David Burkus (@davidburkus) is a sought after speaker, business school professor, regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and author of Friend of a Friend…: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career.

What We Discuss with David Burkus:

  • How we can grow our networks based on the science of human behavior, not rote networking advice.
  • How to take advantage of our existing network’s weak and dormant ties.
  • What it means to be a structural hole-filling broker of ultimate value to our entire network.
  • How to become a superconnector.
  • Using the illusion of the majority to our advantage.
  • And much more…

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Networking can feel like a dirty job when you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. But it can truly be a delight when you can use your network not only to help yourself, but to help the network as a whole. Superconnectors and brokers understand this better than anyone.

Joining us for this episode is David Burkus, business school professor and author of Friend of a Friend…: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career. He explains how networking operates from a social scientist’s perspective, so if you thought you knew everything there is to know about connecting with others, you’re in for a new kind of ride. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

In spite of how crucial networking is to our success, many cringe at the very mention of the word. It can conjure the image of a smarmy grifter in a cheap suit trying to spread his business cards across the floor of the convention center like a pandemic of the grodiest cooties ever imagined.

Or it can remind us of our own insecurities and leave us bristling at the idea of going out to meet strangers in a way that doesn’t seem far removed from sales — but we’re selling ourselves, rendering possible rejection all the more personal.

Thanks to the diligence of business school professor David Burkus, author of Friend of a Friend…: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career, we may never have to go to a networking event ever again.

It doesn’t get us off the hook entirely — we still need to network. But David offers us the tools we need to make the process as painless as possible — and even more effective — because he’ll show us how we can grow our networks based on the science of human behavior, not rote networking advice.

Finding Strength in Dormant and Weak Ties

We’re constantly networking in order to make new connections in our network. But what if we’re neglecting the connections we already have — people we’re not seeing or understanding the importance of — in a network that’s hidden to us?

David lays out two connections in such a network:

  • A weak tie: A person you know, but not that well.
  • A dormant tie: A person who may have once been a strong connection, but for whatever reason, the relationship has fallen by the wayside.

While we’re more likely to consult our more visible network for advice, referrals, and new perspectives, David says it’s these weak and dormant ties in our hidden network that are more likely to give us better results.

“The primary value of any network is information,” says David, “and when all of your information is coming from people that are taking their cues off of each other, they’re all reading the same things, they’re all having the same reactions, you’re missing out on a lot of information that you need.”

“The people that are closest to you can’t really help all that much because they see the world the same way you do; they have access to the same information that you have,” says David. “And even though those weak or dormant ties might be less motivated to help, they have more original information that can help you.”

In order to reconnect with these weak and dormant ties, David recommends using the information they’re already posting on social media (it’s rare that someone doesn’t use some form of social media these days) and rather than commenting directly in that network, you should take the time to email, text, or even call them referencing something there that caught your attention.

Maintaining a Network Takes Effort

Another complaint people have about networking is it feels fake to them. They reason that relationships should be natural and organic, and interacting with someone for the sake of your network strikes them as inauthentic. David has a remedy for this.

“Scroll through your contacts,” says David. “You land on a name that you know, ‘Oh, it’s been a while since I talked to them.’ Don’t send them an email right then; just move them from the back of your mind to the front of your mind over the next day or two. I guarantee you will find something — a news article, a tweetable blurb, a sound bite, a thing you saw on a TV show — you’ll eventually find some reason to reach out to them in the next couple of days, and there you go. You’ve got your reconnection.”

Keeping track of connections can also be done through a contact management system like Contactually, which notifies you when a close tie is becoming dormant or you haven’t taken action to strengthen a weak tie.

Become a Broker by Filling Structural Holes

People’s relationships tend to cluster for different reasons: career, field of study, political ideology, gender, and so on. Over time, gaps form between these clusters — what sociologist Ronald S. Burt calls structural holes. In a network, this has the same effect we saw with stronger ties in relation to weak and dormant ties: people within those clusters share the same perspectives, and are blind to insight other clusters might offer.

“It turns out that the people who unlock the most value for everybody — including the most value for themselves — are the people that find a way to tie those two communities together,” says David.

In order to become a broker who can bridge these clusters and fill structural holes, we need to be deeply embedded in at least one of the communities.

“I wish I could tell you there was some sort of super deliberate way that you could just pick two communities and insist on getting them together,” says David, “but the truth is you sort of have to look at ‘Who am I already connected to?’ and how can you use that person as a referral to this other community that [you] can then start to get to know. And then you find ways to connect them and then you find the ways to provide value to them.”

Superconnectors

Some people have a disproportionate number of contacts in relation to others. There could be many variables at play as to why this happens, but one of the easiest reasons could simply be that new people entering a networking space will automatically be introduced to the person within that space who is known to have the most connections.

These people are called superconnectors.

If we want to become superconnectors ourselves, how can we do it when our networking space is already filled with them?

“This is the good news and the bad news of superconnectors,” says David. “The bad news is that if people feel like it’s coming naturally to other people, that’s true and other people do have an advantage. The good news is that if you put in the work, it gets easier over time.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how long it took Jordan to become a superconnector (which may indicate he’s actually just really bad at networking after all), how a network begins to naturally reciprocate the effort a superconnector puts into it (because the superconnector helps the entire network and not just him or herself), the illusion of the majority, and lots more.

THANKS, DAVID BURKUS!

If you enjoyed this session with David Burkus, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank David Burkus at Twitter!

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And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at [email protected].

Resources from This Episode:

Download Worksheet for How to Become a Networking Superconnector

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