But what’s intriguing is just how much your network of relationships affects your success. Surprisingly, the people you know predict the jobs you land, the ideas you find, the health you feel, and the happiness you enjoy.
Jobs often come from knowing people.
Let’s start with the most obvious one. As author-investor Ben Casnocha likes to say, opportunities don’t float down from the sky — they come attached to people.
This is because, in a still-recovering economy, companies find hires by way of referral. The New York Times reports that companies like Ernst & Young emphasise referral-based hiring. Last year, 45% of non-entry-level placements at the professional services giant came from referrals, a jump from the 28% in 2010.
Deloitte is another example of a company that favours the referral. “Over all, Deloitte receives more than 400,000 résumés a year,” the Times continues, “but recommended employees are guided along by a 12-person team.”
You tend to be as happy as the people around you.
If you have many groups of friends, then you’re more likely to be happy, according to a 2009 study by James Fowler at the University of California, San Diego, and Nick Christakis of Harvard Medical School.
In one interview, Fowler said to imagine social networks like a party: Some people might be in a corner quietly talking one-on-one with someone, while a person in the center will have multiple conversations at a time. According to the research, those centrally located people tend to be happier — but only if their friends are happy, too.
Why is that? Because happiness and other emotions are contagious. So if you have a cluster of friends wrestling with depression, waves of negative feelings come your way like a cold. But if they’re feeling well, those positive vibes radiate your way, too.
You’re typically as healthy as your friends and family.
Fowler and Christakis have found that smiles aren’t the only thing that spread from person to person. Health does, too. Their research shows that if your best friend becomes obese, then you have a 57% chance of growing obese also.
This graph of a 2,200-person social network offers an example. In it, the yellow dots represent an obese person, the green dots represent a nonobese person, with the size of each dot showing the person’s Body-Mass Index. As you can see, the obese and nonobese tend to cluster together.
Quitting smoking is a similar case. If a colleague quits, you have a 34% greater chance of quitting. If a friend quits, it’s 36%. And if your spouse quits, then you have a 67% greater chance of quitting.
The lesson here? Our health improves — and worsens — in groups. For more on this, watch Christakis’ awesome TED Talk:
Your ideas are generally as good as your colleagues’ ideas.
Being at the center of a network doesn’t just make you more susceptible to smiles or calories — it makes you more open to insights.
Activate Networks, a network science consultancy built on Christakis’ theory, gives a compelling example. In one case study, they mapped the networks of engineers within an aerospace company. Activate found that after time at the organisation, the greatest predictor of success was the quantity and qualities of connections a person had.
For instance, if an engineer had strong relationships across departments as well as up and down the hierarchy, she was more likely to score high on success metrics, like patents filed or products brought to market.
Having a broad network helps you gather feedback on your ideas, lending perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
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