Far too often, business management books encourage success-hungry readers to invite noteworthy people out for coffee to “pick their brains.” Realistically, a successful person will not give too much valuable information to a stranger.
Within every networking book, you’ll find advice, but none really apply universally to all readers, nor are they backed by scientific studies behind how networking actually works. One book, however, was created solely to fill these gaps.
“Your Friend of a Friend is your future.”
In addition to reading Friend of a Friend by Dr. David Burkus, we interviewed Dr. Burkus and gathered many misconceptions about networking. The purpose of a Friend of a Friend has less to do with advising people on how to network and more to do with understanding the science of social networking. As Dr. Burkus explains, “the advice is autobiographical—it only works if you’re similar to the person that gives you the advice. If you’re a very different person, then you have to take it with a grain of salt.” He goes on to say that creating or building a network is actually inaccurate because people are already part of a network. Part of the focus of the book is helping people see the bigger picture so they can then learn how to work within that already-existing construct. The other focus of Dr. Burkus’s book is to identify how people struggle with the networking advice because they continue to move within the same circles.
The Biggest Misconceptions About Networking
We already ruled out the practice of “getting coffee to pick their brains,” which begs the question... What other common networking practices are actually unconventional?
Connect with People More Successful Than You
The assumption that you need to seek out the most accomplished business magnates is a huge misconception. If you already have an established relationship based on trust and shared experiences, or if a friend connects you with this person, then maybe you have a shot at cultivating the relationship. Otherwise, you will rarely find a successful businessman or businesswoman who will help a random stranger—they simply don’t have the time.
Networking Events Equals Opportunity
In Friend of a Friend, Dr. Burkus notes that people are “only actually meeting people who have the same opinions.” The purpose of attending networking events is to accrue information and people to support your ventures. There are, however, two unfortunate outcomes: One is that you spend a majority of the time speaking to people who are similar to you and therefore do not provide any new ideas or value. The second outcome is that the relationships created from networking events are not always genuine—how many business cards does it take to actually result in a true friendship or something that contributes to your life? And in your own personal experience, what is the ratio of mutually-beneficial relationships to networking events? Some would say not very high.
You Have to “Build” a Network
According to Dr. Burkus, “You can’t grow your network because you don’t have a network. The network already exists, and you exist inside of that network.” You’ll receive more value from the people within the same network as you. Let’s use a recent graduate as an example—new to the industry, not a lot of connections, hungry to get her foot in the door. Her plan is to start from scratch and attend a mixer in the industry she wants to get a job in. What the student fails to realize is she is connected to several professors and classmates that can vouch for her as a person, rather than strangers who all have a similar goal.
Key Networking Takeaways
At this point, you’re probably wondering how to be successful without getting out of your comfort zone to attend events, introducing yourself to intimidatingly powerful people, and building a network to have on-hand—everything the books have taught you until now. Instead of providing a formula to follow, here are a few general takeaways from Friend of a Friend that can be used to cultivate more valuable relationships.
Find Strength in Weak Ties
Strong ties are considered the people who are closely connected, such as a close friend or family member. “Weak ties” or “dormant ties” are connections with people who you don’t see as often, or you haven’t spoken to in a while. In networking, weak ties are actually a stronger network because they provide unbiased information and different perspectives compared to strong ties.
“You’re not going to get advice and counsel that’s all that helpful because you’ve probably already thought of every piece of advice they’re going to give you,” Dr. Burkus says about strong ties. “You’re a close friend with them for a reason, but usually it’s to rebuild your confidence when you’re down, not to spark new, amazing, innovative ideas.”
Homophily, in the context of networking, is the “lack of diversity that creates clusters and bubbles of people who all think alike.” Dr. Burkus explains that over time, people meet and become more comfortable around people that are similar to them. This compounding effect hinders the human ability to meet diverse people, which is important if you wish to gain new information and grow from it.
Shift Away from Egocentrism
Instead of the egocentric approach—the idea that you are the center of the network—try to fit into a network that already exists. By removing yourself from the center of the network, you increase the opportunity for the other members of the network to advance organically, and maybe even work in your favor. An entrepreneur, for example, will see company growth by removing himself or herself from the center of the business and allowing employees and vendors to provide ideas.
Be a Friend of a Friend
In networking, you never know who a friend of a friend can be. Before you rush to the next networking event, remember to choose your friends wisely, be aware of the ones you already have, and that you have an influence on the people around you as well.
“Navigating your network deliberately—making choices about who your friends are and being aware of who is a friend of a friend—can directly influence the person you become, for better or worse.” – Dr. David Burkus, author of Friend of a Friend.
David Burkus is a best-selling author, a sought-after speaker, and associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University. His newest book, Friend of a Friend, offers readers a new perspective on how to grow their networks and build key connections—one based on the science of human behavior, not rote networking advice. He’s delivered keynotes to the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and the future leaders of the United States Naval Academy. His TED talk has been viewed over 1.8 million times and he is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review.