When we talk about networking, a lot of people think it is about a weird cocktail party where you’re desperate to make sales. When you have that kind of mindset, you can’t grow, expand, and improve your network. Keynote speaker, networking expert, and bestselling author David Burkus talks about his book, Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career. David redefines our understanding of networking and reveals the secrets to getting good connections, serving that network, and creating value for it, carefully reminding us that people are not assets to be acquired and that strengthening our whole network will benefit us in the long run.
We have David Burkus here. He’s the bestselling author and keynote speaker. You’ve probably seen his TED Talks. He’s got a new book, Friend of A Friend. He’s a networking expert, a creativity expert and an expert in a lot of things.
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Friend Of A Friend: Understanding Networking with David Burkus
I am here with David Burkus who’s a bestselling author and sought-after keynote speaker. He’s got a new book, Friend of A Friend. He’s written so many books. He talks to Fortune 500 companies, used to speak to the US Naval Academy and he has a TED Talk that has more than two million views. He’s also a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review. I know he’s part of the Thinkers50. It’s nice to have you here, David.
Thank you so much for having me.
We have a lot of the same things we want to research. You were known for a lot of your work, your creativity and you’re focusing on things that connect as well. You’re also focusing on networking in your book. A lot of people are interested in what works and what doesn’t work. I love to talk about that. I want to get a background on you first. Can you give a little background of how you reached this point in your career?
It’s a winding, confusing path where maybe there’s a North Star but you only get to look at it in between the clouds every couple of years. The slightly longer version is I went to university knowing that I wanted to be a writer. When you’re eighteen years old, you think that automatically means fiction. My grand existential crisis was do I write trade James Patterson style stuff or do I try and be the next Ernest Hemingway? Maybe with a little bit better life expectancy on that Hemingway piece. It was in a university that I found the beginning of the social science writers, the Gladwells of the world. He was around in writing like Jonah Lehrer and those people and I thought how this is passing. These people are using all of the elements of storytelling that I learned but they’re doing work that helps people. They’re doing work that is steeped in science and they’re doing work. They’re not starving the way that a lot of novelists are.
That became like, “Maybe this is what I want to do.” What do you do when you graduate with the wrong degree? You go to graduate school. I went to graduate school for Organizational Psychology. That initial Master’s turned into a doctoral plan. The personal piece of that is I was married and I am still married to a medical student who was then a medical resident. I had plenty of time on my hands to work full-time and also be in school all the time. Probably the first four years of marriage, the only date that we went on where study dates. I pursued the organizational behavior track and started a couple of different things to dip my toe in the water and start writing about it.
I started a podcast back when it was a ton of work to start a podcast and I eventually stopped it because it was a ton of work. I did a lot of different interviews with people. I started writing for HBR and what have you. That whole goal was to blend storytelling around these great examples of here’s what it looks like in the real world with the science. What I’ve learned to say now over many years of stumbling my way into this is that my goal is to get good ideas out of the ivory tower and into the corner office, to get them out of that jargon-laden academic research in human behavior and get them to the people that need that research to figure out how to live better, how to work better and how to make the world better. That’s what we do. We’ve done it in a couple of different books and a bunch of different talks. That’s the unifying theme behind all of it. I know it’s a diverse set of stuff because I have academic ADHD where I’m always bouncing around different topics as they interest me.
What’s interesting to me on all of this is that your research ties into a lot of things I was researching in my book for curiosity. A lot of people think of creativity and they combine it with curiosity sometimes. I looked at a lot of the different aspects of things that tie into what motivates people. I kept coming back to the beginning of curiosity being this spark. Before we get into your book, did you find a lot of information on how competition impacts creativity? I haven’t found a whole lot of how competition impacts curiosity. Since you liked all the research stuff, I want to see what you think about that.
It depends and some of this is anecdotal historical research to my knowledge. In terms of the in the lab human behavior research, the competition gets lumped in into studies where they also talk about incentives. The traditional incentive studies, you tend to perform worse when you’ve got that incentive to do it. Sometimes the incentive, there’s a monetary thing and we’re going to let you know how you do compared to your peers. At the same time though, you see the rise historically of this modern version of the X Prize. I was listening to Steven Johnson and he has this podcast series called American Innovations. He was talking about the Wright brothers, which necessarily means talking about Samuel Pierpont Langley and this other guy whose name that I forget, which is sad because the whole point of the podcast was why we should remember his name.
