build rapport with them over time et cetera.
And so those weak and dormant ties I kind of refer to them as the hidden network. They’re the thing we neglect so often. When you think about most people’s job search they ask their friends and a few trusted people and then they jump right to applying on monster.com instead of thinking about these weak and dormant ties that are shown to be in study after study, the most potent sources of all sorts of new information and new introductions.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that insight because I’ve read about, we’ve even published things about weak ties. And the typical when people write about that, their typical approach is okay, you need weak ties so go to networking events so you can establish more weak ties. They never say, no you already have weak ties, go there and mind those and see where those lead.
David Burkus: Right. That’s exactly right. If you’ve been alive for more than like four years you already have weak ties. Just the nature of being a human means you have different relationship strengths and there are people that you’ve lost touch with that you need to reconnect with. What I think is really funny is in a social media world the number one complaint, I guess privacy is now the number one complaint but before that the number one complaint about sites like Facebook et cetera was, oh my newsfeed is inundated with people I don’t really care all that much about. Those are literally your weak ties telling you what’s going on in your life. You can use that information to go reconnect with them over whatever they’re announcing. So there’s an incredibly, you’ve got to rein it in so it’s not dominating your time but there’s an incredibly valuable way now to keep in touch with your weak ties that’s never existed before in human history.
Brett McKay: So what’s your approach to managing those dormant weak ties? Do you have a system in place that you use to keep those alive?
David Burkus: There’s a couple systems that almost function like personal customer relationship management or CRM systems. I actually do use one called Contactually but the truth is it’s main feature is that it’ll ping you if it’s noticed that it’s been so long between conversations with a weak tie. And normally I never end up getting pinged because I do exactly what I was hinting at earlier. I about two years ago when I was doing the research for this book and starting it, I decided to practice what I was about to preach and I turned, I re-followed everybody in my social networks, on LinkedIn and Twitter et cetera. And I started making a point at least once a week to find someone who was announcing something.
Like say they were saying, “I just got a new job and I’m moving to Chicago.” I’d use that information to reach back out to that weak tie. And the key was I wouldn’t just click like or say congratulations and do the things that get drown out in the sea of comment. I would send a more personal message. So whether that be a text message, a phone call, an email, whatever’s right for that person and whatever I have access to. I would say something like, “Hey congratulations that’s so awesome. Congrats on moving to Chicago.” Then I’d usually try and provide value in some way. The case of Chicago I’m thinking like, you probably need to know that you can skip all of the other deep dish places, Gino’s East is the best.
And then use that as an opportunity to invite them into a further conversation. We should catch up some time soon. Or I might say, “What else is new with you?” Et cetera. Or I might write a little blurb about what’s new in my life. It depends on the person but really it’s a matter of seeing that information that’s broadcasted online, it’s public, you’re not stalking them, you’re not being weird. They posted it. But then taking that conversation to a more personal medium and using that. And making that a habit you end up kind of doing it with all of your weak ties regularly and that’s the other key where a lot of advice books go wrong is they’ll say you need weak ties so either they’ll say go to networking events and make new weak ties or they’ll just say, “So when you’re looking for a job hit weak ties.” It’s kind of too late at that point. They can kind of smell your desperation on you and know that you don’t actually care about them et cetera. It’s much better to make it a habit to be regularly checking back in with these people.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So another feature to networks that we already exist in that can be I don’t want to say exploited, that’s not the right word ’cause that sounds mercenary. Leveraged is a word.
David Burkus: I use this analogy that there’s a term in network science called social capital. That there’s value to the network and then there’s value being a part of the network. And I think if it’s sort of, if it’s capital it’s like an investment. You are pouring into the network and yeah, it’s okay to make withdrawals from it every once and while as long as you don’t overextend your account and go into the negative.
Brett McKay: Right. Okay, so yeah. Example, one area in our networks are these structural holes that exist in our networks, what are those? And how can those structural holes be a way to make our network more effective or efficient?
David Burkus: This is a fascinating insight from the world of network science for me because I think a lot of us when we think about networking we think about, oh I need to get to know everybody in my company. Or I need to get to know everybody in my industry and we think of the quintessential networker as the one that’s in the center of that cluster for that company or that industry or trade association or whatever. But the truth is so the clusters are important for a couple different reasons but there comes a point where as you get to know new people like we were talking about earlier, the new people become redundant. And in fact the most valuable people to a network are the people that serve that cluster of people that they’re in by connecting them to a new one.
