Stepping Outside the Bubble – The Case for Open and Diverse Networks

Article by Vikas Narula

I grew up in a new age town surrounded by meditating, herbal tea drinking, liberals. It was all I knew. This oddity was compounded by the fact that I was a child of Indian immigrants. While I was living in America, my home and community life was quite a bit outside the traditional mainstream.

When I moved to Minneapolis 21 years ago, I think I spoke to a hunter for the first time ever. I was appalled. “You actually shoot live animals on the run?”

A few years later, at work, I crossed paths with a gun-toting, Republican from the outback of Wyoming. We couldn’t have been more philosophically opposed on every issue known to man.

Ironically, we became really good friends. While we could not agree on most political issues, we had an affinity towards one another. We were curious about our upbringings and perspectives, given how vastly different they were.

It was almost comical. He grew up shooting live game and riding horses on the range. I grew up a yoga-loving vegan. We would laugh and joke about our divergent and contrasting interests, and despite being opposites, we enjoyed hanging out. I would introduce him to new vegetarian dishes at Indian restaurants and he would share stories about life in rural Wyoming.

We worked together for several years and even after I left the company, we stayed in touch. We are good friends to this day.

I think he was the first person I had become close friends with who was far outside the lens through which I viewed my world. He challenged me and expanded my perspective in ways my “regular” friends did not. When I think about it, our friendship taught me something important: we don’t have to agree or believe in the same things to love one another and be friends.

It turns out having friends and connections that share perspectives and experiences that are different from our own, isn’t just a comfort-zone buster, but a hugely important catalyst for career success and growth.

In 2016, Michael Simmons – notable author, speaker, and entrepreneur – wrote this riveting article (which was also covered by Fast Company, Inc., and Forbes) about the latest social science research surrounding the biggest predictor of career success. In this article, he draws from cutting-edge research pioneered by Ron Burt from the University of Chicago.

The research suggests that the biggest predictor of career success simply boils down to whether you are in an open network vs. a closed one. In essence, it has to do with our connections – not necessarily the volume of our connections, but the degree to which we bridge diverse clusters of networks.

I was naturally fascinated by this research, given my work, and couldn’t help but to reflect and wonder whether these findings supported my own career journey.

Is it true? Has my career been dictated by the nature of my networks and have I grown professionally as a result of stepping into open / diverse networks? This reflection became the heart of a TEDx talk I gave earlier this year.

What I hope this research and talk does for you and others is get you to think about the nature of your connections as it relates to the evolution of your life and career. Think about your ten closest friends. Do they look and think like you? What are their religious and political beliefs? Think about the times you were learning and growing the most. Where were you and who were you working with?

One of the questions I frequently get is “Where do I start?” How do I begin to know where to best spend my diversified “networking” efforts?

What are you drawn to that is a little different from your norm? Are there certain groups or associations you have wanted to join, but avoided because it didn’t necessarily align with your current career goals or aspirations? Are there certain types of people you’ve wanted to know better, but have hesitated out of fear or complacency?

Go there.

Make connecting a joyous experience – get excited about it, and if it feels a little scary, even better. Meet people in a domain you are attracted to, which is a bit outside of your comfort zone. See where it takes you. If you follow the connection trail, with a spirit of curiosity and openness, in due time you will find yourself in new circles, delighting in new conversations, forging unlikely friendships, and discovering hidden treasures.

It starts with one small step or connection.

Who are you going to connect and forge a bridge with? It not only has the potential to transform your life and career, but also our world.

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