NOW, it is three years the American inventor, cofounder of Apple Computers and a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer, Steve Jobs died. Since then, books have been written about his extraordinary career. It is high time we understood what caused his success. Often, we dismiss usable principles of success by labeling them as personality quirks.
What is often missed about Jobs’ character is his paradoxical interplay of two of his seemingly opposite qualities: his maniacal focus and his insatiable curiosity. These were not just two random strengths. They have been his most important as they helped lead to everything else. Jobs’ curiosity fueled his passion and provided him with access to unique insights, skills, values and world-class people who complemented his own skill set. Jobs’ focus brought his skillset and world-class people to bear in the world of personal electronics.
Indeed, there is a variable that explains what really causes career success. In an interview of one of the world’s top network scientists, Ron Burt, he shared his chart of a successful career study. According to the study, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is best predictor of career success. In the chart, the further to the right you go toward a closed network, the more you repeatedly hear the same ideas, which reaffirm what you already believe. The farther left you go toward an open network, the more you are exposed to new ideas.
People to the left are surely more successful than those to the right.
Thus, the study shows that half of the predicted difference in career success (that is: promotion and compensation and status of your industry) is due to this one variable. This provided me with the compelling need to know more, thereby forcing me to alter my beliefs. The core answer is that the structure of your network is such a powerful predictor or determinant of your career success.
Which is why a closed network impacts on your career prospects. To understand the power of open networks, it is important to understand their opposite. Most people spend their careers in closed networks: networks of people who already know each other. Such people often stay in the same industry, the same religion and the same political party. In a closed network, it is easier to get things done because you have built up trust and you know all the shorthand terms and unspoken rules. It is comfortable because the group converges on the same ways of seeing the world that confirm your own.
To understand why people spend most of their time in closed networks, consider what happens when a group of random strangers is thrown together: such a process results as a byproduct of our evolutionary history where we lived in small groups and strangers we didn’t know well were not to be trusted. By understanding this process, we began to understand why members of the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party behave the way they do. We understand why Christians and Muslims have gone to war over history. It helps us to understand why we have economic bubbles, panics and why some groups see religion as a fad of the season.
The power and pain of open networks have unique challenges and opportunities. This is because they are part of multiple groups with unique relationships, experiences and knowledge that others in their group don’t have. This is challenging in that some members feel they are outsiders as a result of being misunderstood and under appreciated. This is because some cannot understand why you think the way you do. This is also challenging because it requires assimilating conflicting perspectives into one worldview.
However, having an open network is a huge opportunity in a few ways. One, it provides a more accurate view of the world. This is so because it enables us to pull information from diverse clusters so errors cancel themselves out. Research shows that people with open networks are better forecasters than people with closed networks. Two, ability to control the timing of sharing information. This results in leverage enabling you to make the first moves in information sharing. Three, having an open network creates value by serving as an intermediary, connecting two people or groups who can help each other who wouldn’t normally run into each other.
Moreover, open networks encourages more breakthrough ideas. For example, Brian Uzzi, the Professor of Leadership and change at Kellogg School of Management, USA, undertook a landmark study where he delved into millions of studies throughout history. He compared results they received and the other papers they referenced. A fascinating pattern emerged. The top performing studies showed 90 per cent conventional and 10 per cent a-typical – i.e. pulling from other fields. People with open networks are more easily able to create a-typical combinations.
Thus, as a result of his openness, the pursuit of his curiosity in different fields throughout his life, Steve Jobs was able to develop an extremely unique perspective, skillset and network; one that no one else in the computer industry had. Jobs turned these unique advantages into the largest company in the world by having a razor sharp focus. Within Apple Incorporated, he cut out people, products and systems that were not world-class. Many are quick to label parts of Jobs life as the ‘wilderness’ years.