The term we use for the space between two different groups of people or two different clusters in the network is a structural hole. I like to think of it as sort of if you think of networks almost like a gravitational pull, the empty space between Earth and Mars, that’s a structural hole in the space time continuum, or something I really don’t understand ’cause didn’t study physics. And it works the same way. It’s the people that build a bridge between these two clusters that allow for information to flow between them that end up creating the most value. So for folks that are having trouble with this in the book we talk about Jane McGonigal who was an amazing woman that connected the video game design community and the mental health and medical profession in order to create a sort of gamified way to do recovery from things like head trauma, depression and all sorts of other sort of mental illness that came, that never would have happened had she not connected these two communities.
Brett McKay: And you can do that within your say your company. If you’re in sales you reach out to the people in engineering or product development.
David Burkus: Exactly right. This is huge inside of a, in fact when I was writing this book I almost wanted to talk about this but I decided it was a little weird and I didn’t want to ask his permission even but I remember having this exact conversation with a brother of mine a couple years ago because he was talking about, “Well I want to get to work more in finance but this is still a job in the marketing department, I’m just running the budgets.” I’m like, “That’s perfect. You’re the only person on the marketing side that’s going to be talking to the finance side. You’re going to be a tremendously valuable lynch pin between these two communities.”
Brett McKay: Here’s the issue though whenever you try to mix different clusters or silos is that one cluster thinks one way, the other cluster thinks another way so if you’re trying to bridge the two they’re both going to be sort of suspicious. Like, who’s this guy from X department? I don’t know, he’s not like us. How do you be a connector and you allow these two groups to be receptive to new ideas?
David Burkus: So this is where it gets a little tricky. And this is not a rookie networker move. This isn’t the kind of thing you can do right out of college. Because you don’t want to be on that person on the edge of the cluster screaming, “I really think we should talk to this department over here.” Like you said, you’re just kind of going to look like that crazy person. Or, you’re going to get hate from both sides. The trick is to know when you’re embedded enough inside of one cluster that you can actually, you have strength of relationship to where people will trust you and listen to you as you now begin to do that crazy thing.
It’s still going to look crazy. We train people, especially if you work in a large organization, to climb up the corporate ladder to get to know more and more people in that community. So you’re still going to look a little different. In fact one study we use in the book actually calls these people organizational misfits which I love because it turns out to be a strength but it’s a good description of these people. But the ones that are the most successful are ones that are a little bit embedded into that cluster and then now because they have those relationships move forward.
So this something you can’t do right off the bat in your career. There is a point or as you’re meeting new people in that industry they become to be redundant and that’s the point at which we should be thinking about okay, well what other communities does this community need to be connected to? And how can I go out and do the same thing in that community and eventually connect the two?
Brett McKay: Yeah, I love the example you gave of when Stanley McChrystal, the general, kind of took charge of things over there in the Middle East and he wanted all these different and disparate agencies and military units to start working together. So they actually had Army Rangers get embedded with Navy Seals, Navy Seals get embedded with Army Rangers. And he said, yeah, at first there was a little friction but after a while things started jiving and they were all on the same page and they’re all working towards the same goal and things became much more effective and efficient.
David Burkus: Yeah, that’s exactly right. In fact one of things that I think is interesting is the roles and to some extent already existed, there were these things called liaison officers but they were almost considered to be sort of like punishment. Like you’re getting kicked out of your unit and that’s why you’re the liaison officer. So he did a, what he basically did to signal that this actually an honor and that we need these people is he took the cream of the crop, the top officers in certain squads and said, “No, you’re going to be the liaison officer. Not the guy that’s about to retire. It’s not the one who go in trouble. I’m trusting my most important people for this job.” And that very quickly signaled to the whole community okay, he’s taking this seriously.
And over time it wasn’t that everybody got to know everybody but everybody could look in another team or another branch of the military and know that okay, I have a friend over there and they’re good people. He’s a good person. She’s a good person so I know that I can trust this whole this unit. He built what, he calls it it’s the title of the book, Team of Teams and I really love that concept that there’s an importance to your team but you also need to be connected to other ones as well.
