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Summary: Friend of a Friend…: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career by David Burkus

  • The book challenges the conventional wisdom about networking and introduces the concept of network literacy, which is the ability to understand and leverage the existing network that’s already around you.
  • The book explores the different types of people and relationships that make up your network, such as weak ties, dormant ties, superconnectors, brokers, and multiplex ties, and how they can help you achieve your goals and expand your opportunities.
  • The book provides practical strategies and tips on how to improve your network literacy, such as finding hidden connections, expanding your network diversity, creating shared activities, and becoming a better connector.

You probably already know that in business and in life, success is often more about “who you know” than “what you know.” But you don’t have to be extroverted, well-dressed, or smooth to build a strong network. In “Friend of a Friend,” business professor David Burkus shares decades of research and practice about the art of network building. You’ll learn how to optimize your time, energy, and resources, so you can become well-connected while doing what you love and helping others.

How to become more, achieve more, and give more by cultivating your social network.


  • Want to find a faster path to success than climbing the corporate ladder
  • Feel overwhelmed by the notion of building a massive network
  • Want to understand how influential people became so influential

Book Summary: Friend of a Friend… - Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career


If you’ve ever tried to step up your networking game, you’ve probably come across advice like “nail your elevator pitch,” “never eat alone,” or “here’s how to work a room.” But a lot of that advice is written by people who are highly extroverted and have only tried those things to build their networks. Additionally, using those techniques alone can make you feel like you’re trying to bamboozle people into giving you something. In fact, researchers Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino, and Maryam Kouchaki found that the mere thought of networking leaves most people feeling physically dirty.

But countless studies have shown that networking is crucial to your professional success. Faced with these challenging realities, you might be tempted to adopt one of two approaches: accept that you’ll never know the “right people” and settle for a mediocre career or become the stereotypical networking prowler that everyone dreads.

Luckily, there’s a better way. In this summary, business professor David Burkus shares key findings from research, practical experience, and success stories that support a better approach to network building. You’ll learn:

  • Why you don’t need to be super extroverted to network.
  • How you can become a Super Connector.
  • How to find the best networking opportunities.
  • Why preferential attachment makes networking difficult at first — then easy.
  • How organizing events can help you beat preferential attachment.
  • How echo chambers can help you leverage preferential attachment.

You’ll also learn how Tim Ferriss broke into the writing industry without any highprofile media coverage, how Bill Gates and Warren Buffet met, and other insights about how the world’s most influential people built their networks.

Why You Don’t Need to be Super Extroverted to Network

Adam Rifkin is not an extrovert. He prefers a T-shirt and hoodie to a suit and tie and would rather reconnect with old friends than work a room full of new people. He’s also not tall, eloquent, or even all that charismatic. But believe it or not, in 2011, Rifkin was named “the world’s best networker” by Fortune magazine because he had the highest recorded number of connections to the influential people on Fortune’s other lists.

Rifkin’s connections have enabled him to earn big investments for his startups, run successful publicity campaigns for new initiatives, and gain access to all sorts of resources and advice from prominent technology celebrities at the height of their fame. If you’ve always thought that expert networkers are smooth-talking extroverts that spend all their time at conferences and happy hours, you’re probably wondering how on earth Adam Rifkin — who is none of those things — got so good at it.

Although Rifkin is not extroverted or charismatic, he understands how networks work. While in graduate school, he realized that human networks are similar to computer networks. While a lot of people think about their network as a collection of contact cards in a Rolodex, Rifkin realized that networks are a map of connections between “nodes,” or contacts. Rifkin had learned that computer networks grow in value as the number of nodes and connections between nodes grows. As a result, instead of just adding new “nodes” to his network, he committed to growing the number of connections in his personal network by making introductions between his contacts every single day. Eventually, Rifkin scaled his network into an organization called 106 Miles, which today has almost 10,000 members who interact regularly.

How You Can Become a Super Connector

Like Adam Rifkin, you can build a strong network by promoting connections between different people in your existing network. The most effective way to do this is to look for “structural holes” in networks and try to fill them. Structural holes form when two people or groups share a lot of the same goals and could help one another but are each unaware of the other’s existence.

According to Ronald Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, structural holes form between different professional or social clusters which, like high school cliques, attract similar people who don’t interact with many people outside the cluster. Research about networks suggests that professionals with the most connections inside of a single cluster of professionals are less successful in the longterm than the professionals with the same number of connections spread across different clusters.

To bridge the gap between clusters, start by introducing two people from different clusters who you think could help one another. Briefly explain to them why you think they would benefit from connecting and suggest an action they could take to start collaborating. Over time, more and more of your introductions will result in meaningful connections.

If you get good enough at brokering these meaningful connections, you’ll eventually become what Burkus calls a Super Connector: a rare person who accumulates a collection of contacts that is shockingly larger than average. Super Connectors like Adam Rifkin are able to help significantly more people — and achieve much more for themselves as well — because of the immense resources and information their network provides them. So, to grow your network, start by making meaningful introductions and encouraging people to help one another.

