Networks and Why They Matter

Season 3, Episode 11

In episode 11 of the CitySCOPE podcast, Kate Cooney, faculty at the Yale School of Management, speaks with Marissa King, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management about her book Social Chemistry: Decoding the Elements of Human Connection.  Topics include: networks and why they matter, different types of social networks, a tool to assess your social network, why the structure of networks is important for building social movements, and the role of networks for economic development.  Join us!

Listen by clicking above, or listen and subscribe on applegooglespotifystitcher, and soundcloud.


1.  Marissa King faculty website here

2. Social Chemistry: Decoding the Elements of Human Connection here

3.  Tool to assess your network here

4.   Mark S. Granovetter’s The Strength of Weak Ties here

5.  Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown by Sean Safford here

Episode Transcript: 

Kate Cooney (00:00):  

This is CitySCOPE. 

Eun Sun Cho (00:01):  

A podcast on cities and inclusive economic development from the Yale School of Management. 

Kate Cooney (00:07):

Are we ready? 

Manuel Morales (00:08):

Let’s go.

Kate Cooney (00:24):

Welcome to episode 11 of season 3 of the CitySCOPE podcast. This week, we speak with Marissa King, faculty at the Yale School of Management, about her new book, which highlights the role that networks play in our lives. This conversation sets up our final set of episodes for season 4, which focus on entrepreneurial ecosystems and the important role that they can play in connecting entrepreneurs to resources.

Marissa King (00:49):

I’m Marissa King. I’m a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management.

Kate Cooney (00:54):

Welcome, Marissa, so glad to have you with us. So we’re going to get right in talking about your new book, Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection. We hear so much about how important networks are. What is it about networks that makes them so valuable? How and why do they matter?

Marissa King (01:14):

If you think about our networks, our networks are really just the traces of our social interaction. Everything from the momentary interaction you may have with a barista in the morning to your more enduring relationships with friends and family members, and the quality and the structure of those relationships have profound implications for everything from our professional life to our personal life. In our professional life, the type of net your work you have is a very strong predictor of how quickly you’ll find a job, your pay, your promotion, your overall success in your career. But at the same time, it has these professional benefits. We also know that there are profound implications for our own mental health and well-being. For instance, the type of network you have or having a really impoverished network has an effect on premature mortality, the equivalent of smoking or obesity. So our networks have a huge importance pretty much in every domain of our life.

Kate Cooney (02:07):

Your book highlights lots of individuals throughout the chapters that sort of embody the kind of network you’re describing. How did you arrive on choosing the specific individuals that you highlighted? How did you go about choosing those, those protagonists?

Marissa King (02:25):

For me, I look for stories in part that have really strong evidence in the research. So I open, for instance, the book with Vernon Jordan and what is so extraordinary about Vernon Jordan is he really is emblematic of the power of a personal network for transforming corporate life. So he has been well documented as being the shortest shortcut between any wards on the Fortune 500 at the peak of when their board interlocks were such a big deal in terms of people talking about, like the power of big business. And so that story was very much informed by thinking about the research on board interlocks and him being emblematic of that. Also, if you think about this story for Anna Wintour, who really is symbolic of this convening-like network, that is again based on research in the sense that a close friend of mine, Elizabeth Currid and her colleague, Gilad Ravid, who appeared with whom on the red carpet using Getty Images, and she is very much at the center of that world. And so the stories are really informed by research. The way I approach the book is it’s like, start with the research first and then the stories are used to illustrate. But one of the nice things about writing the book is along the way. I’ve met so many people with such interesting stories, so if I ever had to do it again, which I probably won’t, I would probably have a broader range of stories to bring to the table.

Kate Cooney (03:43):

As you said, your book brings all of these different important studies, studies that we’ve all heard of and lots of new research to bring to bear on this topic. And you do it, you weave them together through this narrative that really allows us to hold on to the insights from all of the research that you’re exploring. So what are the old classics that you talk about? Is this paper by Mark Granovetter on the strength of weak ties? What is the insight from that paper and how relevant is that still today? 

Marissa King (04:12):

The story of the strength of weak ties is Mark Granovetter, who’s now a professor at Stanford, was doing his dissertation research in the 1980s, and he was really curious about how people got a job. Like, we all kind of know people get a job through networks. And he spent his time trying to figure out like, well, actually, how does this work In a neighborhood in Boston, going door to door and asking people, “How did you get your job? How did you get your job?” And it’s, he was interviewing them. He kept saying like, “Oh, it was, so you heard about it through a friend.” And he heard again and again. “Oh, no, it wasn’t a friend. It was an acquaintance.” And that really was, as small as that anecdote was, that was a really transformative moment in network science because what it showed is that we actually get our jobs, not through our closest friends and family members, but we’re most likely to get a job actually through what he calls a weak tie, which is an acquaintance or someone that you haven’t seen recently, or you don’t see as often. And the insight there is, what was important about weak ties is that they provide new information, compared to our closest friends and our family members. In many ways, we live in an echo chamber most of the time, but these acquaintances are people you might bump into much more occasionally, have a whole different range of information that they’re bringing to bear. And so it’s really the new information or new ideas that come from weak ties that make them so important for finding a job. And this has been replicated over and over and over and over again, and it’s still true today. So if you’re looking for a job, your best chance of finding it is actually through a weak tie or an acquaintance.