Brett McKay: So another counterintuitive point you make in the book about networks and networking is that silos can be a good thing. ‘Cause you often hear the stuff, silos there’s filter bubbles, you’re exposed to less information et cetera, et cetera. And that you should avoid that and just branch out and created as much diversity as possible but you highlight research that suggests that if we want to get stuff done we need silos. So talk about why silos can be good.
David Burkus: This is really one of the hardest concepts to kind of explain inside of just a couple chapters in Friend of a Friend. We were just talking about building structural holes and breaking people out of silos and being less politics in turf war. But the truth is that over time as we see sort of information flow if we had a completely egalitarian network where everybody talked to everybody in fact information wouldn’t flow as much. We actually do need clusters to share ideas and share information. I’m a writer, you’re a writer, we’ve written several books, we know that that sort of community of writers is really important. On the other hand if you just do that and you don’t actually get out and engage with readers and engage and sent your message out there, you end up not actually being able to build a career.
So the trick is to be able to balance that. In fact we see this in organizations as well with those organizational misfits. The best analogy I’ve thought of and I actually thought of it after I wrote the book which is a shame is that I think about clusters and teams like a harbor. It’s a great place for a ship to be. It’s a place where it can get restocked and repaired and get ready for the sea. But it can’t stay there. It eventually has to get out and begin to connect other harbors through its trade routes et cetera.
Brett McKay: Some other research kind of similar to this about extroversion and introversion where extroverts, their career advances faster because they’re making all those connections but the introverts are the ones who actually gain mastery in the domain that they’re in because that’s all they spend more time fine tuning that. So the introverts can learn from the extroverts by being a little, okay, you need to get out there a little bit more if you want to advance your career. But the extroverts, people who are always out there pressing flesh, could learn from the introvert and say, “I need to make time for I just focus on my craft or whatever work it is that I’m doing.”
David Burkus: No, no, that’s exactly right. And an extrovert will feel energized at an event with a 100 people and introvert is like well I just want the six or so people that I really trust. You’ve talked about this on the blog but also on the podcast in general especially for men, you need both of those things. You need that community of people and that’s probably the more overlooked one for men but you also need to kind of be out there. What I think is interesting in the research on this it isn’t that introverts hate people, it isn’t that extroverts love people, it just has to do with where your energy comes from. Where you recharge. Either you recharge in a big group of people that exciting or you recharge in a smaller group or by yourself.
But you’re recharging for a reason. You’re recharging to get out there and do the activity that you don’t do. It’s no point being fully charged all the time. You can’t just leave your iPhone in the dock a 100% of the time. You eventually have to unplug it and use it and that’s a signal right there that we need to be doing both.
Brett McKay: So how do you find that balance? Are there any tactics or brass tack things people can do? I know I’ve got, I’m hitting the sweet spot with being siloed and but also reaching out and connecting different clusters.
David Burkus: I think it’s really a question of taking a deep dive on your calendar and looking at where you’re spending your time and are you just having all of your meetings with the same two dozen people? Or is there a healthy balance? I encourage or coach a lot of people to hey look at the last 25 meetings that you were in. Was it all the same people all of the time? Or was there this healthy balance of okay, there’s about five or six people that it seems like I talk to all the time and then the rest of the people on these meeting rosters are new folks. I think it’s a good way to signal what your balance is.
You’re already in a world of electronic invitations you’re already kind of keeping track of who you’re talking to so just go back and audit it to see if you’re doing a good enough job and if not you might have to be a little weird and start inviting yourself to meetings just so you can be around the kind of other people in the community whether that be the organization or et cetera. But really how you spend your time is going to determine how you’re building these relationships.
Brett McKay: Another aspect of networks are there are these individuals that are called super connectors. What makes a super connector a super connector?
David Burkus: This was a really interesting discovery for me when I’m looking at network science ’cause I had read if you look back all the way to Malcolm Gladwell and the Tipping Point, he writes about Dunbar’s number. This idea that all of us on average have an average number of relationships. And over time what you start to see is it’s not actually just one number, 150, which is known as Dunbar’s number. It doesn’t even look like an average in the sense that an average is an inverted U, it actually looks like a power law, a Pereto principle an 80/20 type principle. And there are some people that really have a disproportionate number of contacts.