It dovetailed into the use of structured competitions to further advances in flight. My gut feeling in synthesizing all of this from the lab research and the historical research is that competitions work well when we know how we’re going to get there. In other words, in the flight capacity, people knew the physics of lift at that point. They knew the idea of a wing that was warped. They had that. They had advances in lighter than air technology long before that. It wasn’t bold like we’re venturing out into new territory. It was more what you and I would call convergent thinking.People must figure out how to live better, how to work better, and how to make the world better. Click To Tweet
How do we put these two or three things together and converge on that right answer? I see the role of curiosity much more in that convergence side that predates divergent thinking in a lot of creative processes. It’s much more in that capacity. I look at curiosity as it feels like medicine with the H. pylori bacteria discovery. There’s the whole quote that the most often said scientific exclamation is not “Eureka.” It’s actually, “That’s funny.”
I don’t see them as opposed. They come into play at different stages. If we were to trace the biography of discovery, they come into place in multiple different stages. Curiosity led us the wing warping but it was the competition that led us to get serious about iteration and testing. If you want to take any lesson from all of these flight competitions and with X Prize competitions and all that sort of stuff, it’s the faster you iterate, fail and reiterate that you tend to win in the competition. That seems to bring that about. I don’t know how well it works in the early stages when you’re trying to get as many ideas on the table.
We’re all trying to get people to get over that fear of failure is the problem. I’ve seen a lot more people embrace failure in younger generations than we did in Boomers because back then, you failed and you’re out. At least, they’re starting to look at it as learning opportunities. Would you consider yourself a Millennial or are you a Gen X?
I’m right on that borderline where most people who are on that borderline go, “I tend to associate with Gen X.” What they mean is that Millennials are getting all the flak right now and they don’t want to categorize with them. I’m the opposite. I identify with the Millennials because I’m like, “Stop picking on these people.” Most of them graduated into a recession. They’re the most educated generation ever. They’re the most forward-thinking generation ever. They’re going to go on and do some cool stuff, so leave them alone. We’re right at the cusp where everybody’s going to start picking on Gen Z. A lot of people will come back into the fold and admit that they’re Millennials.
The interesting thing is it started with X in the sense that Gen X saw dual career parents. For a lot of times this is like latch key kid thing. They also saw the recessions and saw all the layoffs in the early ’90s so that we could make our quarterly earnings. They saw that like, “There is no corporate loyalty here.” That created this idea of, “Maybe I can try things that fail,” because it used to be you get hired by that one company and you don’t screw up for 40 years and life is good for you. Now you could be doing everything perfect and life is still going to hit you in the head.
It encourages a little more risk-taking. I definitely see Millennials and even Gen Z. I’m still fairly active in at least teaching one course every year at the undergraduate level, sometimes more, depending on needs and my own interest. You definitely see a willingness to like, “I don’t need to land that perfect $85,000 a year, big corporation job right out of school. I’m willing to go try a bunch of stuff.” To some extent, it might be cultural. I have this email sitting in my inbox because I don’t know how to reply to it from a student who went through two years of school studying heavy STEM and wasn’t all that interested in it. He’s literally like, “How do I tell my parents that I want to do this?” My only advice is, “Telling them doesn’t matter because at this age, you’re twenty years old, you could totally try that for two years, fail, go back to school and you’d graduate at 25 and no one would notice.”
Give him the Rich Karlgaard’s book to give to his parents, Late Bloomers.
I read his Sunday essay in the journal. I have the book on my bookshelf, but I haven’t read the book yet. I’m hugely interested in that because more than we could say generational differences and what have you, the shift is a result of life expectancy. Gen Z is probably going to live consistently to 100, which means you get a lot more opportunities to fail when you got 100 years on the clock instead of 65 or 70 like three generations ago had.
They might as well embrace it now because it’s going to happen a lot. Maybe that’s why they’re the most stressed-out generation.
The cost of failure at that age are so low than it is. You almost can’t not get excited about it. I wished that I could go back to 21 and try a bunch of stuff. Even if you fail at that age, it’s not that bad for most people. The exciting thing is that encourages them to take all those risks and a lot of them do fail. They shrug it off and they ended up with decent life outcomes. Occasionally, some people out of that pack succeed wildly and they ended up being worth billions of dollars but there are way bigger impacts than starting a company that makes money. A lot of them succeed in ways we wouldn’t have even dreamed of that they wouldn’t do and have risk.
I get a lot of the Forbes 30 under 30s on the show and it’s always fun to see how people become so successful with their unique abilities. A lot of what you write about goes in a new direction a little bit. I want to talk about your book because we talk about being successful in some of that is through networking, knowing people and having the ability to connect. I liked it when you were talking about how we feel like sleazy weirdos when we give out business cards and how it makes us feel dirty sometimes through networking. You say we need to redefine networking. What is the best definition and what do we need to know about a Friend of A Friend?