Kate Cooney (05:43):

How and where do people form their networks? What have you learned about where people form those networks? Is it early in life? Can you form them all the way through? Sort of where are those key places where people develop those network relationships?

Marissa King (06:01):

Most people’s networks are surprisingly accidents. If you think about right where we started this conversation. Networks are a huge predictor of pretty much any domain that you might care about, whether it’s your professional life or your personal life. But despite their importance, most people’s networks actually are just simply accidents. And when they see that they’re accidents, what does that mean? Is it most of the time, we’re not actually consciously creating our networks, but they’re really actually determined in two ways, a constraint that we all as humans face is one, is simply where you spending your time and how are you investing it? We all have a fixed amount of time. So some people choose either naturally or due to a predisposition to invest more in building more enduring relationships. And as a result, they necessarily have a smaller network, but it’s a deeper network. On the flip side, there are other people who privilege weak ties, so this is like they’re more on the Mark Granovetter world and they have a much larger network. But those ties are necessarily and are because we all face this constraint and we have a fixed amount of time, so you can only allocated across a set of relationships in a certain way. The second biggest predictor is actually, if we think about, we can think about time and then you can think about space. If you write down your five closest contacts right now, if they’re not family, they’re going to be arising from the institutions that you belong to, the people you’ve gone to school with or institute, the job that you’re working in. So when we are thinking, oftentimes we don’t think about. “All right, I’m going to buy a house. Where am I going to buy a house?” Where your house actually is located, if it’s at the end of a cul-de-sac versus if you live in an apartment where along the hallway your particular apartment is, those have a huge impact on what your network looks like. But because we’re just living our lives, that we’re not actually consciously creating our networks and one of the things I hope to draw attention to in my work is by being more intentional or more thoughtful about our relationships, we can actually build more effective networks, not just for ourselves, but for others in our community.

Kate Cooney (07:56):

There’s a new study out of the Brookings Institution that is quite striking in terms of thinking about the variance of structures across the groups that they’ve looked at in this study. So they worked in four cities. They were selecting those cities to some degree based on those mobility scores coming out of Raj Chetty’s work. And so they had Charlotte, North Carolina, which is very low on that mobility score, the odds of moving from that bottom quintile to the top two were quite low to other cities like San Francisco, where the odds were very high. A couple of findings that really stood out from their interviewing across those four cities were how racially homogenous white male networks were across all four cities that white male and females in general had bigger networks, and broader networks, and those networks were used in multiple ways. They were asking about jobs, education, and housing, how you found information out about each of those domains. So one was racially homogenous nature of white male networks, even in cities with large Black populations, even in cities with very cosmopolitan international populations like Washington, D.C. Still, those networks were quite white. The other finding that has been notable about this work is how small the networks were for Black males in particular, more than any other group more likely to have a network that was zero to one in that category. It was often a parent and maybe a female work colleague or a male friend, but very, very small networks on average across the cities. So they’re making a big deal about this difference in size, right? It’s one of these notable findings. Are they right to worry about these differences in size?

Marissa King (09:47):

I’ll start with answering your question, and then we can start to roll back and unpack why this is important and how it happens and what does that mean? So they are certainly right to worry about this size issue. It’s a bare minimum, right. Even I have done research during COVID on how big does a network have to be or how would you need to be protected, for instance, against loneliness during the pandemic? And across the board, there’s basically a threshold at which we need a certain amount of very close relationships. So the network size that they’re describing are ego networks like our closest friends and family members. We know that people tend to do better as long as they have around five close contacts. But the point you just mentioned that Black men have zero to one is hugely important because it suggests that they actually have zero, no social safety net. So one that there’s a resource issue associated with that of having no social safety net and that there’s a mental health issue around issues around loneliness or just lack of social support, which leads to negative mental health issues, and that loneliness is really underlying a whole range of other mental health problems, everything from substance abuse disorders to depression, anxiety, and even suicide are predicted by this insufficient basic support network. So that’s certainly true. But as you were describing, it’s not just a size issue. We can think about networks in describing them in a couple of different ways. One is just the size of the network, which is oftentimes what most people default to thinking about because it’s the easiest thing to measure. The other things that we can think about as being important are composition. And so this is where you started with talking about everybody, right? Whether you’re white, Black, everybody tends to build networks full of people who look like themselves. We call this homophily, which is unnecessarily complicated for describing this tendency of like to affiliate with like. So this has been true for a very long time. So this study is consistent with what we know from decades of research. The statistic that I often referred to is that three quarters of white Americans have no non-white friends. Zero. So we know that people tend to do this. And the same is true. It tends to be that Black men and women tend to have less racially segregated networks than people who are white and so why is that true. Then we need to start to unpack, we deeply, deeply, deeply as a society have to care about this issue, and we have to care about it for a bunch of reasons. One is if you think about just the issues of racial polarization right now, if networks are completely segregated and no one’s talking to one another, then issues we can’t think of even beginning to do something like have a social movement that’s going to address structural racial inequity. So that’s one problem. We can think about is that as a social discourse problem. The second problem that arises from this is just simply lack of access to resources. If you think about what is the problem, whether it’s divisions by race or divisions by gender. If you’re someone without access to resources so you’re in a disadvantaged group, whether that’s by race or gender and you have a disproportionate people like you in your network, the chances of mobility are squashed. We spend so much time talking about educational, human capital, financial capital. It’s social capital, which is really networks, social capital plays the exact same role. And so if we want to start to address these long term issues around equity or have conversations about how do we increase social cohesion, all of that fundamentally means that we have to take very seriously issues around how do we start to build networks that are more integrated and more diverse. So the solution is twofold. You can think about anybody’s network also is being determined in part by choice. So some of this is around choice that we tend to affiliate with people who look like ourselves because it feels safer and we can have all sorts of discussions about like, “Well, then how do we overcome this natural tendency that everybody has?” So part of it’s choice, but part of it’s also just structure. And I think that that’s what was one piece that’s interesting about the Brookings finding is you do see in some neighborhoods or some cities that there actually tends to be slightly more, slightly more diverse networks. And that’s part they’re built around these opportunity structures. You can have a city that’s very racially diverse, but if the neighborhoods are segregated, you’re still going to end up with segregated networks because everything comes down to the spatial proximity. What’s cool about work is our offices are actually the most diverse place that any of us exists. If you look at how racially segregated networks are in religious organizations, voluntary organizations, neighborhoods, all of those tend to be much more racially segregated than work. And so that makes actually the workplace a pretty cool opportunity to intervene because we can think about in the workplace, you can actually create networks and engineer networks at work. And so if we want to actually start to address this, I think the easiest place to actually start addressing it is at work.