So even if the average is a 150, it’s actually not it’s 661, there are some people who have thousands. And I think these are important for two reasons. The first is that these people are generally what kind of keep a community connected. The other thing is that the presence of these people skews the average and for a lot of people when they think about networking they think like, oh I’m not good at that. This other person is so good at it et cetera. We’re looking at a skewed average. Everyone’s going to look a little bit more popular than you because you’ve got these super connectors in the network that are hugely popular.
And then the other thing that happens is as you start to approach that curve, that 80/20 principle, it’s almost like a flywheel effect that eventually just natural introductions that come up organically grow your section of the network faster than anybody else’s because you’re so connected. I think a lot of people get down on themself about not, I’m not all that connected so clearly I’m not good at this thing. It’s really a function of just how much are you willing to put in the work and for how long because there’s a compound interest effect to it all.
Brett McKay: Well so how do you do that? How do you become a super connector? And do you need to become a super connector? That’s the thing. Is that something you have to do? What’s your approach to that?
David Burkus: Here’s the other thing, quite frankly no. We think about one of the favorite stories or myths I like to debunk in this book is Kevin Bacon. Maybe you’ve played the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. We think like, oh he’s been in such a diversity of movies and he’s so connected. He’s actually the 669th most connected person in Hollywood. He’s not, he doesn’t actually have this amazing network and this amazing connection. It’s just that the network itself is so interconnected that you can be as low on the charts as Kevin Bacon and still kind of connect everyone. And that’s the case inside of any industry and any network. You really don’t. You probably have everyone you need to meet for your own professional success within one or two introductions for yourself now.
So you don’t. On the other hand if you do then one of the first things that you can do is start to be really, really generous with your introductions. So in the book we talk about my friend another awesome podcaster, Jordan Harbinger who is a super connector who has been over the 10 years of running his show. But one of the things that he does is he makes a habit whenever he’s talking to someone he’s not just thinking about what he’s going to say next and he’s not thinking like okay, I need to be active listening. He’s actually thinking, who do I currently have in my network that I could introduce this person that would help me. It’s probably not me that could help them. The odds that I can provide value for everyone is really slim. But if I can introduce to someone who does then I’m signaling that I’m generous. I’m taking care of the network as the whole and over time it will take care of me and I’ll grow to become that super connector type person.
Brett McKay: Right. And that has helped him out recently ’cause he’s started a new show. We had him on the show to talk about that.
David Burkus: Yeah, I actually hate this. I finished the book and we went to print before that whole thing happened. So even on the back cover of the book it lists him as Art of Charm and I’m thinking his story got so much cooler when all of that happened because he’s basically kicked off his show. He starts a new one. All he has is his recording equipment and his network. And that’s all he needed.
Brett McKay: As you mentioned, as you become a super connector you start making these introductions, you mentioned that it becomes sort of a flywheel effect. Because you are heavily connected people are naturally drawn to you because they want to be drawn to the guy who’s got the connections. Sort of like the Matthew effect. Much is given, much will be added onto. I think Gladwell talks about that. But that can become a problem because you’ll have more and more people asking for your time and intention. So as you become more connected, how do you manage managing your network?
David Burkus: So this is one of the things that I really I wanted to solve right off the bat. I call it, in my mind I call it the Jason Gaynard problem. Jason is an incredible connector, he runs an event for entrepreneurs. He’s very well connected now and he will say this thing where he says, “The key to a good network is subtraction not addition.” And you’re like, well that’s easy for you to say you already know everybody. So I wanted to figure that out. How can he say that but then other people are like, well I can’t subtract. If I subtract it it’d be me and like my wife that’s it.
And so I started looking into all of the science of this and there really is principles like a Matthew effect that the fancy $12 word in network science is preferential attachment but it basically says exactly that. If you’re one of the more connected people in a network any new person to enter that industry, that sector, that network, the likelihood that they’ll get introduced to you is really, really high. So you start, kind of like a gravitational pull thing, you start eventually accumulating more and more mass and now you draw more and more to you. And that becomes a problem because eventually you only have enough time. I was talking to someone yesterday who’s a writer and a speaker et cetera and he’s like, “I get a 1,000 manuscripts a month from people that are begging me to read their potential book idea et cetera and I just can’t handle it.”
