What is a friend of a friend? – Part 2

The classic image of innovation and invention is that of a wiry, white-haired and bespeckled scientist at a lab bench, his cry of eureka echoing into the lonely void. But things aren’t like that anymore: innovation increasingly comes down to teamwork.

Surprisingly, successful teams who stuck together found it hard to keep the magic flowing. Their work received less recognition, generally only appearing in lower-profile publications.

No one has yet successfully explained this phenomenon. But it’s likely that new team members bring new ideas and energy, something severely lacking in stale, established collaborations.

Simply put, the more connected you are, the more connected you’ll get. It’s pretty logical, really: when people are out to make new contacts, they naturally look for people who already have lots of ties. A rolling  stone of sorts.

It’s easy to visualize what happens next. When an already well-connected person starts piling up more links, they’re more likely to attract new people wanting to join their network. There’s a lesson in this. If networking seems hard at first, don’t worry; as your contacts accumulate, it will get easier.

Another reason why networking becomes easier over time is that popularity is infectious and spreads quickly through social groups. This very same principle applies to networking. If you’re connected and people know it, then others are going to come knocking at your door.

Imagine that one of your friends was 100-feet tall. If you were then to calculate your friendship group’s average height, you’d find that this one measurement had skewed the average dramatically upward. In fact, you’d have to admit that you were shorter than average.

The same idea holds true when comparing network sizes. Though many people like to imagine they have more friends and contacts than the average, they don’t. That’s because Super Connectors – people who have amassed mountains of contacts – will knock the average right out of whack.

Social media only exacerbates the issue. But there’s no need to get disheartened. It’s actually possible to become a Super Connector and to profit from it.

Tim Ferriss is one such example. Before he published his best seller The Four-Hour Workweek in 2007, Ferriss was an unknown with no network to speak of. But he had a business plan up his sleeve.

Ferriss worked out that his target audience would be men aged 18 to 35 and interested in technology. He therefore found the ten to 15 websites that were most popular with that demographic. After that, Ferriss targeted their owners: he attended conferences where he could meet them and struck up informal conversations that quickly segued into full-blown product pitches.

Before long, most of these online bloggers and journalists were posting about him – the illusion had been created. To hordes of tech geeks, Ferris seemed to be a Super Connector. They came flooding to him, his book became a best seller and he became a genuine Super Connector for the first time.

The old saying goes that birds of a feather flock together, and there’s a lot of truth in that. And science confirms the proverb: humans tend to cluster into groups of people similar to themselves.

Networks aren’t just about networking, but that’s where you have to start. To most people, networking means going out and talking to strangers, but it’s not quite that simple – you need to be aware of who you’re talking to and also cultivate weak social ties. Once established, a proper network will diversify teams and contacts, leading to increased productivity and innovation. Shared activities are also more likely to break down social barriers and build stronger networks, and always remember that great friendships can lead to fantastic business partnerships.

Now some homework for you. Think about a friend whom you would consider a great connector. Any lessons from him/her?

Check out my related post: Should Facebook pay for content?

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