Kate Cooney (14:44):

So one of the things that you argue in the book is that, you know, in addition to this sort of threshold of quantity, it’s also really important to attend to the quality and the structure that the relationships in the network are formed around as well, and that it’s also the quality and the structure of our networks that have a big effect on our professional and personal lives.

Marissa King (15:12):

So we can think about network structure as being the enduring traces of our social interactions. In our network, we all have a network signature, whether or not you know what type of network you have, your network naturally takes on a certain type of structure. In the book, I refer to these three, within three ideal types as being convenors, brokers, or expansionists. And those network structures have huge implications for your overall likelihood of success or what station you are in life because each different type of network structure has different benefits and also different drawbacks. Understanding first and foremost, what does my network actually look like, or if I’m trying to build a more effective workplace, like if I’m trying to create a more innovative workplace, how do I create networks that take on this basic structure? Nicholas Christakis, who’s a professor at Yale, uses analogy that I really, really like, and I think it’s really telling to describe network structure, as he uses the analogy of thinking about carbon atoms. So if you take carbon atoms and you arrange them in one way, you arrange them in flat sheets. You end up with getting graphite. It’s cheap. You can find it in a kid’s backpack. It’s soft. But if you take those same carbon atoms and you arrange them in a different structure, then you end up with diamonds. They’re hard, they’re valuable. They’re arguably one of the most valuable things that we have on Earth. And the same is actually true of our social relationships. If you take the same group of people, imagine now that we’re creating a team, not thinking about our own networks. If you team the same group of people and you have everyone talking to everyone all day long, you’re going to end up with a certain type of team that has a certain set of benefits. But if you take that same exact group of people, but you split them into two subgroups with one liaison going between the two, you’re going to end up with a fundamentally different type of team with different advantages. And so in many ways is a way of thinking about network structure, that if you take a set of people and you arrange them differently, you’re going to have different benefits and different drawbacks.

Kate Cooney (17:13):

So we all took the test. A lot of us are brokers. Tell us about ourselves.

Marissa King (17:22):

If we think about like, what are the advantages of brokers. Brokers are really in the idea import-export business, they tend to straddle different social worlds. They also tend to be good at doing things like making impromptu speeches on things they know little about. So that ability to do that is something known as high self-monitoring. Of all the personality characteristics that predict what type of network you have, being a high self-monitor is actually the most predictive. People often think like, “Oh, it’s going to really matter if I’m an introvert or an extrovert.” It actually matters tiny like very, very little. The biggest predictor is this chameleon like ability of being a high self-monitor, so that’s characteristic of brokers. So by straddling these different social worlds, they have the ability, brokers have this natural ability to be innovative and creative. They oftentimes, particularly for female brokers, this arises because of a tendency to keep work and their social life separate, and that separation, we also know, tends to promote more work-life balance. So that is the positive benefit of brokers. The downside of being a broker is because you’re often between these different worlds, people don’t quite know what to make of you, so you can be ripe for character assassination. We know that the best way to overcome this for people who are empathic brokers and people perceive them as being empathic, they don’t tend to have these negative downsides as much.

Kate Cooney (18:44):

We also have an expansionist. Tell us about expansionists.

