Saturday, July 20, 2013


In reading The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha I noted their misunderstanding of how linking and separation in human networks operate. This shocked me since Hoffman is a cofounder of Linkedin, an online business-networking site!

What did they miss?

In the book, they describes why two or three degrees of separation and not 6 is the critical number since there is only one person between you as the initiator and your target. That is, you know the person you would like to talk to or at most you know someone who both knows you and the person you’d like to meet.

Perhaps target is a poor choice of label but in any communication you have one party sending information and another receiving. The receiver is what I am labeling a target. The authors contention is that two to three people is the most effective linking since either you or your target are known to each other or to the person in the middle.

The fallacy is that the model the authors used in their book is that it presumes a cooperative system. In a cooperative system both the initiator and the target are actively attempting to achieve and maintain communication. When you are trying to gain an introduction to someone you have never personally met you are in a non-cooperative system. A non-cooperative system is one in which the target is rejecting connections. If the target was actively seeking connections, you would not need any intermediate steps to connect, you could just contact them directly. Their contact information, email and phone numbers would be readily available to the public at large.

The fact that the email address is not readily available and there are one or more buffers blocking telephone calls and face-to-face meetings is a clear indication of a non-cooperative system. Where you are introduced by a mutual connection (no matter the number of degrees of separation) the target is using your mutual connections as that buffer or filter to help limit the interruption caused by unsolicited contacts.

Even people who attend some function expressly for the purpose of networking and meeting new people use the limited attendance of the function as a buffer to limit the number of contacts. Not because they are rejecting any specific contact but to keep from being overwhelmed by an unlimited number of new connections.

When you attempt to make your target a new node in your network, that person must first be open to a new connection. When you are trying to get noticed by a hiring manager, while they are actively looking for someone to fill the opening, that hiring manager is trying to limit or filter the applications to reduce their workload in screening for the eventual new employee.

The true value of an introduction is that the person making the introduction is a “trusted source” who your target has already accepted into their communications chain and the hope is that you can by-pass the other filters the hiring manger has in place that would normally reject your attempt to communicate.

The problem, of course, is that your direct contact is spending their credibility with their direct contact, the one you are asking for an introduction to. While introducing a friend at a social event is low risk – if the introduced pair don’t hit it off there is little risk of you losing either friend – introducing a prospective employee is high risk!

If the friend you recommended is not a good candidate, the person you introduced them to might limit your contact in the future and you don’t want to loose or damage you own ability to call on your friend in the future.

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