In terms of a redefinition, it may even be taking back some of the original definition. Our biggest problem is when we hear the word networking, we think it’s a four-letter word. It’s not, it’s ten letters but we think of it as the swear word and this uncomfortable thing. There’s literally research on these asking people to think about a time where they had to make a professional connection. It makes them have subconscious thoughts of cleanliness, which is a signal for moral taint. It’s the Lady Macbeth type of thing. A lot of the problem is when we think networking, we are thinking about the weird cocktail party where everybody was supposed to meet, everybody hung out in the corners and talk to people they already knew.
We think about sales capacity where I’m desperate to make that sale or a job-hunting capacity, where I’m desperate to find that new job. That counts, but what I always say is, “You can’t grow your network. You can’t expand your network. You can’t improve your network. You already exist inside of a network.” It’s not that networking is what leads to a lot of success. It’s that networks would lead to a lot of people success. The big definitional flip and the mindset shift that has to happen in a lot of people’s mind is that networking is any activity that has to do with how you interact with that network that’s around you. Whether that can be meeting new people, that can be connecting to people in your existing network, that can be reaching back out to people you haven’t talked to in a while.
All of those things are networking and yet we only think it counts as networking when it’s that awkward meeting strangers phase that a lot of people don’t need. If you’re five or ten years into your career at that point, you have enough contacts, connections and friendships to where you could work Friend of A Friend or you could show up at events and accidentally meet new people and grow your network. You expand the number of people that you’re connected to without having to do the cocktail mixer thing that makes everybody feel awkward anyway. That’s what I mean when I say, “Let’s switch this definition.” Let’s get more serious about understanding the network you’re already in and how to serve that network, create value for it and extract value from it as an exchange.
Many people are great at connecting other people. It reminds me of when I was in real estate for a short time, a long time ago. You always said you want to sell first to your circle of influence or people you already know. You get into these other situations when I’ve been in sales where they say, “Join Chambers of Commerce and get there.” Everybody’s selling at each other and nobody’s buying anything. A lot of people sense that that’s what it’s like on social media. Everybody’s talking at each other and they’re all selling but nobody’s buying. How do we get the good connections that lead to something good? Is that what you hear a lot?
Two quick thoughts on that. One is in the moment, the networking groups where everyone’s supposed to exchange leads, everybody’s supposed to barter and buy from everybody else. One of the reasons that cocktail party or mixer or Chamber of Commerce meeting environment is so weird is that people get a name badge. It’s the term that I coined for when you’re talking to the person and you watch as their eyes drift downward to your name badge and they read your name and your company. They don’t come back up to your face because they’ve decided that you’re not worth it. When their eyes do come up, they’re looking over your shoulder at the rest of the room.
The problem with that is we have this mentality that we’re chasing serendipity. We’re going to all of these things thinking that if I meet ten people, one of them will be interested in me and I’m going to play this numbers game. In reality, nine people end up feeling awkward around you and not wanting to recommend you. A better mentality when you’re talking to that person, it’s a long game thing for sure. It will not lead to any sales in the short term. A better mentality is when you’re talking to someone and you hear what they do and what they need and all of that sort of stuff, your goal shouldn’t be to figure out how you can solve their problem.
Your goal should be going through that mental Rolodex that you have because the odds that you can solve their problems are going to be slim. I said one in ten there but that’s generous. It’s probably in the single digits chances that you’re going to be the right fit for them but somebody you know might be. Using those initial conversations when you meet new people as an opportunity to introduce them to somebody else creates new connections. It creates what sociologists call social capital in the whole community that you’re a part of. You do that enough times and you eventually get known as that person who is the connector, that person who is serving the community that you’re around. There’s a principle we talked about in Friend of A Friend called preferential attachment, which is this idea that the more connections you have, the more organic connections come to you.You could be doing everything perfect and life is still going to hit you in the head. Click To Tweet
It’s a gravitational pull effect that gets stronger as you acquire more connections. It’s the reason networking look so easy to some people. It also was an encouragement because when you put in that time and work, not on filtering through people numbers game but on trying to strengthen the network around you as much as possible, that preferential attachment takes over and over time good things happen. You have to trust that over time those good things happen. It’s so cliché to use it but I like Harvey Mackay’s line about digging your well before you’re thirsty. There’s some decent network science research behind that idea of build out all those connections before you need to extract any of that social capital.
