It’s time to talk about your network—but not the one that’s made up of computers and servers. It’s about your personal network. And unlike your computer network, where you don’t want it to be too open, having a personal open network is seen as a good thing.
The notion is based on the work of network scientist Ron Burt, who studies how groups of networks form and grow. His work includes the following network concepts:
- Brokerage: developing weak ties between groups
- Closure: developing strong ties within groups
- Degree: the number of connections a node in the network has to other nodes
- Closeness: how easily a node can connect with other nodes
- Betweenness: the degree to which a node forms a bridge between other nodes
“The bottom line? According to multiple, peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success,” writes Michael Simmons in Medium. The further you go toward a closed network, the more you repeatedly hear the same ideas, which reaffirm what you already believe, he explains. The further you go toward an open network, the more you’re exposed to new ideas.
This is also true in science, research has found. While the trope of the single mad scientist in a lab making radical discoveries is still around, what’s more likely these days is that a team of scientists from different disciplines are working together to come up with ideas, writes Jessica Love for Kellogg Insight. “As scientific knowledge has expanded, individuals have had to specialize; teams may allow for depth without sacrificing the ability to combine ideas from different subfields or even disciplines,” she writes. “And there is nothing like the interplay between multiple distinct personalities and perspectives to fuse unlikely but inspired amalgams.” As an example, she points out that the research that made this discovery was from a team made up of a sociologist and an economist.
Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, connectors, also known as network brokers, are the people who are the links between clusters of different types of people—the ones who seem to know everyone. They’re good people to get to know—or be.
Typically people in different clusters also use different words and different styles of communicating, which can be a challenge. “In a closed network, it’s easier to get things done because you’ve built up trust, and you know all the shorthand terms and unspoken rules,” Simmons writes, using Millennials and GenXers as an example. “It’s comfortable because the group converges on the same ways of seeing the world that confirm your own.”
But information doesn’t easily travel between clusters, Simmons writes. The problem is, that way, you end up in a bubble or an “echo chamber,” where everyone in the cluster is repeating the same basic ideas with no new information. We actually saw some of this “echo chamber” effect in the most recent election, where each side insisted that it had a better handle on how people would vote—because they were primarily talking to their own supporters.
Echo chambers are also subject to groupthink, where even if people have a different idea, they’re nervous about bringing it up and going against the current. That’s not a way to get innovative, disruptive ideas. It’s also vulnerable to confirmation bias, where people in the group fit everything they hear into their own preconceived notions and ignore anything that doesn’t fit. (Once you learn about confirmation bias, you see it everywhere.)
CIOs are inherently well-suited for this network broker role, because ideally they have one foot in each of the technology and business worlds. On the other hand, it isn’t always easy, admits Charles Araujo in CIO Insight. “Face it, IT professionals tend to only spend time with others in our industry,” he writes. “Perhaps on a social level, your reach is broader, but there’s a good chance that you rarely connect your two worlds.”
To create innovation, you need to bring together people of different disciplines, cultures and perspectives by getting out of your comfort zone and finding people whose backgrounds are different than your own, Araujo writes. But because computers and networks touch so many aspects of our lives, it’s likely that you can meet just about anyone and find something he common, he writes.
Having decided to step out of your bubble, how do you do it? Manpower offers three suggestions:
- Read interesting journals in other fields and connect with authors that you resonate with.
- Attend conferences and events that are tangentially related to your field, and set a goal of meeting five interesting people, who are very different from you and the people in your closed network.
- Join social networking groups that do not relate to your industry, but deals with topics that can benefit your career.
Most important? Keep an open mind, Araujo writes, noting how it’s believed that the 15th-century Medici family is thought to have created the Renaissance by serving as patrons to a wide variety of artists and scientists. “The Medici family didn’t seek to create the Renaissance,” he writes. “There was no invitation-only Renaissance conference with facilitated brainstorming sessions and panels on ‘Artistic Innovation in Five Simple Steps.’ Through their patronage, the Medici family simply brought these great artists and thinkers together—and then stayed out of the way. It was simply being together in one place and being given the freedom to explore that allowed the innovation to happen.”