Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Jeffrey Pfeffer is Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He is the author or co-author of thirteen books including "The Human Equation: Building Profits by[…]

When it comes to networking, there is more strength in the weak ties of loose acquaintances than in the close ties you have with friends and family.

Question:  How can people network better?

Jeffrey Pfeffer:  Well first and most important networking essential is kind of obvious, but I think it’s something that people find very hard to do.  Most of us like to spend our time with our close friends.  Why not?  Or with our family, why not?  The problem with close friends and family is that they are people that you already know well and if you spend all your time with people that you already know well and who already like you, how are you going to make new friends and meet new people. And also your friends and family probably know pretty much the same people you know and the same information that you already know, so you don’t really get a broadening in your perspective, so there is an argument that talks about the strength of weak ties, that you actually are more likely to find a job from someone who you are very loosely and tangentially connected to than from somebody who you’re really close to.

So it’s very important for you to meet people in a diverse set of industries and a diverse set of companies and a diverse set of geographies so that you broaden out the scope of people that you tie and to whom you have ties even if those ties are relatively weak and then ping them once in awhile.  Just be back in touch with them on an occasional basis to renew the acquaintance, to share a little bit of information.  Send them a Christmas card.  Send them an email occasionally to tell them what you’re doing and keep in relatively loose touch and that way you can have access to a diverse set of information and people, which is much better.  I mean it’s the same idea as in a financial market.  Just as you would not want to put all your financial eggs in one undiversified basket you would not want to put all your human capital eggs in a relatively undiversified basket of just your close friends and family.

How does perception influence power?

Jeffrey Pfeffer:  Perception becomes reality.  You know if I believe you are the most effective person at what you do: Bumber one, the most talented people are going to want to work with you.  Number two, people are going to want to back you and give you resources and over time if you get lots of resources and lots of talent working with you, you actually become more successful.

And I do think if you look at CEOs, including some iconic CEOs, a part of this is a matter of them being very successful in building their public image.  A lot of this has very little to do with the realities of how their organizations have performed or the realities of how they have behaved.  This is really... so perception actually does become reality.  You know if everybody thinks that the Apple products are the coolest products in the world, everybody buys the Apple products and they become the coolest products.  I mean this is fundamentally like marketing 101 and the interesting issue is that you need to market yourself and you need to have a personal brand and a personal brand strategy just as much as Apple or Google or anybody else has a brand and a strategy.  You know if everybody thinks Google is the search engine everybody searches on Google and it has the dominant view in search, then it becomes the dominant search engine and the thing cycles, so there are a lot of self-reinforcing dynamics in getting and keeping power, so I’m a big believer in having a public relations strategy early in your career.  

Question:  How can someone gain power today?

Jeffrey Pfeffer:  Everything we’ve talked about really is something that I think somebody could do today.  You can start today to figure out who are the 10 people I don’t know who if I knew it would be helpful for my career and how am I going to meet them.  How am I going to get out of my comfort zone to meet people in diverse geographies and industries and different positions?  So you can start today to build your network.  You can’t start today to assemble if you will, a personal board of directors to give you honest feedback on your qualities that are related to building power and ask yourself or ask you and ask them what am I good at, what am I weak at and how do I begin today with a personal development plan to play to my strengths and buttress my weaknesses, what do I do today to learn how to become a better actor to act with more confidence, to speak more powerfully and that is something again you can begin today.  You can begin today to understand that if you want help just ask, so ask that you can being today, ask people for help and advice.  So basically everything I’ve talked about you should not only can you start it today, but you really should.  I think we have many ways of putting off for the indefinite future things that we ought to be doing now and now is a pretty good time to start.

Recorded September 21, 2010

Interviewed by John Cookson