New research published earlier this month - ‘Long ties, disruptive life events, and economic prosperity - highlights the importance of relationships and social networking outside of your immediate circle.
It found that ‘long ties’, which connect people who lack mutual contacts, are more valuable and these also correlate with career success and economic prosperity. When you think about it, building your personal network is usually through mutual contacts – you connect with people whom you come in contact with through people you are connected to.
Long ties stand out as they are usually built through turning points in our lives – moving to new cities, new schools, etc. While the research identifies that long ties in our personal network are a result of disruptive life events, there is a possibility of building such relationships through a deliberate strategy that can transform your life and career.
Importance of diversity
I get asked this often: ‘Why is diversity in our networks important?’ Understandably so, since this takes effort and is unfamiliar to us. You share no mutual contacts and hence this doesn’t have any relevance to ‘your world’. Yet, the benefits are multifold:
1. ’Unfamiliar connections’ open up new worlds for you
Such connections open up a source of information not available before through any other connection you might have. This creates ‘access’ and combined with your ‘existing world’ leads to new combinations. Such collisions of different worlds has historically been the genesis of innovation. Life has always been a story of cross-pollination.
2. Diversity in your network leads to personal growth
Unfamiliar worlds make us focus our mind on the ‘newness’ and in turn create new neural connections in our brains. We learn from our interactions and it helps us build new abilities and new behaviours.
3. Deepening these relationships creates unprecedented opportunities
Diverse networks create an informational advantage that may not be available to others in your field of work. When you deepen such relationships, it tends to give you ‘access’, which is very powerful. Imagine the quality of conversations in this hypothetical relationship – A space-tech expert and a VC who know each other but don’t have any other common connections. If sustained, such connections would be mutually enriching.
4. Dealing with diversity is a journey in leadership
My personal viewpoint about leadership is to be able to ‘fill the vacuum when no one is willing to do so’. When you have diversity in your personal network and they are not interconnected, you are uniquely positioned to develop your leadership muscles. In situations, these distinct networks would need someone like you to mediate between them and they would look to you to occupy that space.
Building diversity in your personal network
Do you remember the ‘anti-library’? It’s a concept that Nassim Taleb talked about in his book ‘The Black Swan’ – a bookshelf in your home that only has books that you haven’t read. Our strategy for building diversity in our network should follow a similar approach.
Everything you can do from hereon that has kept you away from discovering people you never had a chance to connect to.
Back in the day, I changed schools every two years. My dad worked as a doctor in a government division that required him to be in a new place every 2-3 years. My personal network is wide and has limited overlaps.
While this was due to ‘disruptive life events’, you can do the same in a planned manner.
- Travel to places where you know no one. Discovering cultures and social insights in far-off places can be very life-changing.
- Unrelated conferences that are unlikely to be attended by anyone you know. This will help you become aware of a subject or topic that you were never exposed to. More importantly, it will lead to new connections.
- Confidence to connect with absolute strangers. Whether it is through LinkedIn, Twitter (and Threads) or even your local café, be open to people very different from the ‘usual lot’ that you are already connected to. Thank me later.
Grow your world and you will grow with it Inexplicably, we tend to seek refuge in the familiar. This approach to our life is limiting. To grow as an individual and leader, grow your world by reaching out to ‘new worlds’.
Find people for whom you represent the entire world of whatever vocation you are in. Connect with them and make them an integral part of your world.