Similar people – different people

Social network analysts find this again and again:

1. Most networks have the tendency to age towards homophily. That means: The longer a network is active, the more it tends to consist of similar people.

2. Heterogeneity and boundary spanning between different kinds of networks lead to innovation.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Because it is not just about networks or organisations as a whole. But also about the question: How do you as a person achieve both, feeling comfortable and broadening your horizon?

I feel drawn to people who understand me without much explaining, the typical situation where you start a sentence and the other person is nodding frantically because he or she knows exactly where you are going. And sometimes talking to people who are so similar allows you to reach out very far on very thin ice. You can think crazy stuff together because you trust each other and you can build on each others’ ideas without much effort. You can ask them for feedback and they’ll tell you exactly what you need, because they really get you.

On the other hand… sometimes you meet people where you feel like even the basic structure of their brain must be completely different from yours. Getting to understand each other can become a tough job of explaining and misunderstanding and you feel like learning a different language altogether just to make yourself understood. To work together you need to negotiate the common ground, explain your priorities and plow through the frustrations of different work styles.

But after going through all this, you might realize: They can do, see and think things that would have never occured to you. Explaining your point of view helps you understand better where you stand and maybe even reassess some of the things you took for granted.

What triggered these thoughts is my learning process towards becoming a better facilitator. In my experience, facilitators like to mix, exchange, work and learn with other facilitators (and the term “facilitator” here is a job description as much as a kind of character). But while we might get into the wildest and newest participatory ideas of productive freedom and multidimensionality, a lot of our audience might have completely different comfort zones and ways of learning and interacting.

So how do you best combine both: Learning together with the best and most creative people of your own kind and opening the doors for those who think  and work in a completely different way? I guess there are some pointers towards this in the whole field of intercultural learning – because culture does not necessarily have to be connected to different nations or language groups…

2 Responses

  1. Nice post – something I struggle with often. My indicator for becoming stale and maybe not innovating is when I start to feel comfortable – with people, ideas, or processes. Then it’s time to try something new. Like improv theatre, or twitter, or incorporating Presentation-zen like slideshows into my facilitation, reading New Scientist, birdwatching… I’m looking for something now to stretch and challenge my thinking. That’s from my perspective. When facilitating I think interesting things happen most often when we tackle unchartered territory. The very fact of being in a workshop is outside of the norm (and some people’s comfort zone) so I figure we might as well make it worthwhile and s t r e t c h

  2. Nice post. I remember someone explaining why it was great to go to university and he said to his friend ‘you will meet people exactly like you’.
    Sadly, the comfort zone of people who are similar is strong and is also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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