It’s almost like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Everybody knows somebody, eventually, you’re going to connect to the entire world through five or six connections and there might be one or two in our world that we need to know.
As we talk about the six degrees thing in the book, it’s a phenomenon that is in pop culture. It’s relatively true that 7.5 billion people are connected by between five and six introductions. Most of the time I go, “That doesn’t interest me at all, but if it’s true and that many people are connected, then think about the tens or hundreds of millions of people that are one or two introductions away.” There are two different ways that we do those studies of how many degrees of separation are between people. One is proactive. You have to pick a person and find your path back to that person, which is hard to do. If you ever had somebody beg you on LinkedIn for an introduction, you know how hard it is to do that.
The other is to take an open posture and pursue as many possible avenues as possible. I coached and encouraged a lot of people to use the phrase, “Who do you know in blank?” With blank being that industry, that city, that company, whatever it is you’re trying to meet somebody in. When you ask that of a lot of different people, you get a variety of different names or you get the, “I don’t know anybody who works at that company but I know somebody who lives in whatever city, the headquarters is, and what have you.” You have a much better way to go down that path.
We talked about it in a sales context and I flip that question for a sales context. I usually say it’s about figuring out what life stage your target customer is. If you’re in insurance, probably the best thing to do is who do you know that’s looking to buy a house or who had a baby because that’s when they’re interested in making that. I use the family one a lot of times with car folks. I did a couple of different talks in the car industry and that’s the question. If you’re selling SUVs or minivans, what you want to know is who among your network do you know that is expecting a baby? Because they’re going to have to trade in that Mustang and get something more practical. You can’t say, “Who do you know who wants to buy a car?” Nobody broadcasts that. There are plenty of people who will take my order if I’m ready to buy a car. I don’t need to announce it and find a good person. What I need to know is what life stage are they in?
It’s important in sales. I’ve spent many decades in sales and all this behavioral knowledge is helpful because all the times I’ve been mortified by my own behaviors and learned from everything. You talk about a lot of things that could help salespeople from the behavioral aspect. I mentioned your TED Talk has been viewed many times. Were you surprised by how much it took off? What did you think of creating that TED Talk? How stressful was it? What did you learn from it?
There are two different ways to get a TED Talk with the branded TED, instead of TEDx. One is to get an invitation to speak on the main stage which is terrifying. The other way is to give a TEDx talk and have it such that the people at TED notice it. You know that they’re looking at you because they’ll email the organizer and they’ll say, “We want the raw audio and the raw footage from each camera angle,” and they will re-edit the whole talk that the TEDx organizer already edited. They will do it again in their style. They shaved off eleven seconds off mine when they did that.
A lot of that was thinking through. We started with the goal of that. When I got the invitation to give a TEDx at the University of Nevada. They produce good quality talks, great quality video, all of that sort of stuff. We looked at that goal. We went through every single idea that I had and we picked one that we thought, “This will probably most resonate with the people who are watching that.” At that point, that’s where the networking thing came over. Once it was out, it was a matter of calling in favors and asking every single person, “Can you share this?”
It wasn’t even in a way to try and sell the book or anything else. It was like, “We need as many people that notice this as possible.” Again, to use that dig your well before you’re thirsty thing, you only get that by being known as a connector, as somebody who’s generous with sharing and promoting other people’s work. Often, when you have that moment where you need it, half the people that I had on my list ask, “Would you share this talk? Would you send it out to your community?” They came to me because we had already built those connections. When they saw the first group of people already sharing it, they either came to me and said, “What’s the best link to share?” or they did it. I found it for the rest of the time. That’s how it all impacted it. From there, it’s a controversial topic. It’s an interesting topic. We knew that it would spark a debate once we could get the folks at TED to notice it. That’s what we did. They were our target audience and we tried to craft a talk and a campaign for sharing it that we get them to notice.
Do you have more TED Talks on you?
Technically, I’ve given three TEDx Talks, one for each book. In reality, I don’t know if there’s a fourth book. I don’t know if there’s a fourth talk. I hate to say this because I love the organization, but we’re at peak TED in the sense that there are many talks out there and there are other organizations that are producing good video. We will definitely use a good less than twenty, possibly even ten minutes speech style video. However, we promote the next book and the next idea. Whether or not it’ll be at a TED event or a TEDx event or not, I don’t know. For the last months, I’ve been experimenting with these daily videos that we film inside of my office or my library at the house and they’re performing well too. We might not necessarily need it. That’s where we are in North America, if not, the industrialized world. Video is so powerful but also cheaper to make than it ever was. There’s a lot of competition in that. I don’t want to say we’re at peak TED, but I do think we might be there in terms of the impact that that brand has compared to a lot of other video platforms that you could use.
