Networking skills could also be a curse in disguise

May 15th, 2009 - 2:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Madonna London, May 15 (IANS) Networking is the magic mantra that helps you open doors to better jobs or business opportunities but it might also boomerang in the long run, warns an economist.
“If you’re at the intersection of two previously unconnected niches of a network, you’re occupying what I call a ’structural hole’,” said Tel Aviv University (TAU) economist Yuval Kalish.

“Filling that space can lead to prestige, opportunities and power - or it may have quite the opposite effect,” he added.

“While it’s been reported that people who occupy these ’structural holes’ become more successful, some structural holes may be ’social potholes’ that can harm you and your business,” he warned.

Kalish said occupying a structural hole lets you control information. Information is power, which translates to prestige and monetary benefits. But once your manipulation of information is revealed to others, you may suffer negative consequences.

In the recent financial meltdown, business people and stockbrokers who transferred information between parties when they shouldn’t have were the among the victims of those consequences.

Both the positive and negative lessons of his unique research, he said, can be applied to business, politics, the arts, and even the military.

In his latest study, Kalish analysed the networks among groups of students at a teachers’ college.

Among group members, he found ambitious “power-hungry” entrepreneurs who tried to keep the network closed and increase their own power, and “peace-builders” who tried to close the structural holes, bringing members together to enhance the collective good.

Ultimately, he found that both ambitious entrepreneurs and socially conscious peace-builders ran great risks in manipulating the networks and structural holes to their advantage, according to a TAU release.

“Ongoing research shows that occupying a structural hole, even by the well-intentioned, is associated with short-term gains and long-term costs,” said Kalish.

People who fill these structural holes may be putting themselves in more jeopardy than they think, Kalish said.

“For example, if I’m the only connector between Arabs and Jews in a classroom rife with intergroup conflict, I’ll probably burn out,” he said.

“History is full of leaders who faced the negative consequences of occupying a unique structural hole. Martin Luther King is one example, and so is the insurance giant AIG.

“If you’re playing the structural hole game, you need to occupy that hole right away and leave it quickly, as soon as others start joining. Madonna, the singer, is an excellent example of this. She connects niches, reinvents herself, gains power and prestige, then moves on as soon as others start doing similar things,” Kalish said.

These findings were published in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology.

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