Marissa King (18:48):

So expansionists know magnitudes of order of people more than the average person. So to figure out how we’re arriving at whether or not you’re in expansionist in an assessment is by asking you, “How many people do you know named Alan?” How many people do you know named Emily?” And so by asking you how many people you know with these names of Alan or Emily, we can estimate the overall size of your network so we know how many people with each of those names there are in the United States. This is based on US networks. Since we know how many people have that name, we can back in and figure out by, how many you know, how many people, what’s the expected size of your network? So most people know somewhere between 600 and 900 people, and this is, when we’re talking about people you know, it’s really just acquaintance, weak tie size that we’re estimating. But expansionists know magnitudes or more, which is a strange property of networks is they tend to have very long tails. So there’s an above average, but the tail is very, very, very, very long. To give you a sense of how long this tail is, if you like, took the same distribution, and applied it to height, it would be people who are 6,000 feet tall. Expansionists by being on this tail have a real opportunity to have influence, to promote new ideas, to really catalyze change. And so the benefits of that are quite obvious. We often think of expansionists as being a bit like the quintessential networkers. But the downside is because there’s necessarily this tradeoff between size and depth, expansions will frequently struggle with loneliness because they don’t actually, despite having really large numbers, they don’t have enough emotional support. 

Kate Cooney (20:22):

You’ve said it’s not about introvert or extrovert. What is the key to knowing what kind of network that you end up with and is one better than the other? Do you tend to change the kind of network you have over time?

Marissa King (20:37):

Some of it is predisposition, right? So we didn’t, for instance, talk about convenors, who like their networks are characterized their friends tend to be friends with one another. They have more depth to their relationships, so they have more trust and emotional support. For instance, that type of network is oftentimes associated with what’s being called by Frank Flynn at Stanford is a high need for closure. Conveners tend not to like uncertainty. They don’t like to change plans at the last minute, if you think about high self-monitoring. So some of this is predisposition and you can even go back to even attachment style at age one, it’s predictive of what your network will subsequently look like so that some of it is how we’re raised. Some of it is predisposition, but also some of it is actually just where we are in our life. So networks actually are largest when we’re around twenty five. That’s like the ultimate, most people’s, the largest network size. And then they diminish over time. So people tend to be expansionist when they’re younger, they tend to be brokers mid-career. Being a new parent is like falling off a network cliff in terms of network size. So some of it is just determined by your station in life. Some of it is determined by our work environment. Some of it is predisposition. A lot of it is actually determined by behavior. And this is one of the things as a researcher that has been super interesting to me is that how are we in many ways, our micro level interactions on a day to day basis leads us to develop certain types of networks. So conveners tend to be really, really great listeners, expansionists tend to be really good at working a room, in particular, they tend to be good at mimicking nonverbal behavior, which we know is associated with a high level of liking. So some of it is actually recreated in the moment and all of this is really important because there’s not one best or right network and in many ways, the best type of network, it changes over the course of our lives. For instance, mid-career being a broker is really advantageous. But one of the biggest barriers that people face in career advancement is essentially over time, that type of network, it’s really unwieldy, like you can broker between five or six different social worlds, but once you get to like 7, 8, 9, 10, it’s just completely unmanageable. And so you need to make this shift towards a more convening-like network, and people have trouble making that. But the point is, there’s no one best or right network. Like it also depends, do you care more about mental health or your career in any given moment, but the point is by understanding what type of network you have and what your needs are, you can adapt and change your network to help you meet whatever goals or needs you may have in any given moment.

Kate Cooney (23:14):

I just want to make sure I understand. So you gave this nice example of how the diamond and the graphite and how you can have the same group arranged in a convening structure on a team or a broker structure. What do each structure give you? Why would you choose one over another at a team level, for example?

Marissa King (23:37):

If I were trying to create a team where there was a lot of uncertainty, that knowledge transfer was really difficult in the sense that the information being transferred is really complex. I would want a convening like structure, right? Because knowledge transfer is easier. There’s more trust built in that. The downside, right, that I would have to be conscious of is that there’s going to almost certainly be groupthink. So if I were designing that type of team and groupthink was a potential hazard, I would only design that team to operate in that way for a finite amount of time. I wouldn’t just let it go on and on and on. I would rotate members in and out or think about like, “OK, then how can I keep this structure, but maybe change the composition?” if my sole goal was innovation, then having this structure of having the team separate with the liaison in between would be a far better strategy. But it’s really, as much as innovation is important, there’s some times in the business you don’t need to be innovating, right, but you’re actually trying to execute. And if you’re moving towards execution, right, or implementation, then a more convening structure is going to be much more effective.

Kate Cooney (24:48):

I wanted to ask you about the personal board of directors.