People have a hard time sometimes with these hour-long talks. Do you think we’ll see some of these conventions and big summits have talks less because don’t you think an hour is long?
The tradition of a keynote as an hour-long talk is still there but the trend is moving towards that. We have on multiple occasions been asked to do it in a shorter period of time. I have never been asked to do this, but I would love to be invited if you run an event like this. I had a good friend that has this hour-long keynote and was paid doubled his normal fee, flown business class to Frankfurt, and two or three days before they were like, “We’re not planning on an hour. We’re wondering if you could do it in twenty minutes like a TED Talk.” He was like, “You put in all that money, all that time to get me over here. If that’s what you want, that’s what you want.”
We’re getting there. What’s cool about TED at the conference, having been there as an attendee versus the talks that everyone sees online is that they do a good job during the breaks and during the meals and that sort of stuff putting the speakers out. You know as an attendee where a certain speaker is going to be. I would love to see more conferences do that where you have the twenty to 30-minute talk and you have more people on the main stage and your breakouts are opportunities to go in, “I heard Diane give that twenty-minute talk and I want to ask this question. I want a longer dialogue there.” I think that would be a compelling format for a conference as a whole. We feel like we’re headed there and I hope we get there faster.
I don’t see enough interactions. They want you to speak for an hour and maybe you can give ten minutes of Q and A for a group of 1,700 people. It doesn’t help in these big conferences to have the Q and A at the end. I liked the thought of mingling. I’ve had people do that with me though. They’ve hired me for an hour and only had me speak for twenty minutes. Sometimes, they run out of time, they have different reasons for it but it’s much more effective in general. I’m going to ask you some stuff because I am so interested in my research and your opinion of where this all ties in, what you’ve found in your behavioral studies and all that with perception. You talked about the perception of being sleazy when we’re giving out business cards. There’s a perception in business of how I come across if I’m going to start a business of what you think of me if I’m from this country or all the cultural quotient stuff that’s out there. How much are you seeing research in the area of how we perceive one another and how we sell or how we create businesses? How important is that?
It’s usually important. We knew that because a lot of the personal success and non-scientific literature has been talking about it for decades from Dale Carnegie onward. The irony is that a lot of behavioral researchers are now looking at it as well. The most compelling model that I’ve seen, their research suggests that when we judge other people, especially in a work context, we judge them on two things; competence and warmth. Do they know what they’re talking about? It’s not enough to know what you’re talking about, we’re also judging them on warmth, relatability or likability.
There’s that whole pratfall effect where if you are competent and then you’re judged as so perfect that you’re not approachable and you’re not human, it can be a negative thing. I find that fascinating. It has not been released yet but we recorded a video for the DailyBurk video series that I called Show Your Scars. We should be talking about our little inconsistencies. You don’t want to share this huge story of a massive failure with all your boss and all of your colleagues. It’s okay to mention that you occasionally spill coffee on yourself. You don’t have to hide the fact that you have these little flaws because they make you more relatable and more human. The thing is we still have this world where we’re trying to pretend that we are the one flawless person and therefore we’re the one that should be promoted. In reality, we want to promote the people that are warm and competent, not just competent. That effect comes into play.
There’s also some interesting research by Francesca Gino and others around perception and whether or not you are conforming to things like dress code. There are some situations where we’re dressing down and we’re deliberately dressing differently. It can have you come across as more competent because you have enough status or enough competence to buck that trend. In Gino’s research, there was one example where she used her Executive Ed students at Harvard Business School where she started giving lectures some of the time in professional pumps and other times in red Converse sneakers. She got scored higher on competence, on friendliness, and overall enjoyment of the session when she wore red Converse sneakers. The lesson that I learned from that is I went out and bought these cool gray suede wingtip shoes and in every speech I give now, I wear those.Everybody's talking at each other and they're all selling, but nobody's buying. Click To Tweet
You didn’t go out and buy the pumps though?
That would be an ultimate act of nonconformity. I definitely did go in and buy something other than black leather shoes that everybody is supposed to present in. The lesson that I got from a lot of times is I’m much more serious when I have a uniform of those shoes, jeans and untucked dress shirt and a jacket. Even when they say, “The dress is business professional,” I’m like, “Yes, that’s what the audience will be wearing. I’ll be wearing this because of nonconformity,” in Gino’s research.
