Ronald S. Burt: So it’s an interesting question—What is a network?—because it’s different things at different times. The usual way we ask managers what their network looks like is: “With whom do you have frequent, substantive work contact?” But people are different than monkeys, for example, where their network is a constant troop that they’re traveling with. For humans, our network is really everyone we’ve been close to ever, as long as they’re not dead, because our relationships will go in to remission, and then when we have an interest, or coincidence brings us together, we reanimate the relationship. So I see you at the airport. I haven’t seen you for four years. “Josh, how you doing? It’s wonderful to see you.”
So the network then becomes this entity that people animate that has predictable variations. It is everyone you’ve known, but for any one task you’re working on, there’s a core set that you’re working with. That’s what we’re after for managers. But on this project, it will look like this. A year from now, on another project, it will look like that. Fortunately, people have a style of building a network so that the extent to which you’re comfortable with a set of people who all know each other, and they’re roughly similar people, you’re not likely to be, next year, comfortable with a very diverse set of people who are strangers to one another. It’s that style that becomes the predictive component in the network.
The contrary view is that people think of their network as something like their IQ or something like their personality: it’s a thing that’s mine that’s with me. Or like their education. But much like those things—with your education, you learn forever, unless you die. Your IQ, in fact, comes and goes depending on how you’re feeling. And most particularly, when people are depressed, they tend to name a set of friends who know each other. It’s a comfortable place to be. When they’re feeling secure, feeling smart, feeling assertive, then they’ll name these people that they know from all these different parts of their life.
(Gentle music) So your network varies by time and place, but there’s a style much like an IQ or like a personality that is the autocorrelation across all of these.
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