One of the things that Jason does that I think is really smart is he now basically connects almost exclusively through community. He’ll do individual dinners most of the time but if he’s in a city and he has a lot of people he needs to connect with he makes a point to plan a lunch or dinner or something that’ll draw about 12 people at a time together. It’s really it’s a time management strategy but then his other strategy is he’s very intentional about how often do I need to check in with certain people. He’s managing a network in the thousands if not the tens of thousands and so he has to be intentional about what the right frequency of interacting with every single person is.
I think this is actually really interesting point. We get to the point where we feel like we know we need to be intentional with our spouse and our close friends et cetera but we want everything else to be organic. We just want to run into them naturally. We end up neglecting a lot of people. You know you can’t just plan on spontaneity and organic relationship with someone close to you because they would feel offended. Well everyone’s kind of that way. You’ve got to be intentional with everyone. But it’s okay to say to I am intentionally only interacting with them every six months or a year or so because that’s where our relationship it.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So another thing that came out of the network research is that diversity’s good. So we’ve talked about clusters, that we need clusters to or silos ’cause that allows us to get stuff done. But we need people to connect those silos and there’s you can fill those holes and you can provide value to the network by doing that. But even within those clusters themselves, even within those silos it’s good to have diversity. What does the research say about that?
David Burkus: This is a really interesting thing that I found. We all know the way that I say it is it’s 2018 if you don’t already know that you need a diversity of opinions, you need ethnic, racial, gender, ideological diversity in your life to give you more information and be able to make better decisions and just to be a good human being. If you don’t already know that I can’t help you. The challenge is that most people know that and yet we still kind of are clustered in a lot, around a lot of people that are self similar to us and it’s not actually necessarily our fault.
So we explore this idea of homophily which is a fancy, another $12 word for love of same. And the truth is that it’s actually a network effect. What happens is those people who are close to us they all know people who are similar to us. They all think similar to us. they all know each other. They’re all sort of self similar. And so when they are the only people that are introducing you to new people you’re going to get served up more of the same. And you can actually think that oh I’m meeting lots of new people so I’m going to get a more diverse network and in reality you’re just getting more of the same. History is full of people who thought they had accurate information to make a decision and then made the decision and turned out they didn’t see something because they didn’t have the right network. We can go back to the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs fiasco and all sorts of stuff to think about examples of people making bad decisions because they had limited information from too many self similar people.
The real lesson is that we’ve got be very intentional about our actual network. Earlier we were talking about doing an audit of maybe the last two dozen people that we talked to. If they’re all very, very similar to us that’s a really bad thing. Chances are you do an audit of your network, the people that are closest to you and you’ll find the majority of them are really similar to you and a couple of them are not. And so you need to spend a disproportionate amount of time with those people who are not to learn more from them but also to signal that you are open to introductions from them because they’re the ones that are most likely to serve you introductions and new potential connections that are different than you. You can’t just sort of rely on whoever gets introduced to me is whoever gets introduced to me. That’s not going to build the level of diversity that you need. You need to be very intentional about where those introductions are coming from.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and you highlight the research that we’re even clustering ourselves off based on political ideology more and more which is weird because you don’t go around asking people their politics. But the research is showing that some counties are becoming more blue. Other counties are becoming more red. And it’s just happening I guess because someone sees someone driving a certain kind of car and that they associate that with being a Democrat or a Republican. They’re like, well these are my people and they end up sort of just self filtering that way.
David Burkus: No, it’s exactly right. And you said it best, it’s actually at the county level. We have a tendency to think red state, blue state but there’s actually there are counties in California that are getting redder over time. And it’s exactly that. It’s these subtle little signals that people with certain political ideologies also have a shared ideology about other stuff. So we don’t run around asking people who they voted for. We kind of do because it’s sort of a tense time in our country but mostly we usually don’t but we can kind of pick it up. Like oh you drive a Saab, I can, if you drive a Saab I can make a pretty educated guess about who you voted for. Oh you drive an F150, I can make a pretty educated guess about who you voted for.
