Are you a victim of network inbreeding?

Pat Perry

Pat Perry

Are you a victim of inbreeding…network inbreeding, that is?

Herminia Ibarra, a blogger for Harvard Business Review, describes an inbred network like this:

“For the past fifteen years, I have asked the executives I teach to list the people with whom they have discussed important work matters over the past few months. Then, I ask them to fill out a grid in which they identify who knows whom among the people on that list. Invariably, most of the people they talk to also know and talk to each other. This kind of network, while cozy and cohesive, is, simply put, inbred. It also tends to be internal, operational (not strategic), and historical, an artifact of the executive’s past work history and not his or her future possibilities. It turns out that this kind of network is also deadly for collaboration.”

I believe it is a common trap many, if not all, of us fall into quite unconsciously. We are comfortable with our own, we want to relate with others who share the same challenges. But what we are inadvertently doing is narrowing our perspective and the ability to gather different thoughts to forge truly new ideas. According to Ibarra, it’s especially beneficial for us to diversify our thinking by interacting with professional from all levels of experience.

“The research is clear,” she writes. “For a more innovative and profitable result over time you are better off with a mix of newcomers and old-timers.”

I particularly liked her suggestion to spend time with younger professionals because I think we often overlook the value of the emerging leaders among us. Changing our habits could do more than help us become more comfortable with social media; it might help us better prepare our companies for the leaders of tomorrow.

Think about it. What does your network look like? Do you have a well-diversified network, or not? What are some of the surprising professional insights you’ve gained from those outside your usual network?


About Pat Perry

Pat Perry is Director of Environmental Management for CVS Caremark. She is an active member of the NAEM Board of Directors and former Senior Group Manager for Corporate Risk and Responsibility at Target Corp.

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  1. Rick Lebherz

    August 15, 2011

    You know vendors with unique ideas and approaches to solving challenges are another was to expand this network as well. Perhaps listening to other approaches to getting work done, whether it is a current challenge or not, would have value as well.

    Just something to consider.

  2. Dean Clevett

    August 16, 2011

    One of the great benefits of the new media, is that it allows you to develop a network that is geographically, demographically and functionally diverse. Embracing social media by interacting and engaging with intelligent people ( as opposed to following the latest adventures and words of celebrities) will reduce this inbreeding.

  3. William D'Alessandro

    August 17, 2011

    If you rely on social networking for anything more than reconnaissance, you will find yourself in a briar patch of illusion and delusion. IMHO!

  4. Agree with the post author! I hire EHS interns for that very reason. I also make it a point to attend non-EHS conferences, attend start-up incubator events, and other events with people that our 1/2 my age. These people will inspire innovation and new ways of thinking. In addition, they are very comfortable with new technologies. As management guru Tom Peters says, “Real innovation is all about…FORCE. Forcing yourself into contact with those who will pull you in directions that are significantly different from your prior path.” (Re-imagine! p. 302).

    In regards to social media about being anything more than reconnaissance, I would have to say that social media is about listening first, then engaging with your followers, fans, friends, circles, or whatever that they them. Have an online conversation with them. Personally, I’ve met many fresh faces via social networks that are now valuable colleagues in real life.

    Best regards,

    Dean M. Calhoun
    Affygility Solutions

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