How many people named Alan, Adam, Rachel and Emily do you know?
And by “know,” we mean you could recognize them by sight, would feel comfortable contacting them, and you’ve talked with them in person or by phone in the last two years.
The answer will determine how big your acquaintance network is.
If you know one of each name, congratulations. Your circle is probably a robust 900 people.
According to a study by Columbia and Princeton professors, the average person had 610 people in their network, and 90 percent of the population have acquaintance networks somewhere between 250 and 1,700 individuals.
Your network is critical to your life, because it’s the map “that tells what [your] life has been like up to this point and where [you] are going,” writes Marissa King in her book “Social Chemistry: Decoding the Elements of Human Connection” (Dutton), out Jan. 5.
King is a professor at the Yale School of Management, and for the last 15 years has studied people’s social networks and “what that means for their ability to succeed in the workplace, be happy and healthy and find personal fulfillment.”
Her book tackles a subject that most of us would probably rather avoid.
“Most people have this sense that networking is dirty or there’s an innate moral repulsion to it,” King told The Post. “You think about relationships, they’re the most sacred things in our lives, and the idea about those relationships being purposeful is off-putting.”
But having a strong, quality network is worth it, because it can “profoundly affect your experience of the world, your emotions, and your personal and professional success,” she writes.
Take the most obvious example: finding a job.
A study by sociologist Mark Granovetter, found that 56 percent of people got their job through personal contacts.
But it wasn’t friends or family members who had led to finding the job. It was usually acquaintances, which demonstrates the unexpected strength of “weak ties.”
“We know people who use their network to find jobs, get hired faster, are higher paid, get more promotions and have jobs that are a better fit,” King said. “Across the board, it’s better for every professional outcome.”
Feeling inadequate yet? King said not to worry. One common misconception is that it’s the size of your network that matters. Knowing more people doesn’t always create more value, King said. “It simply creates more work.”
While some people have a Christmas card list in the thousands, the average person’s is more manageable.
What’s called “Dunbar’s number” puts the number of stable contacts someone can maintain at 150. Anything more would threaten to seriously tax the average person’s time and energy.
Instead of the size of your network, the quality of your social connections is more important.
Another misconception is that life is about rubbing elbows with bold-faced names.
“It’s not so much who you know,” King said. “It’s where you go.”
And now some really good news: “Professional mixers are a real waste of time,” the author said.
They’re superficial and offer little chance for meaningful conversation.
More quality interactions come from taking classes or a hobby, sitting at the desk by the bathroom (where you’ll likely encounter most of your co-workers) or even moving into that house on the cul-de-sac. Seriously.
One study by sociologist Thomas Hochschild Jr. in Connecticut found that families living on cul-de-sacs were more likely to “see their neighbors as friends and interact with them more frequently than residents of dead ends or through streets.”
How your network is arranged is also crucial. It helps determine “everything from your pay to the quality of your ideas.”
In “Social Chemistry,” King writes about three different types of networkers.
Remember that Alan, Adam name test? If you know multiple people with each of those four names, you likely have a sprawling personal network, and you’re what’s known as an “expansionist.”
“Their power comes from knowing many times more people than the average person,” King writes. “The average person knows approximately 600 people. Super connectors can know 6,000 or more.”
Expansionists often embody the qualities of generosity, an uncanny ability to read others and social competence. They are often popular.
And the rich get richer. One study showed that if one person in a network had double the connections of another, the more connected person was twice as likely to be befriended by anyone new entering the network.
To understand how they build such large networks, King and her colleagues studied hundreds of professional interactions in different offices and discovered that “expansionists speak in longer segments, talk more frequently than their peers, and are less likely to interrupt. This is our verbal equivalent to chimpanzees standing up straight, hunching shoulders, and hurling rocks.”
David Rockefeller, once the head of Chase Bank, maintained a legendary Rolodex of more than 100,000 names. He was among the most connected people in the world, and these relationships allowed him to “meet people who were useful in achieving goals and gave me opportunities to form lasting friendships,” he once said.
The second type of networker is the “convener” — those who “build dense networks in which their friends are also friends.”
“They often will have lived in the same place or had the same job for a long period of time,” King said. “They’re really trusted.”
Think “Vogue” editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. She sits atop the tight-knit world of fashion.
King calls her network a fully “connected clique,” and said her social circle is “part of what gives her fame and power.”
A study by professors Elizabeth Currid-Halkett and Gilad Ravid tried to figure out what differentiated A-list celebrities from the C-listers.
They examined thousands of photos from red-carpet events, looking at who appears with whom, and found that the top stars — George Clooney, Angelina Jolie — had a tight, dense, convening network with other A-listers.
Lower-rung stars had no “special connections with the others in their group.”
Convening networks (like Anna Wintour’s) are harder to penetrate and are characterized by strong ties and trust among their members.
Then there are the “brokers.”
They are valuable in that they move between social worlds. While most chefs mostly know other chefs, a broker might know a chef, a chemist and a lawyer.
“They generate value by bringing together typically disconnected parties from different social worlds,” King writes.
Brokers are especially good for creativity.
An analysis of patents from 35,000 inventors found that “collaborative brokerage was instrumental in innovation,” King writes.
Take Ferran Adria, the renowned chef of former molecular gastronomy temple El Bulli. “He has delighted in bringing together a butcher, a scientist from NASA and a Nobel Prize-winning economist,” King writes.
While we might think that extreme extroverts are likely to be expansionists, King said that’s not necessarily true.
“Personality explains less than 5 percent of what [a person’s] network looks like,” she said.
So how do you know what type you are? Or more important, which type you should be?
Luckily, “there is no one best or right network.” King analyzed nearly 1,000 people and found that one third didn’t have a clearly defined style.
“The most appropriate network is the one that matches your personal goals, career stage, and needs,” she writes.
Being an expansionist is better early in your life, when you need to “see and be seen.”
Also, most people enjoy their largest networks at age 25.
The creativity that brokers bring is best for those in creative industries. It’s also good mid-career.
“Later in life it’s important to shift to a convening network,” King said.
That type of structure could “help ensure emotional well-being and guard against loneliness and burnout” — which is more important the higher you go. Those at the top often struggle with loneliness.
Even if you don’t have the desire or wherewithal to restructure your entire network, King said there is one simple thing you can do to improve your connectedness.
Reach out to those you already know.
“There’s value in your network,” she said, “and people underestimate how much power there is in those relationships.”
Credit: NYPOSTNewzandar News