Friend Of A Friend . . . | David Burkus

Summary of: Friend Of A Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career
By: David Burkus


In his book ‘Friend of a Friend…’, David Burkus reveals the importance of building a strong network for professional success. The book explains how cultivating weak social ties instead of relying on close friendships can lead to better networking opportunities. By connecting with people outside your close friend circle, you increase the likelihood of finding new job opportunities and innovative business ideas. With a focus on connecting with unfamiliar groups, the book guides readers on how to develop essential networking skills that contribute to a more diverse and innovative network, which in turn helps achieve career success.

Power of Weak Social Ties

Close friendships are essential in life, but when it comes to career success and innovation, forming connections with acquaintances or weak social ties can prove to be more advantageous. Research has shown that networking through weak social ties provides access to unique resources, such as job opportunities and fresh ideas, as these connections tend to belong to different social clusters and offer diversified perspectives. Embracing weak social ties can lead to a more innovative and successful professional life.

Maintaining close friendships enriches our lives in countless ways; however, when it comes to pursuing career opportunities and fostering innovation, weak social ties can bring unexpected advantages. Establishing relationships with individuals who are not part of our immediate social circle – the people we interact with less closely – can enhance our networking capabilities.

In general, when exploring new opportunities, we may instinctively lean towards our strongest social ties, while neglecting the potential of connections with those outside our immediate circle. Unfortunately, strong ties often belong to the same interconnected social cluster, limiting their potential to provide unique opportunities. In contrast, weak ties are connected to different social clusters, which allows them to introduce opportunities and insights not readily available within our direct circle.

In 1970, Harvard University student Mark Granovetter illustrated this concept when he surveyed individuals making job transitions. He discovered that 83 percent of successful job seekers found their new positions through weak social ties. This study highlights the importance of maintaining relationships with our wider network.

Moreover, weak social ties can also contribute to increased innovation. In 2002, Martin Ruef, a sociology professor at Duke University, explored the business models of 700 start-ups and found that those developed through interactions with weak ties were deemed highly innovative compared to their fields. These businesses had, for instance, filed more patents to protect their groundbreaking ideas.

Ultimately, forging relationships with both close friends and acquaintances with varying degrees of connection is key to achieving professional success and innovation. While close friendships provide emotional support and stability, weak ties can offer invaluable resources and opportunities otherwise unattainable from within our inner circle.

Embrace Unfamiliarity for Innovation

We all have the natural tendency to gravitate towards familiar people and to form exclusive groups. However, reaching out to completely unfamiliar groups offers exceptional benefits – it sparks innovation, boosts career growth, and enhances professional networks. The story of Sequoyah, the early nineteenth-century Cherokee silversmith, perfectly demonstrates the power of connecting with unfamiliar groups. His willingness to learn the English language and utilize that knowledge to develop a system of symbols for the Cherokee people is a testament to the fact that embracing the unfamiliar pays off in myriad ways.

Remember those high school cliques and their designated cafeteria spots? We tend to feel comfortable around familiar faces and often prefer sticking to our exclusive groups, even as adults at social events. However, venturing out and connecting with people we don’t know can actually work wonders for our personal and professional lives.

Consider the fascinating story of Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith from the early 1800s. While most of his native community kept to themselves, Sequoyah embraced American settlers and learned English. By simply emulating their use of written language, he created a system of symbols representing Cherokee language syllables. His invention was hugely successful and is still used in present-day Cherokee territories.

But the advantages of exploring unfamiliar connections don’t end with innovation. Building relationships with different social clusters can pave the way for better career prospects, higher salaries, and more promotions. A 2004 study led by sociologist Ronald Burt supports this claim. He tasked 673 managers with improving an electronics company’s supply-chain management and found that those who consulted with individuals from different social circles generated superior ideas. Interestingly, these managers already held higher-paying and esteemed positions within the company.

The takeaway from these examples is clear: stepping out of our comfort zones and mingling with people from diverse backgrounds can open up a world of opportunities. By embracing unfamiliarity, you are setting yourself up for innovation, enhanced career growth, and a richer, more connected life.

Teamwork Empowers Scientific Innovation

The image of a lone genius scientist making breakthroughs is antiquated. In reality, the power of teamwork is shaping innovation in science. Over the past 50 years, collaboration has increasingly become a critical factor in scientific advancement. Studies show that the average size of a scientific team has grown from 1.9 to 3.5, and teams now develop and execute over half of the published scientific work. Furthermore, team-produced papers are referenced more often than individual papers, implying a higher impact. Interestingly, teams made up of researchers collaborating for the first time achieve greater success and recognition by having their work published in high-profile periodicals. While the exact reasons are unclear, it is likely that fresh ideas and energy from new team members invigorate the collaboration, leading to more innovative results.

The Snowball Effect of Networking

Jesus’ statement in the Gospel according to Matthew, that those who have more will acquire even more, holds true for networking. This “Matthew effect” suggests that the more connections one has, the more connections they will continue to attract. This is because individuals tend to seek out well-connected individuals when trying to expand their own networks. As your contacts accumulate, networking becomes easier. Moreover, popularity spreads quickly through social groups, as demonstrated by sociologists Matthew Salganik and Peter Dodds in their 2006 experiment in which people were influenced by others’ choices regarding music downloads. When visitors could see how many times songs were downloaded, certain tracks became hits, while the same song remained unnoticed when such information was unavailable. The same principle applies to networking – if you’re well-connected, others will naturally be drawn to you.

Becoming a Super Connector

Envision a friend standing 100 feet tall, dwarfing everyone and dramatically skewing the average height of your group of friends upward. This same concept applies when comparing network sizes. Most people believe they have more friends and contacts than average; however, this is not the case due to Super Connectors. These individuals have amassed colossal amounts of contacts and drastically affect the average, particularly on social media. For example, a 2016 study found that most Twitter users fell well short of the average number of followers. Interestingly, becoming a Super Connector is not impossible – take Tim Ferriss, for example, who launched his bestselling book, The Four-Hour Workweek, by effectively analyzing and targeting his key demographic. By connecting with online bloggers and journalists, Ferriss positioned himself as a Super Connector, and the once-unknown author profited from it immensely.

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