How to Find the Best Networking Opportunities

When you think of networking events, you probably think of social mixers for people in a particular industry. However, social mixers might not actually be the best way to grow your network.

Paul Ingram and Michael Morris, researchers at Columbia University, got recordings of student and business executives at social mixers on Columbia’s campus. They found that, although 95% of the participants said that they were “highly motivated” to meet new people, they spent at least 50% of their time having conversations with old acquaintances. In other words, instead of growing your network, you’re likely to spend most of your time at social mixers talking to people you already know. Even if you do approach new people, you’re likely to connect with people who are very similar to you.

As you’ve learned, being connected to people who are not like you is important because it helps you fill structural holes in your social clusters. So, instead of going to social mixers, try meeting new people through shared activities that are not focused on your industry, such as taking a master class, volunteering for a community organization, serving on a nonprofit board, or participating in a recreational sports league. These kinds of activities are more likely to spark interesting and inspiring discussions than standing around with a cocktail in your hand and repeating the question, “So, what do you do?”

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the biggest magnates in their respective fields, became friends while playing bridge in 1991. Since then, the two have collaborated on work and philanthropic projects, while maintaining a deep friendship that centers around shared values and memorable experiences. In 2006, the strength of their connection became clear when Warren Buffet surprised the philanthropic world and announced that, instead of creating a charitable foundation named after himself, he would donate the majority of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so they could make a bigger impact, together.

Why Preferential Attachment Makes Networking Difficult, Then Easy

Have you ever heard the expression, “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer?” It turns out that this adage is true not just of fame, social status, and money, but also of social networks. Most people’s networks are mediocre at best, but occasionally, a Super Connector like Adam Rifkin comes along, and builds a network that is orders of magnitude larger and more influential than what’s normal.

As you build your network, adding new connections gets easier over time. This is not only because you have more experience finding and creating connections but also because people become drawn to you as you establish more connections. Network scientists call this phenomenon of people being drawn to people who seem well-connected or successful as preferential attachment. It makes sense: People who are out to make new connections will prefer to connect to people who already have a lot of connections to share.

This is both bad news and good news for you. The bad news is that in the early days of building a network, you’ll need to be tenacious and persevere if it seems slow-going at first. The good news is that it will get a lot easier over time.

How Organizing Events Can Help You Beat Preferential Attachment

If you don’t want to get stuck in a rut because of preferential attachment, you’ll need to figure out how to create the perception that you’re well-connected so that people are attracted to you from the start. One great way to do this is to organize events to strengthen existing connections and form new ones. For instance, if you regularly host six or more people for dinner, some of whom are old friends and some of whom are new contacts, you’ll establish a reputation for yourself and create an opportunity for your connections to invite their friends.

Entrepreneur Jayson Gaignard used this technique to recover from a big setback in which he lost his business, as well as his professional reputation and network. In 2012, Gaignard was so isolated that the only people who showed up to his bachelor party before his wedding were his brother and brother-in-law; everyone else in his network had left him. To build a totally new network, Gaignard started planning dinners. He cold-called entrepreneurs from the “Profit List,” a list of Canada’s top 500 fastest-growing companies and invited them to a dinner for Profit List alumni. Eight people agreed to come, and the dinner was a huge success.

Gaignard did a few more dinners, and as people began to recognize the value of connecting with entrepreneurs in other industries, they started calling the events “Mastermind Dinners.” People invited their friends, and the circle continued to grow. Eventually, this evolved into “Mastermind Talks,” an annual event that brings together entrepreneurs for connection-building and experience-sharing. By hosting dinners, Gaignard not only rebuilt his network but also turned event organizing into his next business.

How Echo Chambers Can Help You Leverage Preferential Attachment

Preferential attachment doesn’t have to work against you. Although it can be hard to become broadly “well-connected,” it can be easy to seem well-connected within a small cluster in the early days of your networking. This is because members of small clusters tend to rely on just a few sources of information when forming opinions. Since everyone reads the same sources, they express similar opinions to one another and then hear the opinion from other people in the cluster, reinforcing it and forming an “echo chamber.”

The Silicon Valley community is sometimes called an “echo chamber,” since people in it tend to be wealthy, tech-savvy, young professionals with liberal beliefs who read the same blogs, watch the same TV shows, and get their news from the same media outlets. While echo chambers may have their downsides, you can make them work in your favor by getting a lot of people within a cluster to start talking about you. The more people talk about you within a small cluster, the more people will gravitate toward you. You’ll look like a Super Connector within the echo chamber of a small cluster because few people will notice that you aren’t all that important in the rest of the world.

As your reputation within the cluster grows, people will eventually share information about you with their connections outside the cluster, and if those people outside the cluster start connecting with you, you’ll become well connected outside of the small cluster you started in. In other words, becoming a rockstar in just one cluster will get you to Super Connector status faster than trying to be popular everywhere from day one.

