Why You Need A Diverse Network

Having a big network isn't enough—to be effective, it has to be diverse as well.

The most successful people are often the most connected. Why? Network science shows that the quantity and quality of your relationships predict how innovative you'll be—has something to do with that way your ideas will meet and be transformed by others. But the range of connections you have can be easily left out.

Think about it like this: Diverse organizations make better decisions than homogenous ones. If we consider our networks to be informal, non-institutional organizations, then we'd do well to harness that heterogeneity.

Writing on LinkedIn, former Merrill Lynch global wealth head Sallie Krawcheck shared just as much:

...If my network is made up solely of female financial services professionals of my generation, who all hail from the South, I will likely feel very comfortable with them. And I will likely enjoy my time with them. And I will no doubt learn from them.

But at some point, this will become an echo chamber of similar-enough experiences and perspectives.

But, strangely enough, we tend toward sameness.

We see the pattern in companies: People tend to hire people who are just like them, leading to firms that continually replicate themselves. This is great if you all want to have grown up in the same three zip codes, but is terrible for being to relate to a range of customers cohorts: To paraphrase Kellogg professor Lauren Rivera, if you're whole team is extroverts, you'll have a tough time making stuff for introverts.

Krawcheck admits that it's tougher relating to people who don't share the same exact backgrounds as you, but it can be singularly potent: She says some of her most meaningful recent connections have been with professionals in other industries and regions—and especially entrepreneurs of a younger generation who have "significantly different" perspectives.

It's a case for career experience contrasts.

"Just as the most successful management teams bring complementary strengths to the table," Krawcheck notes, "so the most meaningful professional networks do as well….even if it takes a bit more effort."

Still, this need not be a clingy courtship: As we've noted before, we can't be reptiles about the human bond thing. Wharton organizational psychologist Adam Grant's research has shown that the people who are consistently giving to others are the ones most likely to succeed.

Hat tip: LinkedIn

[Image: Flickr user Shashank Gupta]

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3 Comments

  • I love this article. 1) I fully believe that diversity and collaboration make for better ideas. BUT 2) As a manager, I also understand the lure of hiring like-minded individuals. It's like having to steel yourself to purposefully populate your team with people you may not as easily get along with. Then follow through with building an open, supportive culture.

  • Sanat Dickson

    Knowledge and experience provide you with necessary tools to connect, communicate and understand your colleagues and indeed your target audience. It is common sense to diversify your network... I like the article, yet would have loved a few stats, more facts & examples.

    Great stuff though, and agree indeed.

  • Srinivas Rao

    I love this and agree wholeheartedly. I once interviewed the author Robert Green about his book Mastery. When I asked him about inputs he used biodiversity as a metaphor. He told me the more inputs you have in an ecosystem, the richer the ecosystem becomes. I kind of see network the same way. That's why I continually look to the edges to search for the "not-so-obvious" interviews for my podcast.