Question for you: what do you think is the biggest predictor of success?
A quick poll of friends suggests: smarts, tenacity, luck, looks and who you know.
(how much do we love science around here?)
“According to multiple, peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success,” he writes. “In fact, the study shows that half of the predicted difference in career success (i.e., promotion, compensation, industry recognition) is due to this one variable.”
So, it’s not who you know, it’s who you don’t know.
The power of an open network
Simmons explains that he discovered this startling truth in the course of interviewing several prominent network scientists. These experts not only told Simmons about the importance of having an open network, they also explained to him why this one factor is so incredibly important.
First, what exactly is an “open network”? To define the term, it’s helpful to understand its opposite. “Most people spend their careers in closed networks; networks of people who already know each other,” Simmons writes. “People often stay in the same industry, the same religion, and the same political party.” This type of closed network, he concedes, has some obvious advantages.
“It’s easier to get things done,” Simmons allows, “because you’ve built up trust, and you know all the shorthand terms and unspoken rules. It’s comfortable because the group converges on the same ways of seeing the world that confirm your own.”
On the other hand, those with an open network–i.e., people who act as the node connecting different groups–can end up feeling more lonely and less understood. Having an open network is “challenging, because it requires assimilating different and conflicting perspectives into one worldview,” Simmons notes.
But it’s the sparks that fly when people of different backgrounds and worldviews knock against one another that actually make open networks so valuable. By bringing together people of different backgrounds, you gain the ability to escape a single group’s echo chamber and avoid errors caused by groupthink; the power to act as a connector or translator between different circles; and the immense creative potential of combining ideas from different fields.
In short, if you’re able to endure the occasional social and intellectual discomfort of moving among different groups, you’ll gain a massive boost to your chances of career success.