"Friend of a Friend" by David Burkus

Posted by Steven


Recently, I finished reading "Friend of a Friend" by David Burkus. In this article, I highlight what was new or important to me. This text is not a complete summary of the book; instead, I recommend reading it yourself.

Besides other fundamental concepts, different kinds of relationships between people are explained. These "ties" can be strong, weak, or dormant. Strong ties are easy and comfortably to access but yield only little chance of new ideas because two strongly connected people share the same information.  Weak ties between two people not so well-connected are more likely to provide novel perspective. However, only dormant ties have a high chance of providing unexpected insights and novel advice. The old friends with which the contact has been paused for a while had time to gather new contacts and experiences that are more likely to differ from the life of well-known contacts. Hence, reactivating dormant ties can yield much value.

Of course, the book describes the principle of "six degrees of everyone" which states that every person knows every other person over only six links. Considering communities like facebook, this number gets even smaller.

A "broker" is a person bridging the gap between two separate communities. In this position, the broker sees good ideas others can't see. Even if the broker does not consciously use those, studies show that brokers have a more successful career simply because of their intermediate position.

A concept known especially in large companies is the silo. Silos are groups of people, where each group does not exchange thoughts with the other. This does not necessarily happen consciously; it is often simply preprogrammed from the structures within the company. Silos have a really bad reputation. According to "Friend of a Friend", that is at least partly not justified. The people working within a silo are able to communicate more easily because they create their own structures and habits, hence needing less supervision.

Combining the concept of being a broker and the fruitful work within a silo yields a huge career chance. According to studies, bankers who proactively moved between project teams, using their social network to choose their next team, got the most rewards. This of course requires a social network with both "close-knit and arm's length ties".

Because of these options and of the principles of how silos work, "the best teams are only temporary".

A habit I benefited from myself multiple times is to always try to connect the people you talk to with interesting people from your network. That way, you can become a "super-connector", an important role that creates new options and insights.

The concept of homophily, which means to only stay in the vicinity of like-minded people, explains a lot of the recent political developments. Always staying in the same bubble hinders the truth to be visible, for individuals and companies. "Who you know affects how you think." This can be overcome by deliberately forming new, dissimilar connections.

An advice given in the book is to not go to "mixer"-events, that is the usual network events organized to meet new people. Those don't work because everyone is most likely to talk to people already known. The few new connections made are superficial. Instead, it is better to "jump into projects, teams, and activities that draw a diverse set of people together."

"Multiplexity" describes having more than one relationship with a person. For example, a coworker can also be a friend. Having many multiplex relationships has many benefits, for example being able to validate ideas and enjoying a higher level of trust in these relationships. Also, being friends with your coworkers has positive effects for both the individuals as well as for the company.

The book is filled with more explanations and great examples, so I recommend buying it.


"Friend of a Friend" by David Burkus is a well-written and instructive book about human networks that is especially interesting for everyone who is seeking to build a career with the help of social ties.