And the data shows that over the last 40 years we have, they call it the big sort. We have sort of naturally gravitated to want to live closer to these people. So even certain neighborhoods and definitely certain counties become deeper red or deeper blue. Then you throw sort of the internet onto that and it spirals out of control because you’ve got these filter bubbles and algorithms that are trained to serve you more of what you click like on. And eventually, what amazes me is whenever some big thing happens and someone you thought was in one political ideology steps up and says something different, how shocked everybody is because we’re so in our filter bubble that when information from the other side penetrates it we get shocked. And that’s a really strong signal that maybe, maybe we’re not being intentional enough in who we’re connecting to and who we’re having conversations with and who we’re meeting.
Brett McKay: So yeah, maybe just be intentional of that and be aware that that’s happening. So let’s talk about this idea of multiplexity which is people in our network can be both maybe like business associates but also friends. Flesh that out a bit for us.
David Burkus: So one of the things that I think is most interesting. We know people are multifaceted and yet when we think about our network and the people that we know et cetera, we kind of sort them into buckets. There’s our work friends and our close friends and our friends whose kids play the same sport. Maybe our church friends and that sort of thing. In reality people are multifaceted and it turns out that we use this term a uniplex tie is a connection to someone that only has one context. So maybe you’re only a work friend. And a multiplex tie is someone that you have multiple sort of contexts with.
What I think is interesting about this is that the research is strongly supportive that you will build a deeper relationship faster with someone if you explore kind of the multiple facets of them. And you can build a far better one. Sometimes that the person you put in the friend bucket ends up being a strong professional contact. In the book we talk about Whitney Johnson who’s a good friend of mine who basically got a job managing an investment, a hedge fund because of someone she went to church with. Which is not what you would think in the world of Wall Street. You wouldn’t think that’s what serving people connections. But it happens.
The other reason I think it’s so important to think through this multiplexity lens is that even when we’re trying to understand someone, let’s say you actually do work up the courage to go to that event and you’re pressing flesh and you’re meeting new people, what’s the most common question people ask when they’re meeting a new person?
Brett McKay: What do you do?
David Burkus: What do you do? Which is a huge signal that I would like to have a work context only conversation with you. Especially you can trust that eventually the conversation will get back to there. So why not open with something else. Where did you grow up? What are you really excited about right now? I sometimes ask people who’s your favorite superhero? Just ’cause I want to know a little bit more about them in a different context so that I’m exploring other ways that I can connect with them and build a multiplex relationship with them right from the start.
Brett McKay: So yeah, so friends can turn into business partners and work friends can turn into friends friends. But the whole friends turning to business partners or potential economic relationships. How do you walk that fine line without turning your friendship into a purely transactional relationship? I’m thinking here of multilevel marketing ’cause that’s an example of taking it to the extreme where you have some friend or weak tie out of the blue says, “Hey I’ve got an amazing opportunity for you.” And that moment you’re just like, no, I don’t want anything to do with you anymore because you’ve just turned this into a completely transactional mercenary relationship.
David Burkus: I agree with you. My experience is it’s easier to turn a work friend into a real friend than a real friend into a work friend even though the other way going around has happened more often. I think it really takes a sensitivity to the the other person. Not everyone wants to get to know their work friends on a personal level and not everybody wants to be a business partner with their friend friends. So I don’t think you jump right to that idea of let’s go into business together I’ve got this amazing opportunity I want to recruit you for. I think you start to just sort of feel people out. And really the best way to do it is with signaling your own openness to the conversation.
So you’re in the conversation and if it’s just work related now you’re dropping hints about your personal life, not in a weird way. Or you’re talking with a friend and you talk a little bit more about what you do in that opportunity. And you kind of gauge, are the excited and receptive to this idea and willing to disclose other information? Trust is, and this something we don’t look at in the book but something I’ve looked at in prior articles I’ve written, trust is actually something that’s reciprocal and multiplex trust is the same way. You get it because of a back and forth of disclosures and willingness to be vulnerable. So I think you don’t start by pushing anything on someone you start by being vulnerable and willing to disclose what you’re up to and then the people that respond to that you can go a little bit deeper with.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. I like how you said don’t be weird about it. I think that should be the guiding principle of network. Just like don’t be weird. If you’d follow that you’d be be good.
David Burkus: Here’s what I think is so interesting. So I distill 60 years of network science research and I can boil it all down into be a good human. You would think it’d be more complicated than that but it’s not.