Marissa King (24:52):

So we know from research that was done by Rob Cross and others. We’ve talked a lot about network structure. You talked about the quality of our relationships. We talked about composition in terms of thinking about racial composition. You can also think about gender composition, right? Tends to follow the same patterns that race does. We haven’t really talking about what type of people do you need in your network. And so what they were really interested in is they looked at thousands of executives to try to figure out for people who both had professional success, but also had I wouldn’t call personal well-being, but they were satisfied with their job and they were successful. Let’s call it like that. What they were interested in is like, who actually needed to be in your network? And so they found that there were six key roles that you needed fulfilled. And the key is one person could fulfill multiple of them, but the key is that you’re not providing all of them for yourself. So let’s see if I can remember. So one you need, you need needed to advocate for work-life balance. You need someone who reminds you of your sense of purpose. You need access to information. You need to access to power. You need honest feedback. That’s five. It’s an interesting one because that’s when, particularly when I’m working with executives, it’s often missing. But you need all of these, right? And what I normally ask people to reflect on is like, what’s missing and how can you get that piece? Oftentimes, the honest developmental feedback is missing, particularly from where, senior people’s sense of purpose oftentimes falls by the wayside, too. One way, for instance, of getting that is to develop more like mentoring relationships. You need access to power, you really need a sponsor. We know, for instance, that many, many people have mentors, but few people have sponsors. And so for each of these, you’re trying to think about like, what’s missing and how can I start to cultivate those roles? Some of it is by taking on new roles yourself. So like taking on like a mentor. If you need a sponsor, you’ll want to think of the but like, how can I take on challenging role assignments? But the key is to start to think about, to do an honest assessment and what do you have and what’s missing? Is there someone that you already have an existing relationship with that you could ask them, that provides this to some degree, but maybe not as much as you need at like, that you could start asking for more help in that regard.

Kate Cooney (27:09):

I noted that there was a discussion about the role of female mentors in the life of female academics. I don’t know if it was exclusive to academics that was happening on social media a little ways ago and you commented something like, let’s broaden our sense of the responsibility of mentorship and the value of mentorship outside of just this gender solidarity. I wonder if you can reflect on that.

Marissa King (27:39):

The same principle applies for all relationships very much where we started this conversation that when we self-select or we choose people, whether it’s a mentor or a friend, right, when we choose mentors, we tend to choose people who are already like us. So women tend to choose women. Men tend to choose men. Then that’s exacerbated often times, like if you think about ERGs in organizations, if you have a Black employee resource group or a women’s employee resource group, that they also then tend to assign same gender or same race mentors. But what this starts to do is that first off, we actually know that there’s much more value, and if it gets back to the basic principles of why diversity matters, there’s actually much more value in opposite gender or non homogenous pairings to the extent that if a woman is mentored by a man. She experiences the equivalent of a $26,000 increase in her first year bonus, that’s far more than if you negotiated or didn’t, right. But because of either our natural tendency to self-select mentors who are like us or this like organizational assignment to people of mentors of the same gender. That’s just not happening. So there’s one, it’s actually not effective to make these assignments this way. Two, we know that formal assignment tends to be more beneficial to everybody. And also, it’s a drain on whoever is in the numerical minority. Being a mentor is one of the best parts of my job, but quite frankly, I get asked to do it far too much. I just don’t have the bandwidth, which isn’t fair to anybody. And I think that this is true for gender and for race, so it’s not good for the mentor. It’s not good for the mentees. Why do we keep doing it this way? It makes no sense.

Kate Cooney (29:31):

One of the things that we’re doing this this semester is thinking about supporting and scaling Black owned businesses. And I’m curious to get your thoughts about how a network lens can help us think about this work.

Marissa King (29:47):

Always, when I’m doing any business assessment, I start with like, what are some of the strengths with Black owned businesses? It’s oftentimes a strong community of other Black owned businesses. So you have a dense network and we’ve been talking about before some of the drawbacks associated with having networks that are really homogenous. This lack of diversity has implications for access to resources. But if you start with like, what are the strengths of that type of network? That type of network is often the convening-like networks. If you have people who are already have similarities and familiarity that there’s a strength in density, oftentimes through that network that already exist. So then the question becomes like, one, how do you harness and support that? And what can you bring to the table? That really, actually, I would argue, is your role, is to tap into this network that already exists, help strengthen it, but then act as the broker towards other resources and also making connections for businesses that want to scale. Thinking in that way and think, like “What is the existing network?” I’m hypothesizing that whatever network that you’re trying to support has this dense network structure with a lot of depth and a lot of similarity, which means that there’s a lot of trust there and it’s really easy to mobilize. But then what’s needed and it’s like, “Oh, they need brokers to resources?” And that, I would argue, is your goal. And so by starting to apply this framework, you can more effectively figure out then how do we scale this? And expansionists are also really helpful in that regard. So in many ways, these same building blocks right, and this is what I get excited about networks is they apply in our own personal lives, but the fact that there are three structures exist, but all three of those structures exist and are important because they make the world small. So why that matters is that if you want to create a movement, if you really want something to scale and catch on, you need to understand these three basic fundamental structures and how they fit together and like how to play with them and build them in order to get something to really take off, whether it’s trying to support and scale businesses or create a social movement.

Kate Cooney (31:57):

So if we think we are working with a convening network, the goal is to help that convening network connect to maybe another densely interconnected convening network where lots of resources are flowing or there’s lots of business exchanges going on and connect those to networks more tightly.

