Friend of a Friend

I wanted to love this book, and I did take a lot away from some chapters. Overall though, I was disappointed. The book seemed to rely on only a handful of research studies and the sections on specific actions were thin. I still haven’t found a great book on networking that I’d recommend to others. This dove into a lot of the science behind connections, but it left a lot to be desired in my opinion on the practical application.

Notes and highlights:

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.

The book discussed this idea of structural holes, which can be thought of as essentially communication gaps across an organization.

In contrast, “a structural hole,” Burt wrote, “is a relationship of non-redundancy between two contacts.

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,” Burt wrote.

Another popular idea was that of a broker – someone that crosses the chasm between two departments.

brokers—those who were discussing ideas with individuals from other clusters or groups of the organization—were significantly more likely to have valuable ideas for improvement.

The individuals most likely to become brokers and to develop connections across structural holes were what he called “organizational misfits.” Instead of pursuing the slow and steady ladder-climbing career paths of most employees, these misfits had atypical career paths, bouncing around to different business units and filling different job functions.

Successful teams should ultimately break apart and go do other tasks across the organization:

But research offers a different lesson, revealing that many of the most successful teams are successful only because they are temporary—they meet for a time and then disband, with some members going to other teams. 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 Matthew Effect:

We have been using phrases like “the rich get richer” for some time now to discuss how initial advantages beget more advantages. In sociology, there is even a term for it: 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.”

This is the part I took the most from – the idea of shared activities and how they play into building a strong network:

the shared activities principle states that “powerful networks are not forged through casual interactions but through sharing in high-stakes activities that bring together a diverse set of participants.” In other words, schmoozing at a mixer is far less likely to lead you to a powerful network than jumping into projects, teams, and activities that draw a diverse set of people together.

Shared activities stand the best chance of developing potent new network connections when they satisfy three qualities: they evoke passion, they require interdependence, and there is something at stake.