Brett McKay: Just be cool man. Just be cool. Another interesting thing, research you highlight ’cause I’ve been thinking about this a lot is this idea that things, people or ideas or concepts can seem bigger or more popular than they really are because of the way networks are connected. Can you talk about that a bit.
David Burkus: The interesting thing, we call it the majority illusion ’cause that’s what the scientists call it. But it’s something we’ve known for a long time. Some marketers will talk about cluster marketing where you go after a certain city and you just sort of penetrate it with tons of ads all in a short burst. So we’ve known about this idea and in fact in the book we talk about Tim Ferris, another person I’m sure there’s a lot of overlap between your two audiences is for a time you had to be an 18 to 35 year old tech savvy male to know who he was. It seems weird now because everybody knows him. But there was time where you had to be that and nobody else kind of knew he existed because he was very deliberately trying to figure out who are the most connected people, the most sought after sources of information and he was building relationships basically only with tech bloggers. The people that were speaking to this community the most often.
We call this the majority illusion because you can literally look more popular than you are if the right people, the most connected people in network are strongly signaling you. And this is something, it’s not something everybody can do but as you’re building those relationships and you know that I want to go after and raise awareness on a certain issue. So this isn’t just like a self promotional thing, you could do this for a charity issue as well. I want to raise awareness on this, I can’t just go mass audience all at once. Who is my demographic? Who specifically am I going after? And then who are the most connected people in that industry that can make me look everywhere because those couple of people are talking about it? Humans are herd creatures. We’re tribal creatures. We look to the left and to the right to get a gauge on how popular something is and we look more often to the people that are those super connectors. So if you start to look active and popular with them you look more popular than you really are.
Brett McKay: I call it the don’t believe the hype principle.
David Burkus: Oh no totally. There’s another huge adjustment in that. Great this amazing, this small community of people is super excited about you. On the other hand, most people in the world still don’t know you exist. So don’t believe the hype.
Brett McKay: Don’t believe the. My benchmarker of whether you’re the mainstream and everyone knows about you is if my parents, my 60 to they’re almost 70 now. 70 year old parents know that you exist. If that’s the case then you’ve hit the mainstream. My parents still don’t know who Tim Ferris is.
David Burkus: No, no, no, very true. To a lesser extent you and I are actually both examples of this. So we live in the exact same city but both of our target audiences are not that well represented in the city. So very few people even know we’re here. But then there’s the actual audience of people, the internet community, everybody knows about your work. In the exact community you’re talking about, Art of Manliness is one of the few podcasts that comes up consistently when I talk to people about that specific ideas, this specific sort of man audience et cetera. But then you can walk around the street, we walk around basically the same areas with our kids and stuff and nobody knows who we are. And it’s kind of great because it’s a reminder don’t believe the hype.
Brett McKay: Don’t believe, you’re not as … that’s a good reminder. Never think your poop smell, what’s the great phrase?
David Burkus: Oh no totally. I literally had that. When my first book came out I got this amazing invitation to be on CBS This Morning and so I did this interview and then I flew immediately after the interview I flew home. I arrived home, I went to go pick my son who was 18 months old at the time, I went to go pick him up from his grandparents where he was staying because it was such a last minute thing, we had to scramble for childcare and he goes, “Daddy I saw you on TV and I pooped.” And so it was immediately like hey welcome back, change my diaper, you’re not as cool as you think you are.
Brett McKay: No one cares. Don’t believe the hype. David, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
David Burkus: The best place is probably davidburkus.com, B-U-R-K-U-S. Actually let me correct that, the best place is probably the show notes for this episode ’cause you actually run really awesome show notes. I know you’re going to link it all. And if you’re listening you should go there. Brett wants you to go there. So go there first. But I’m sure you’ll link to davidburkus.com and from there you can check out the book, find out a bunch of other resources around this idea. Bunch of other activities and exercises around networking to try. So it’s all there.
Brett McKay: David Burkus thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
David Burkus: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Brett McKay: My guest today was David Burkus he’s the author of the book, Friend of a Friend, understanding the hidden networks that can transform your life and your career. You can find that at amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can also find out more information about his work at davidburkus.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/friendofafriend where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com and if you enjoy the podcast and got something out of it I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.