I look at some of the speakers we’ve had and when you mentioned Rich Karlgaard before, I’ve seen him so many events and he usually wears a blazer and jeans in certain looks. People have their own unique styles for what has worked for them. I was watching some of the different people that you were talking about and how they gave talks. Were you always a curious person since you’ve obviously had a lot of research? You are very interested in a lot of the things I’m interested in. How did you learn to be so curious?
Curious is an interesting term. A lot of times I use the term thinker or hacker, not in the computer hackers sense. I wasn’t stealing anyone’s identity. Even at an early age, I was trying to figure out, “This is what the normal way to achieve this, but is there a better way? Is there a different way to unpack stuff like that?” One of the examples that I use often was when I was in high school because I went into college knowing I wanted to be a writer. When I was in high school, at one point, I was in charge of both the school newspaper and its literary magazine. The literary magazine was terrible. It was 8.5 X 11 sheets of paper stapled together.
I started looking at different ways that things are printed and what have you. We back ended a way to fold those 8.5 X 11 sheets of paper, saddle stitched them and turn it into something that looked much more like a book than what they were currently doing. It was me fooling around with a photocopier and a stapler until I figured it out. Now as an adult, I’m like, “There wasn’t much to figure out,” but when you’re sixteen, that’s revolutionary. It’s the same thing with podcasting. I started in 2010 when you still had to record the audio file and upload it via FTP. I still have Cyberduck installed on my computer, which is the FTP program and generate your own RSS feed and all that kind of stuff.
I’ve always been in that regard. In fact, people are asking, “What’s the next project that you’re going to work on?” I have it in my head that I’m fascinated with Audible Originals and those longer audio things but I want to like do it myself. I don’t even want to sell the rights to people. I want to like, “How can I produce this entirely from my house and make it every bit as quality as that but figure out a way to do it yourself?” That’s been a lot of my curiosity. When there is a big traditional professional way to do something, I’m always like, “There’s got to be a way that I could do that by myself.”
Anything you can do at home that’s the same quality that you didn’t have to drive to do it because I love to work at home. That would be a huge benefit. I know a lot of the radio stations, this is on AM FM stations and podcasts alike but you can also get hooked in through certain other ways if you wanted to have it live. Are you looking at asynchronously or synchronously?
I’m looking at it more of a self-producing three or four-hour, almost feels like an NPR or Gimlet-style podcast but is what I would normally call the next book. I’m doing it from my house and I’ve got a decent amount of equipment. I work out of a room that has almost floor to ceiling windows that I would probably have to cover over with sound panels. I’m trying to find alternatives to that but that’s the curiosity thing. That’s why the way I would call myself curious is I’m always researching, “How can I do this a little bit differently but achieve the same quality of people who are doing it with four or five people at a radio station or that type of thing?”
It’s an interesting thing to try and figure out. I know when I had to do this show, I knew I had to do it in two weeks and I had to learn how to do all the technology. It’s almost like it lights a fire under you and then you go, “I never thought about how to connect my cell phone to my computer.” You learn all these different things and that’s what I was trying to do when I was researching curiosity. I was trying to get people to feel that desire to learn those kinds of things and to push themselves a little bit further. I think a lot of people don’t. When I created the Curiosity Code Index, I learned that there are four things that keep people from being curious and they’re fear, assumptions, technology and environment. As I researched that, I started to think, “How can we get people to recognize that these things are holding them back?” We see many people are going to have to get into new jobs and different things that they’re going to have to do is technology takes over. A lot of them are uncomfortable networking and switching to the next thing. How do we get them over that fear or to get that voice out of their head that tells them they can’t do all this? Is that anything that you deal with when you do your research?
The line that I always use a lot of times is that I don’t know that we ought to try and teach them a new thing to do that or overcome a new thing but regress them. I’m sure you’re familiar with E. Paul Torrance’s research on creativity in children. The idea that it levels off around grade four in the North American system. That’s the age where it’s much more about remembering the right answers and there are penalties to not be able to pass the tests and all that stuff. I have a seven-year-old and a five-year-old, we’re in first and pre-K but I’m staring at that fourth-grade thing.
I’m like, “What am I going to do to keep what they already have?” That’s a lot when it comes to creativity that I encourage people to do. You think about kids. They are curious and they’re insulated to that pain of failure and that pain of risk-taking. That’s the big thing that I recommend if we’re looking at the environment and how we almost regress people back to that childlike mindset. We need to get them willing to ask all sorts of questions. People still have them but also, they’re afraid to ask them and not afraid to chase down those answers. We need to get back to a kid learning to walk only waste time, every time they fail, all they did was a waste of time but they learned things.
