Thanks to Peter for pointing me at this piece on 'The No.1 Predictor Of Career Success According to Network Science'. Like Peter I'm not a fan of the term 'career success' (nor of over-analysing Steve Jobs) since we might define success in so many different ways, but Michael Simmons makes a powerful point about something that intuitively feels right: being part of a small, closed network where you are connected to people who already know each other is distinctly limiting, whereas being part of a large open network, particularly where you are the link between different clusters of people, is empowering, and a good predictor of success.
Research by Professor Ron Burt at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business indicates that no other factor is more important in predicting career success. What the work shows is that simply having a large network of people you know is not enough - but being a 'broker' between different clusters is enormously powerful: 'What a broker does,' says Burt, 'is make a sticky information market more fluid. Great ideas will never move if we wait for them to be spoken in the same language'.
I think this is a powerful idea for organisations. I've drawn a lot in the past from the book The Power of Pull, which talks about the idea of 'porous enterprise' - how innovation happens at the edges, how valuable connected employees are in bringing fresh thinking into a company, and how businesses need to focus less on protecting existing 'stocks' of knowledge and more on knowledge flow.
It's comfortable and validating for both individuals and companies to stay within the same groups. It's easy for businesses to become extremely inwardly facing and reward managing upwards rather than connecting outwards. But being able to draw information from diverse clusters, make new connections, introduce new information to different audiences or translate and re-apply knowledge has surely never been more valuable. We talk about the need to get out of our comfort zones as individuals, but companies need to do it too.