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Increasing Career Success Through Network Science: PART I

“It’s not what you know, it is who you know;” that is what we have all heard since we began looking for our first jobs.  Central to that belief is the concept that having a big network is crucial to managing one’s career success. But is that true?  More recent research in the area of Network Science says that may not be true at all. 

Network Science looks at how networks of people engage, interact, grow and thrive.  By mapping how people interact in groups, researchers have been able to identify what networking rules govern success. They have found that people don’t have just one, large network; instead they have multiple smaller networks called clusters. People have a tendency to join the clusters that surround them, whether they are school, company, or neighborhood clusters. As relationships form and strengthen, so do the clusters.


*Forbes graphic from “Why Being the Most Connected Is a Vanity Metric”

 Each of these clusters serves different functions in one’s life and therefore may have very different characteristics.  Therefore, the characteristics of certain networks will create more benefits to the members than others. The main difference between networks that enable career success and those that don’t is- whether the network is closed or open.


Most people tend towards networks that are more closed, which means they are in groups with more homogenous characteristics and thinking (e.g. engineers from the same company).  These people are more likely to stay stuck in their thinking and behavior, because their patterns go unchallenged by people who are more or less similar.  Consider the diagram below which shows how a group of random strangers behave when thrown together.

*Forbes graphic from “The No. 1 Predictor Of Career Success According to Network Science”


Unlike closed networks, open networks are more fluid and dynamic, allowing more permeability and interaction with a more diverse group of individuals.  These groups tend to be more heterogeneous and involve individuals with divergent thinking.  Open networks are more complex because members have different experiences and therefore, exchanges involve a plurality of perspectives.  This type of diversity fosters more creative and innovative thinking and learning.

There are many career benefits to operating in more diverse, open networks.  The diagram below shows how performance increases as a result of having multiple, open networks.  This diagram looks at: compensation, performance evaluations, and promotions.

*Forbes graphic from “Why Being the Most Connected Is a Vanity Metric”


  • More realistic view of the external environment: by interacting with people with diverse perspectives, members avoid groupthink and can understand divergent views.

  • Ability to act as a connector: by participating in multiple groups, a member can share ideas and people as resources for other groups.

  • More creative and innovative solutions: all research on diversity shows that groups with multiple view-points, find more out of the box solutions.

The bottom line is that your career will benefit by participating in multiple, open networks.  So seek out groups that encourage membership diversity and inter-disciplinary partnerships.  And be the one who connects these disparate groups and members.

*Next week I will write PART II, which will provide LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM NETWORK SCIENCE.

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