Marissa King (32:23):

Exactly. And I think it’s worth spending the time to figure out if you’re not trying to just help one business but you’re trying to help a community of businesses, what is the network like? I could be totally wrong. We’re super bad at predicting what networks like. It’s worth taking a look at your own network or whatever you’re tapping into to see what is really there and then trying to help support the existing strengths that are there, but also make the connections that need to be made.

Kate Cooney (32:48):

That’s interesting. There’s this book a few years ago called Equitable Growth that everyone was excited about because it showed this correlation between regional growth and equity, and that’s often thought about as a tradeoff. You can have growth at the expense of equity and not both going in the same direction. And one of the correlates of equitable growth was having a robust Black middle class or middle class that were another community of color. And I always found that intriguing that that could be an important predictor. And perhaps there’s that brokering role being played by that group in the regional economy. To connect more resources to the parts of the regional economy that perhaps were struggling more and creating more equitable pathways and opportunities for social and economic mobility. 

Marissa King (33:46):

Oh, that’s really interesting. When I was getting my PhD, I did a whole sub-program in globalization and international development. So I spent a lot of time thinking about this growth and inequality debate. I agree, like I agree with the assertion that you need a robust middle class if we want to think about long term sustainable growth, not just growth. But if you want to think about long term sustainable growth, I do think you need a healthy middle class. But I never thought about it in the brokering role. It’s interesting. It is brokering and I think it’s knowledge brokering because if you think about what are the transitions from moving a regional economy that’s just focusing on development and labor, most development is focused on either resource extraction or labor, like if you think about just resource extraction or labor extraction, that’s not sustainable for long term growth. And that’s why the middle class is playing this brokering role is because it allows for the knowledge accumulation that’s necessary to make the next jump in scale. I’ve never thought about it actually from the network framework, but that’s a really cool way of thinking about it.

Kate Cooney (34:44):

Yeah, and this was a book that was looking at the U.S. economy, not at international. So it wouldn’t be thinking about moving from an economy based on extraction to an economy based on value add. But it is still interesting to think about what would that knowledge brokering consist of if we’re thinking about different regional economies within the US and having that be one of the predictors of equitable growth?

Marissa King (35:13):

I think the US equivalent would be thinking about like upskilling like in previous manufacturing based economies. If you think about upskilling and what’s interesting is there’s a great book called Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown, Ohio. And so it’s very much asking this question like, why do you see some previous Rust Belt economies subsequently achieving more robust growth and also more equitable growth? And the argument here was very much this brokering idea, but it was saying, this gets to the punchline right, about like why the garden club couldn’t do it alone is you actually need alliances between business and social organizations. And it’s that cross-fertilization where there’s more diversity in resources and more knowledge brokering that happens in the overlap between the two is really, really critical for explaining these differences in growth between Allentown, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio. And it really hinges on this knowledge brokering and providing new access to resources that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

Kate Cooney (36:12):

There’s another famous study about the role of networks in business development about the 47th Street Diamond District. 

Marissa King (36:20):

The Diamond District in New York. It’s like something crazy. There’s like one block on 49th Street that has like the equivalent of like in terms of monetary exchanges like McDonald’s or something like getting a massive amount of economic exchange that happens there. And what’s so interesting is that it happens with no contracts. And how it happens with no contracts, even though diamonds are being traded, diamonds are extremely difficult to assess the underlying value. And so there are huge security issues and also just uncertainty over products. But it’s almost all working because it’s working within a deeply structured Jewish community. And what’s interesting there is like the example of thinking about it that there’s many, many examples of how when businesses start rate that oftentimes they’re based in ethnic enclaves where like a certain ethnic group, oftentimes because they’re excluded from other occupational choices or other career pathways, tend to then self-recruit and so you end up with these enduring communities. There are in many, many ways emblematic of this convening-like structure, and there’s extraordinary trust. There’s extraordinary exchange of whatever resources there are within that community. And that’s really, really beneficial. The trick, then the challenge then becomes this question of like, how do you scale? So it doesn’t necessarily apply in the Diamond District of New York, although it probably is a story there also of how do you then link up to more corporate chains? And I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but I think it’s emblematic of there are all these pockets of deeply rich entrepreneurship, but the question then becomes like, “How do you scale or expand then beyond these local communities?”

Kate Cooney (38:07):

Some of the work that we’ve been beginning to understand about the challenge of diversifying supply chains and helping minority contractors move into public procurement, large anchors, some of that has to do with the enduring existing set of networks that have grown up relationally over time between those supply chain purchasers and a network of contractors, and some of it has to do with trust, not knowing whether this other group will be able to perform in the same way or just not having that set of experiences or track record. And so there’s a lot of thought over the many decades of these kind of programs of how do you help mobilize these kind of programs at scale and move them beyond just a couple of representative suppliers in these supply chains?

Marissa King (39:04):

Yeah, I mean, like, I emphasize, right, like with some of the benefits, right? Like you have like trust, you have a resource exchange, there, like, lots of you have knowledge sharing, so there’s lots of benefits. But the downside, right, is that they’re also ripe for exploitation because they’re oftentimes so dependent. Like, as you’re saying, if you’re depending on a few number of suppliers or if there’s a finite amount of resources and people are just drawing and drawing and drawing down. And there’s oftentimes in those types of relationships, there’s a really complicated mix between what’s business and what’s community or a family or relationship. And that’s like complex. I mean, the benefit is if you need money, if my kids need money and they come and ask me for money, I’m probably going to give it to them. But I’ll probably keep giving it to them and giving it to them, draining my own resource pool. And so it’s like it’s a there’s downside to that type of business community as well as their benefits.

