Never Eat Alone: Expanding Your Circle

This is the eighth of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, “Connecting with Connectors” and “Expanding Your Circle,” which appear on pages 105 through 127.

neaOne of my old friends, Darwin, is a connector. He’s simply one of those people who knows lots of other people and often knows exactly who to call in any given situation. He’s also deeply in touch with what’s going on in the community.

In other words, Darwin is the type of person that’s infinitely useful to have as a friend – and because he’s so useful, he tends to attract lots of friends.

Naturally, this ties into his personality. He’s a gregarious extrovert who’s good with names and has a strong sense of tact. That goes a long way toward making the grade.

Still, in the end, there’s something else there – an innate desire to connect with others, perhaps. Even though Darwin and I have very little community overlap at this point, I can still call him up and ask for help if I need it – and if he can’t provide it, he probably knows someone who can.

That’s valuable, any way you slice it.

Weak Ties
On page 129, Ferrazzi cites a 1974 study by Mark Granovetter that explains how the small relationships we build with lots of people – acquaintances, distant friends, members of the same club – really help us:

As a result of the study, Granovetter immortalized the phrase “the strength of weak ties” by showing persuasively that when it comes to finding out about new jobs – or, for that matter, new information or new ideas – “weak ties” are generally more important than those you consider strong. Why is that? Think about it. Many of your closest friends generally do the same work and exist in roughly the same world as you do. That’s why they seldom know information that you don’t already know.

Your weak ties, on the other hand, generally occupy a very different world than you do. They’re hanging out with different people, often in different world, with access to a whole inventory of knowledge and information unavailable to you and your close friends.

I have a ton of weak ties in the blogging community. I send them emails every once in a while, read their blogs (and comment regularly), and link to them in my weekly roundups and on my sideboard. If they ever visit the mid-Iowa area (which simply isn’t a hotbed of blogging, other than a few moderately well-known very conservative political bloggers), I usually will go out and have a drink or a meal with them.

Yet, time and time again, when I’ve had a major project and I’ve needed help, I’ve been able to tap this community. I have dozens upon dozens of people I can write to for suggestions when I’m traveling, for ideas for an upcoming book, for a guest post in a pinch, and for getting the word out about anything big I’m doing (like a new book).

These weak ties are a big part of the success of The Simple Dollar. I’d call all of these people my friends – but they’re not close friends. We share passions, but are separated by distance and a lack of a long history with each other.

That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable – they are, and I’m quite happy to help them when they ask. They’re just simply “weak ties” – and I’ve found that, time and time again, a pile of “weak ties” can be more helpful than just a few strong ones.

I Don’t Want to Do This
On page 130, Ferrazzi makes a case as to why you probably shouldn’t want to be a “super connector”:

[…] what’s most important is developing deep and trusting relationships, not superficial contacts. Despite Granovetter’s research, I believe friendships are the foundation for a truly powerful network. For most of us, cultivating a lengthy list of mere acquaintances on top of the effort devoted to your circle of friends is just too draining. The thought of being obligated to another hundred or so people – sending birthday cards, dinner invites, and all that stuff that we do for those close to us – seems outlandishly taxing.

Only, for some, it’s not. These people are super connectors.

I’m not a super connector. I’ve probably got more connections in my address book than the average person, but I’m far from the level of many people I know. Nor do I really want to be – I’m simply not outgoing enough and the thought of adding hundreds more cards to my Christmas card list seems painful.

Instead, I’m happy with the set of close friends and the larger set of “weak ties” that I have. I don’t feel a strong need to focus on building stronger ties with all of those “weak tie” folks – not that I dislike them, but that there’s some factor (usually distance) that makes building a stronger tie more difficult.

So, for now, I’ll focus on just keeping those relationships healthy – and occasionally adding a few more weak ties or building a new deep relationship.