We need to get back to that mentality. Whether it’s us individually, it’s employees or what have you, the pain of failure should be the time invested. It shouldn’t be a sting on your career because everybody knows you tried that project and it was a bomb. How do we do that varies by every single organization, but I still have to convince the majority of the world that that’s the goal. I’m focused on that first and then we’ll deal with the how do we do that piece. Let’s focus on how do we at least get everyone on the same page that we need to lower the cost of failure so that people would be more willing to take risks.
When you were talking about going back into school, John Couch from Apple was on my show and he wrote the book about reinventing education. He was saying how he was great at taking tests. He realized he was just great at memorizing things. On a physics test, they asked him some question that required that he extrapolated from what they’d learned and not just strictly regurgitate what we’ve learned. A lot of people, if you have a good memory or you have this ability to do well and to remember things, some of us have all these capabilities that we don’t even know or we’re not developing. I liked the thought of going back and to what things have been programmed out of us or programmed into us in school because a lot of us could do a lot more things. As people are going to have to be realigned to jobs that they maybe are in right now or going to be replaced by technology. What better time to find out what we’re interested in, what excites us and have people be engaged in a job they care about. I’d like to see more of that.
All the work that you’re doing is so important for people to get out there and to learn. Making connections is such a big part of what makes people successful. It’s very uncomfortable for a lot of people because they have that voice in their head. As I said, assumptions will hold us back. We think that it’s sleazy. We think networking makes us feel dirty. We have all these ideas that maybe we’re wrong about. I like that you’re pointing out that we can get these ties, these old friends, these connections and get a lot out of it. What do you think is the main point you want people to take away from your book, Friend of A Friend? How would you like to leave people with that?Sometimes, especially in a work context, we judge people based on competence and warmth. Click To Tweet
The first thing is that mindset shift. It’s not about growing your network and adding to your number of collections. That rubs a lot of people the wrong way because people are not assets to be acquired. It’s about the network and the community that you’re already in and your goal should be to strengthen that whole network and know that you will benefit from that ahead of time. The other thing that I would encourage, speaking of this curiosity, this fear and this hesitation type piece, is that I get a lot of resistance when I tell people, “Call your old boss, call people that you used to work with, call friends from college you haven’t talked to in a while.” Everybody’s like, “What do they think? It’s been so long.”
There’s this clock of awkwardness like the national debt clock, it keeps growing. The longer it is between the intervals of time that you’ve talked to somebody, the more awkward it is to reach back out to them. The truth is people don’t act that way. If you send a quick email to someone that says, “I was thinking about you and I hope you’re well,” no one hates receiving that message. That would be where to start once we know that it’s not about acquiring all these new connections, it’s about serving the network that you’re already in. The first and most effective way you can do that is checking back in with all of those latent ties, those connections that you have that you haven’t talked to in a long time.
LinkedIn can be an easy way to do that if you don’t feel comfortable doing an email because you’re supposed to reach out to people in social networks. Do you find that there are some that are better than others?
I definitely agree with you on the LinkedIn piece, Facebook, Twitter. They’re all great at that in the sense that you are probably already outsourcing some of the Rolodex of these weak ties to those platforms. It has to be direct. In LinkedIn, it has to be a private message. In Facebook, it has to be in Messenger. It has to be one-on-one. It’s not enough to post, “Happy birthday,” and reset the awkward clock. They probably didn’t even see it. I definitely think they make it easier. They also make it easier to see what people are up to so that when there is an opportunity to help them or when there’s an opportunity that overlaps with something that you are doing, it makes it easier to see what’s going on in their world even if you’re not communicating with them all the time so that when you do reach back out to them, you’re already up to date on what’s been going on in their life. It makes the conversation more productive when you have it.
I like to set Google notifications if it’s somebody that’s in the news or doing certain things to remind me when they do something great. You get notified that they’ve written something, they’ve done something and reach out to them. It gives you a reason to reach out. It was so much fun to talk about this because many people could learn a lot from all your books. You’ve had an amazing career for such a young guy and all the things you’ve done. I was excited to talk to you and I appreciate having you on the show. I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to know how they can learn more and find you. How can they connect with you?
I’m very blessed in that I am only aware of one other Dave Burkus in the world with an online presence and he writes about finance. If you type it into Google, David Burkus, probably your platform of choice will be in that first ten results, whether it’s my website or LinkedIn. I’m in love with LinkedIn so I’d love to connect with anybody on that but whatever’s good for you. If you type it into Google or into Amazon, you’ll find it, which is great. Until the next DailyBurk comes along, I have got a great territory staked out on the interwebs.
Why are you in love with LinkedIn, is it because of your book title?
