“What is an essential ingredient or trait that is needed for a successful career?” If you approached 5 random people on the street and posed this question to them you are likely to hear answers such as intelligence, hard work, diligence, attention to detail and even luck. The art of being a skillful networker would likely never be said and yet several studies have shown that having an open network is a significant, if not the most significant, basis for success. According to a multitude of peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network as opposed to a closed network is “the best predictor of career success.” By open network, I am referring to your extended network. I’m referring to those outside of your immediate industry and area of specific expertise. These are the individuals, or rather, the opportunities, that will very often yield the most lucrative results. Let us examine the diagram below.

Ron Burt, Alexi Harding, Networking

A simplified chart of network scientist, Ron Burt’s, own creation.

A simplified chart of network scientist, Ron Burt’s, own creation. Source: Forbes

This chart is a simplified version of one done by esteemed network scientist, Ron Burt.. Essentially, the further you go towards the right, the further you move into a closed network in which everyone knows each other and shares the same ideas and views. The people in this group are more closed off to new ideas, innovative approaches, and unique perspectives. The further you move to the left, the more you hear from new people outside of your network and the more likely you are to hear a new idea.

This study even goes so far as to suggest that half of the predicted difference in eventual career success (factors such as promotions, pay raises, and industry recognition) is the result of the type of network that you have (in other words the relative location of your network on this chart). Although it may be difficult to comprehend that networking can be such a powerful predictor of success, it does make sense when you think about how one can leverage networking to produce innovative results.

Most people spend their entire lives confined to closed networks. They become limited by the knowledge of people they already know. This is easy to see in regards to not just business, but even religion, politics, and sports teams. It is easier to execute ideas in closed networks because trust already exists. People already know how to talk to each other so communication is streamlined. In short, it’s faster and more effective to execute upon existing approaches when operating within a closed network.

However, despite human comfort with and general inclination towards closed networks, business stands to profit greatly from open networks. This is because the influx of unique relationships, experiences, and knowledge leads to new approaches which ultimately foster a greater ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ mentality.

This conclusion is substantiated by several schools of thought. Research by Philip Tetlock proves that “people with open networks are better forecasters than people with closed networks.” They are better able to pull information from a variety of industries and so they are better able to cancel out potential mistakes. These forecasters may not be the first to hear information in sectors outside their expertise, they are however usually the first to introduce that information to their area of expertise and thus elevate themselves in their fields.  

In this vein, Brian Uzzi, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the Kellogg School of Management, conducted an immense study that examined tens of millions of academic studies throughout history. He reviewed the number of citations each paper received (links from other research papers) and the papers referenced by the subject paper.  Professor Uzzi realized the “top performing studies” referenced other papers in their industry 90% of the time and outside sources 10% of the time. People with open networks are more likely to be knowledgeable of outside areas and to be able to cite those fields in their papers thus generating a ‘top performing paper relative to other studies that would quote fewer outside sources.  

Networking is of the utmost significance—but open networking—although sometimes more uncomfortable, is far more beneficial than associating with the same people over and over again. This practice not only advances a personal career but it is shown to advance corporations as a whole. Studies show that companies with more racial and gender diversity perform better than those with one type of employee. We pride ourselves on being diverse at the Opes Group – culturally, racially and by gender. We practice open networking and invite you to do the same.