Kate Cooney (40:02):

So going back to the individual level, if someone is thinking about their own network and part of what you’ve been arguing is it’s valuable to think more consciously about how our networks are structured, about how to engage them. What suggestion do you have for how to more consciously maximize the network that you have? 

Marissa King (40:25):

I think it starts with just, in the same way that you, right, that you would do a financial analysis to see like, “What am I actually holding? And is this appropriate for what I’m trying to achieve?” In many ways, it starts with actually just being willing to take a look. And everybody has so much value in their existing set of relationships. So often that when people hear networks, they think networking and I need to grow my network or expand my network and think that’s so far from the truth. The reality is there’s extraordinary value in your existing network, and the key is to understand what are the strengths that are there and how can you help either fortify those strings or make changes that may be beneficial? If you’re trying to change career paths, you necessarily need to start thinking about, if I’m going to do that, how can I start doing that? And one of the best ways to start to change your network or build new connections and also the most effective way of getting, if you do have this like moral inversion which so many people do, which is why it really is like, “Oh, I don’t want to be intentional or thoughtful about my relationships.” The key to overcoming both of those is really to think about, like, “what can I give?” So like if I were advising someone who is friends and trying to make your career change, I would be like, “Well, first off, you need relationships only work in the sense that you need to make the investment. You need to build it before you need it.” You can’t just like, draw on a relationship that has no, I mean, you can, but is much harder. And the easiest way to start to build those connections and build those relationships, like reach out to someone and even like asking for help is a way of allowing someone else to be of service. So you can think of that as a way of giving so like, hey, like, you know, “I really admire what you’ve done, but would you mind spending five minutes talking to me?” I’m talking about building relationships, which is not really where I mean to go. But the same is true. Like if you want to build a relationship, you have to start by giving like there’s just the nature of relationships in the fundamental principle of reciprocity underlying them. But even reaching out, I would say that most effective thing you can do is reach out to connections in your existing network that you may not have talked to in two or three years. We know that and from research that was done by Dan Levin and his colleagues, that that’s where new ideas, new information is likely to come from. But it has the benefit that there’s trust that already exists there. So if I had one tip to give, it would be to make a list of three or five people that you haven’t seen in a couple of years and simply reach out to them and, “Hey, I’m thinking of you,” which gives them a sense of we’re all struggling with loneliness and disconnect right now. It gives them a sense of social connection, a sense of belonging. Ask for help if you need it. It gives them a sense, someone else’s sense of purpose, or even just if you do have something, like, I saw this article and it made me think of you, pass it along. And it’s the thing that’s so amazing to me. And this is why I love networks like it’s one of the few arenas in life the sum of the parts are actually more than what you bring to the table that they’re actually these benefits that multiply for everybody involved. And so I think just reframing it to be like, “Alright, how can I catalyze or create more for everyone involved,” will also be helpful to you.

Kate Cooney (43:42):

And also just thinking at the regional level again. One of the interesting things from the Brookings essay has to do with there was one city where people created network ties. It was the city of San Francisco, whether it was lower income or upper income through community events and through community engagement. Whereas in all the other cities, it was predominantly K through 12, work, or community college, college or grad school. Those were the primary ways that networks were structured. But in this one city in San Francisco, community engagement and community events were a really important way that people were creating network ties. I know you’ve thought a lot about teams and at the organizational level how to think creatively and optimally about network structure in a given area where you want a certain kind of performance versus another.  Wonder if you could reflect about at a city level or at a regional level. What are some of the ingredients of network structures that can really enhance regional performance or our experiences of the city?

Marissa King (44:57):

With the example you were giving of San Francisco, really, what’s powerful there similarly applies, like in our own individual lives. We know one of the most effective ways to build really and create relationships is to have, is just simply through shared activities. So shared activities are really important, particularly when they have a goal or purpose or a common mission because it creates an identity that people can come together around that exists or trumps beyond our own sociodemographic characteristics or whatever makes them feel a sense of belonging that you can create that by having a common sense of purpose or a goal. And so if you think about you go back to classic like “Bowling Alone,” like, why are we seeing this decline in American cities? Is it the lack of volunteer civic associations where people are doing things together and coming together? I think the challenge is that when we do that on our own, when we’re left to self-sort into activities or voluntary association that we tend to do it with people who look like us, and are of, like similar sociodemographic background, whether that’s with respect to race or is with respect to class. So the challenge actually at the city level is like, how do you start to create these shared activities or voluntary organizations where people are coming together for a purpose that has a calling that allows them to transcend our natural tendency to self-select into groups of people who are like us. And I think that that’s the challenge is like, what’s the goal? And how do you get people really invested in that in a way that there’s a sustained commitment?