If You’re Not A Super Connector…
… then what should you do? Ferrazzi summarizes it clearly on page 137:

In one word: connect. In four better words: connect with the connectors.

As I mentioned at the start, one of my friends is clearly a “super connector” of sorts. I have a few other friends who are also very strong connectors, each with surprisingly little overlap with each other.

What I find is that these people tend to be particularly valuable friends. By default, if I need help with some fairly non-personal area of my life, they’re among the first ones I turn to, simply because I know they have access to answers.

It’s well worth your time to figure out the people around you who are exceptional connectors – and befriend them.

Finding a Partner
What if you don’t know any “super connectors” but want to meet lots of new and interesting people? One effective way to do it is to find a partner of sorts – someone who also wants to meet lots of new and interesting people. A peer in your workplace, perhaps. On page 139, Ferrazzi lays it out:

The most efficient way to enlarge and tap the full potential of your circle of friends is, quite simply, to connect your circle with someone else’s. I don’t think of a network of people as a “net,” into which you wrangle contacts like a school of struggling cod. Again, it’s like the internet, an interconnecting series of links in which each link works collaboratively to strengthen and expand the overall community.

Such collaboration means seeing each person in your network as a partner. Like a business in which cofounders take responsibility for different parts of the company, networking partners help each other, and by extension their respective networks, by taking responsibility for that part of the web that is theirs and providing access to it as needed. In other words, they exchange networks. The boundaries of any network are fluid and constantly open.

To put it simply, Ferrazzi is advocating meeting the friends of your friends.

This actually is a great way to meet new, interesting people and build new friendships. Accept invitations to events where you know some of the people – and those people know the rest of the people. Then, encourage the people you know to introduce you to the people you don’t.

You can facilitate the same thing yourself by hosting a party where you know all of the guests, but some of the guests may not know each other. This allows you to introduce them to each other and perhaps provide the foundation of a new, useful friendship between two people you’re concerned about.

A “Shared” Party
So how do you utilize such sharing? On page 140, Ferrazzi offers a great example of a dinner party:

“Lisa, let’s share a few months of dinner parties. You hold a dinner party at the Bel-Air and give me half the invite list. Then I’ll hold one of my dinner parties and give you half of the list. We’ll split the tab for each event, saving each of us a bundle of money., and together we’ll meet a lot of new, exciting people. By cohosting the events, we’ll make them that much more successful.”

Co-hosting parties almost always results in an interesting mix of people, as both hosts are drawing on their circle of friends which often have little overlap. This provides a great opportunity for you to meet these people, plus have the opportunity to build new relationships between the guests, many of whom won’t also know each other.

To some this seems uncomfortable, but in practice, it goes surprisingly well. All of the guests are in the same boat – they know one of the hosts. This provides a very nice conversation opener with people – you’re in the same situation, so you can talk about the gathering – and each other – from a similar perspective.

I’ve been to two gatherings like this and each time I wound up building a few new relationships out of the event. That’s worthwhile, if you ask me.

Never Forget…
A good point of advice comes on page 141, something that applies very well to all social situations:

Never forget the person that brought you to the dance. I once mistakenly invited a brand new friend to a party without inviting the person who introduced us. It was a terrible mistake, and an unfortunate lapse of judgment on my part.

This is an important key to remember for your own benefit, because the person that brought you is often the person who is most effective at introducing you around and facilitating your friendships. Until you’ve established a good relationship on your own, it’s always good to have the “person in the middle” available.

On the flip side, it’s very good to be that “person in the middle.” If you are, that means you’re adding value to both people’s lives by introducing them both to someone that they might value. If their friendship takes off, their impression of you will only grow.

Whenever I have a chance to introduce people who I think might hit it off, I always take that chance. I don’t try to set up dates or anything, but I do make an effort to make sure they know each other. If they click, everyone’s a winner.

On Wednesday, we’ll tackle the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters – “The Art of Small Talk” and “Health, Wealth, and Children.”

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