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Book Review: Friend of a Friend

Book Review: Friend of a Friend

Network. It can be such a loaded and overbearing term.

On the one hand, it’s a noun. Among other definitions, it can denote a group of people connected by some commonality. Maybe it’s your personal network of acquaintances. Perhaps it’s a subset, such as a network of gamers, artists, or musicians who gather to share expertise, even trade secrets. The network could meet face-to-face or in an online community. I’m old enough to remember being a part of various networks via BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) in the 1980’s and 1990’s. My favorite was Purple Ocean, namely its Trade Wars community.

On the other hand, it’s a verb.

In this case, it is often where people love doing it—tending to and building their network of contacts—or they loathe it, running for the exit door as soon as the term comes up.

As a verb, to “network” is also to interact with others in hopes of maintaining a relationship for the future. Maybe it’s a professional relationship; perhaps it’s personal. Either way, when we network we are cultivating a bond with the hope of preserving it for (ideally) mutual purposes.

I thought I knew how to network, and how to not only tap into it when required but to maximize my connections in both my professional and personal life.

It turns out I had a lot to learn. How?

In his third book, Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career, author David Burkus debunks what we ought to think about networking. Furthermore, he masterfully provides you with the insights and expertise so you can become more effective at creating and strengthening the critical connections that will improve your life, be it at work or personally.

Burkus sets us straight in the very first chapter distinguishing the difference between weak ties and strong ties. The latter is who we regularly turn to—be it for counsel, advice, a hug, and so on—while the former are those types of contacts and connections we rarely interact with, but remain within our network.

Both types of ties are needed (and to be understood better) if we are to become better at networking. However, weak ties end up becoming “our best source for the new information that we need to resolve our dilemmas.”

Burkus further digs into the concept of “dormant ties,” those connections that have lied dormant for an extended period. The good news is that the relationship is still there, but it’s up to you to rekindle it, to use to your advantage.

The point is that between strong, weak and dormant ties, they are the people with which you have a previously existing (or currently existing) relationship and who may help you the most. You have already done the hard bit! The network exists to fuel your growth however that growth may be defined. As Burkus rightly points out, “It’s those weak ties that give you the best chance of finding new information and learning about unexpected opportunities.”

As you continue through the book, Burkus weaves in fantastic stories from multiple cross sections of our planet. There is one that outlines how Michelle McKenna-Doyle, SVP, and CIO of the NFL landed that role through—yes, you guessed it—tapping into her not-so-strong network ties. Another story details the super-connected habits of Brian Grazer, producer of films such as Apollo 13Liar LiarA Beautiful Mind, and 8 Mile. For example, Grazer instituted a personal habit called the “curiosity conversation” where for more than 35 years he seeks out conversations with people he has never met, be it President Bill Clinton, Carl Sagan, and even Princess Diana, just to learn and to potentially pass that knowledge on to others.

Moreover, if the advice and guidance within the chapters were not enough, Burkus ends each one with a “From Science to Practice” summary where he highlights vital tasks for you to improve how you are using and building your network. Furthermore, he has provided online resources for you to practice and grow further.

In summary, the book is somewhat antithetical to the 1,000-plus networking books that are already in the market. There are far too many “how to network better” books, all that prescribe the same transactional actions. Most of them feel autobiographical, too.

In Friend of a Friend, Burkus provides an abundant wealth of stories, suggestions, and scientific research that proves when you tap into and nurture your existing network—be it strong, weak or dormant—you will have a much more affluent network altogether.

As he justly states in the book, “Knowing how networks come together is the secret weapon behind a powerful networking strategy. It works better than the entire collection of tools.”

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