Kate Cooney (46:37):

I’ve heard about some interesting experiments, might be in Boston, I can’t remember where you get invited to a dinner party on the Green and it’s random, but you can only come if you’re invited. And so it brings together a diverse group from around the city for this outdoor meal and celebration, and it grows over time. But there’s a way in which it’s a very intentional network development approach, if you think about it in terms of your work. You can imagine the resonance that has with the kind of ties that could get created through events like that.

Marissa King (47:19):

Yeah, it’s so interesting. I thought you were going in a different direction, which is more urban planning, right? Like. When you start talking about like the parks and what’s so interesting, right, like if you think about like the old Italian piazzas or like spaces, particularly in cities like physical spaces where like designed in many ways around kind of the same idea of like open office spaces, which were a disaster. But with this idea of like, how can we use physical space that’s open to everybody to generate interactions that normally wouldn’t happen? And I think that framework is powerful in the same way, like it was the idea underlying open office spaces or the example that you gave about bringing people together for a dinner party like it’s better than what we normally do, having one dinner or one positive interaction is better than what we normally do. The challenge is like, how do you sustain that so it becomes a meaningful interaction. And that’s why I think if you could take these types of dinners but have them with a purpose, you can have spontaneous interactions and people will come together and it does change, our momentary interactions change in some fundamental ways. But the difficulty is to have those interactions be ongoing and sustained.

Kate Cooney (48:35):

One thing that struck me also is how much time it takes to invest in. Did you have some quantitative hours associated with maintaining ties and how long it takes to make a friend and a close friend and the importance of even you said with close friends, with family, if it’s been two months, how the feelings of closeness can decline? That was really interesting.

Marissa King (49:02):

I find this piece interesting, too, is how much it takes to build a relationship. This research that was done by Jeffrey Hall when he was trying to figure out like, how long does it take for someone to be like kind of a friend versus a real friend? And I don’t remember the exact demarcaters in the middle, but it takes, if I remember correctly, almost 200 hours of continuous interaction for you to actually consider someone a real friend. So that’s actually an extraordinary amount of time. If you think about the bites that you normally like, if it’s a dinner or an afternoon together, rather, it’s like it takes a long time for a relationship to get enough depth that you would consider someone a real friend. But the flip side of that is actually how quickly ties decay. So there’s also really profound research that shows that after five months of not seeing someone face-to-face, that your feelings of closeness between non-family members declines by almost 80 percent, you see a similar drop off for the first two to three months for family. But after that like family kind of like destabilizes, you don’t feel that close to them, but friendships just go like completely frigid. So if you think about the importance of that, really, you spent so much time building this relationship, but our feelings of closeness after just five months, which has been like far shorter than we’ve been in the pandemic, that they just plummet. But what’s important to keep in mind there is we’re talking about feelings of closeness like, “So how close do I feel to you at any given moment?” And that rapidly declines. But the piece about the dormant ties that’s interesting is trust endures. So trust you can think of is like an investment that kind of just stays. But it’s our feelings of closeness that decline so quickly.

Kate Cooney (50:46):

That’s actually something I was thinking about after our panel on future of work and changing, modes for skill development, so we had this great panel at the Economic Development Symposium, and there was a lot of future thinking and considering new ways, you know, not having college, not requiring MBAs, maybe new ways of acquiring skills in smaller chunks. But I was thinking later what you lose without the kind of ties that you make through that four year college experience, at least for my generation, have been those enduring ties that it’s all those hundreds of hours you spend sitting around drinking Diet Coke.

Marissa King (51:30):

Thinking about, working on problem sets, that I know, like I say this and I argue like, that’s the most important thing you get during your time at SOM. And it’s true for any educational institution. Certainly, you’re going to get new knowledge, but you’re probably not going to remember most of what you learned in like accounting or econ but what you will be left with, hopefully in 5 or 10 years are the relationships. I would argue the most valuable thing that you get other than the line on your CV is the relationships, and that’s amazing for people who are in this position of privilege. But what’s hard is that if you think about the flip side of this, the transmission of social capital, if we don’t start to address the inequality that arises from these types of networks, the idea that we’re ever going to be able to address systematic structural inequalities, it’s just not going to happen. It’s beautiful, but it’s also hard because it is unintentionally exclusionary.

Kate Cooney (52:27):

Well, you’ve given us so much to think about so many really interesting concepts to deploy, both personally, professionally and in terms of our work with our New Haven partners. And it’s been great to learn more about your project.

Marissa King (52:44):

My pleasure. A lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

Kate Cooney (52:47):

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned.

Manuel Morales (52:54):

This podcast was created by Kate Cooney in collaboration with James Johnson-Piett and the students of the Spring 2021 Lab.

Eun Sun Cho (53:02):

All engineering and production by Ryan McAvoy and Kate Cooney.

Kate Cooney (53:07):

Special thanks to Rhona Ceppos for administrative support and to Ryan Carpenter for assistance with Zoom.

Eun Sun Cho (53:14):

Music from the album City Trees, composed and performed by the artist K-Dub.

Manuel Morales (53:18):

For more information and show notes, visit our website at

Eun Sun Cho (53:25):

Thank you for listening.