Tim Ferriss turned The Four-Hour Workweek into a bestseller by using this method. As a newcomer to the writing community, getting The New York Times to review the book or landing an interview on Good Morning America would have been difficult for him. Instead, he identified the top blogs that his primary audience — tech-savvy males between the ages of 18 and 35 — paid attention to. He focused on developing relationships within that niche by going to conferences, meeting the writers from those publications for drinks, and asking them a lot of questions about themselves and their work.

Eventually, the reporters would ask Ferriss about what he was working on. He would tell them he was working on a book and promise to send them a copy when he’d finished it. A lot of the writers Ferriss met ended up writing about Ferriss or the ideas in his book, and most of them did it at about the same time. Although he didn’t become a household name overnight, Ferriss created the media illusion within his specific audience that he was everywhere. Then, his audience started talking about his work to their friends. Eventually, word began to spread about the book, and it soon became a bestseller that did get reviewed in The New York Times.

To achieve something similar, think about your primary cluster and find a way to look like you are everywhere within their echo chamber. This might involve writing for a number of their favorite news outlets, volunteering on a big project that will generate a lot of hype or doing something else that will make you look like a Super Connector within your cluster. Then, when people in your cluster start talking about you or coming to you for advice or help, give them something — like a book or useful resource — that they’ll want to share with people outside of the cluster. In this way, you’ll cultivate a reputation as a well-connected and influential person and start attracting people from all over.


In this summary, you’ve learned that you don’t need to be super extroverted to grow your network. Instead of trying to meet a lot of people, you should focus on filling structural gaps by connecting people in different clusters and encouraging them to collaborate. You’ve also learned that the best networking opportunities usually come out of shared experiences, like dinner parties, volunteer groups, or even card games. Finally, you’ve learned that preferential attachment can make it hard to build your network at first but easy to build once you’ve achieved a reputation as a well-connected, influential person. To make preferential attachment work for you, you can organize events or focus on becoming influential in certain clusters.

Like it or not, you’re embedded in a social network, and that social network will determine the reputation, opportunities, knowledge, and resources that you have access to over time. Now that you know how it’s done, it’s up to you to cultivate a network that makes you more productive, innovative, and capable of helping other people.

About the author

David Burkus is a bestselling author, speaker, and professor at Oral Roberts University. Burkus is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and his work has also been featured in Fast Company, Financial Times, Inc., and other major publications. In addition to Friend of a Friend, he is the author of Under New Management and The Myths of Creativity.


Motivational, Business, Nonfiction, Self Help, Psychology, Personal Development, Leadership, Relationships, Communication, Productivity, Career Development, Careers and Employment, Business Culture, Job Hunting and Career Guides, Management, Self-Improvement

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Find Strength in Weak Ties 13
2 Sea Your Whole Network 35
3 Become a Broker and Fill Structural Holes 52
4 Seek Out Silos 71
5 Build Teams from All Over Your Network 91
6 Become a Super-Connector 106
7 Leverage Preferential Attachment 123
8 Create the Illusion of Majority 141
9 Resist Homophily 158
10 Skip Mixers-Share Activities Instead 174
11 Build Stronger Ties Through Multiplexity 192
Conclusion 209
Going Further 216
Acknowledgments 217
Notes 219
Index 234
About the Author 243


The book challenges the conventional wisdom about networking and offers a fresh perspective on how to build meaningful and diverse connections. The author, David Burkus, is a business school professor and a leading expert on networking. He argues that the best way to grow your network is not by introducing yourself to strangers at events or online, but by developing a better understanding of the existing network that’s already around you. He draws on scientific research and case studies to reveal the hidden patterns and principles that govern how networks operate and how we can leverage them to our advantage.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part explains why most of the advice we’ve heard about networking is wrong and introduces the concept of a “network literate” mindset. The second part explores the different types of people and relationships that make up our networks, such as weak ties, dormant ties, superconnectors, brokers, and multiplex ties. The third part provides practical strategies and tips on how to improve our network literacy, such as finding hidden connections, expanding our network diversity, creating shared activities, and becoming a better connector.

I found the book to be very insightful and engaging. The author writes in a clear and conversational style that makes the book easy to read and understand. He uses stories and examples from various fields and industries to illustrate his points and make them relevant to different contexts. He also provides actionable advice and exercises that readers can apply to their own situations.

The book offers a refreshing and evidence-based approach to networking that goes beyond the usual clichés and stereotypes. It challenges us to rethink our assumptions and habits about networking and shows us how to be more intentional and strategic about our relationships. It also emphasizes the importance of diversity, authenticity, and generosity in building a strong and supportive network.

The book is not only useful for professionals who want to advance their careers, but also for anyone who wants to enrich their lives with more meaningful and diverse connections. It is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn how to network smarter, not harder.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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