Back in 2009, when I was an active job seeker, I often promoted my social network on my resume, cover letter, or recruiter phone call as a valuable personal resource that I could use to aid the potential employer. Unfortunately, most HR pros and recruiters didn’t understand how my network was an asset that could be of any use to them.
My actions were validated at the HRAGD October chapter meeting, where speaker Brian Uzzi of Nortwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management presented “The New Science of Networks”. In this presentation, he made it very clear that it was not only important for business leaders to have a network, it was necessary for leaders to strategically create that network.
Brian began by discussing Paul Revere, that legendary night rider of the Revolutionary War, and how we obviously all knew who he was and what he had done. How about William Dawes? Do you know who he was? Me, either.
William Dawes, it turns out, was also a midnight rider tasked to warn colonials about British troop movements, just like Paul Revere. In fact, William Dawes road further and longer than Paul Revere did on the night of April 18, 1775.
So why have most of us never heard of William Dawes? The difference, according to Brian Uzzi, was the composition and value of their networks.
Revere was a talented silversmith with many customers, a dentist, a Mason, and a political activist. He connected with multiple people across all walks of life. According to Malcolm Gladwell and his book The Tipping Point, Revere was a connector and Dawes a more “ordinary man.”
The Dawes network was low in diversity and high in redundancy, with no brokers to move the message outside to other networks – the contacts were all familiar with each other and unable to spread the word beyond those who had already heard it. In words familiar to the online HR world: an echo chamber.
The Revere network had 3 key properties that Uzzi claimed made it “rich in social capital”:
- TRUST – the willingness to share private information
- DIVERSITY – multiple skills and backgrounds
- BROKERAGE – key contacts who can push information out to other networks
Most people have a Dawes echo chamber or clique because networks are created with people we trust and feel comfortable with for one or two reasons:
- The Self-similarity Principle – picking ties that have similar training, experiences, and intellectual backgrounds.
- The Proximity Principle – we are inclined to choose ties in the same departments, units and teams as us.
According to Uzzi, the way to build trust, diversity, and brokerage into your network is by embracing the Shared Activity Principle. Engaging in activities that require interdependence of two or more people, have something at stake, and attract people who are passionate about the activity are those that best connect you to a cross section of people and create a network with the most value. Examples of these activities are team or partner sports, volunteer groups and associations, community service, and cross-functional work teams.
In fact, Uzzi claims if your network is more than 70% self-similar, you will have diminishing or negative returns instead of value.
So I will continue to play flyball, do community theatre, and volunteer extensively to keep my network diverse. How about you?