I have this weird theory that that’s where grownup conversations are happening now. Twitter turned into a bunch of celebrities and journalists yelling at each other. Facebook has either way too many cat memes or way too many political posts and what have you. The grownup conversations about what’s happening in the world seem to be happening on LinkedIn. It used to be this repository for your contact lists in your resume, but people are having real conversations and great dialogue in the newsfeed. LinkedIn feels like what Facebook felt years ago. That’s how we met.
You live outside of Tulsa, but you said you went to university, which the people from the United States don’t put it that way. Where are you from originally?
I’m from Pennsylvania. I’ve figured out that we in the States are wrong on that one. If I say college, they will assume that meant I got an associate’s degree. I’ve learned to train myself that way. I do the same thing too. I live in the Central Time Zone, but I operate my business life on the Eastern Time Zone because I’ve learned it makes everyone else’s life easier if I do the conversion for them.
Thank you so much for being on this show.
Thank you again so much for having me.
I’d like to thank David for being my guest. I love the topics that David covers because I get a lot of guests who deal with creativity and other productivity related issues in the workplace. His work has been something that has inspired me. I talked to organizations quite often about what we can do to improve creativity. David and about anybody else I’ve talked to seem to agree that curiosity is the spark that leads to so many things including creativity, innovation and productivity. That’s what we’re trying to do with Cracking The Curiosity Code and the Curiosity Code Index. We want to light that spark. I’ve talked to a lot of teams, groups, and different people about the importance of curiosity.
It’s easy to envision it outside of the work setting of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to improve engagement, productivity and all those things. If you look at it outside of the work setting, say if you want to bake a cake. You have all the ingredients; the egg, flour, whatever it takes. You mix it all together, you put it in the pan, you put it in the oven but then you never turn on the oven, then you’re not going to have cake. It’s the same thing in the work setting. You have all these things you want to fix. The end result would be you want productivity. You want to fix engagement, soft sales skills, emotional intelligence, you name the issue.
Creativity is right up there and the problem is nobody’s turning on the oven. The oven is the spark. It is curiosity. That’s what I was trying to do when I was writing the book, Cracking The Curiosity Code, I thought, “I want to write about curiosity but I didn’t want to just write about it. I wanted to fix the problem that people were having, what was keeping us from being curious? When we’re kids, we’re super curious and then things happened. They get into school and things start to slow down. It’s hard for teachers to answer all the questions. It’s hard for parents to constantly answer why. When you get older, there are certain things that we found that impact curiosity.
That’s what my research was about. It was about looking into what keeps us from being curious. What I did was I studied thousands of people for years and we came up with the four things that keep people from being curious. Those four things are fear, assumptions, technology and environment. When people take the Curiosity Code Index, they get to find out how they rate in all of these areas. If there are issues with fear, with assumptions, which is another way of saying the voice in our head is holding us back, technology or environment. You get all these scores, but you also get a plan for how to overcome any of the issues that you might have. These are great instruments for organizations to use. I’ve had people say it’s the next level of human development that we’re going to see. Maybe something like emotional intelligence in the ‘90s. Developing curiosity is huge for developing human potential.
If you’re interested in taking the Curiosity Code Index, you can go to CuriosityCode.com. You can also get the book and get certified if you’re interested. If you’re a consultant or you’re an HR and you want to be CCI certified, Curiosity Code Index certified, all the training is on demand and you can take it on the site. You get five hours of SHRM recertification credit. I’ll be speaking at SHRM about the importance of curiosity for innovation, engagement and productivity. You can learn more about that as well if you go to SHRM. It’s something that a lot of organizations are focusing on because innovation is a hot topic. Everybody wants to figure out how to resolve problems with engagement and all the other issues. Absolutely without a doubt, curiosity is the spark that leads to all the other things that organizations struggle with.
I hope you say take some time to go to CuriosityCode.com to learn more about that. If you’re interested in more episodes of the show or if you missed any past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com. You can also go to DrDianeHamilton.com to contact me about speaking or consulting or anything that we do on that site. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode.
- David Burkus
- Friend of A Friend
- X Prize
- American Innovations
- Late Bloomers
- Curiosity Code Index
- David Burkus on LinkedIn
- Cracking The Curiosity Code
- John Couch
About David Burkus
David Burkus is a best-selling author and a sought-after keynote speaker. His newest book, FRIEND OF A FRIEND, offers readers a new perspective on how to grow their networks and build key connections—one based on the science of human behavior.
He’s delivered keynotes to the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and the future leaders of the United States Naval Academy. His TED talk has been viewed more than 2 million times and he is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review.