Social butterfly

It’s one of those perfect storm social weekends for me. I’m hanging out with an out-of-town friend tomorrow afternoon, and then I’m invited to three parties tomorrow evening, with three completely different social groups. And it got me thinking about my social network.

I don’t tend to consider myself a very social person. I’m not hanging out with people every night. I tend to hate parties where I don’t know people, so meeting new people is tough. And yet I’ve got links to all these different social groups. So much so that several friends of mine have been saying “Wait, before you leave the Bay Area, you need to introduce me to so-and-so that I’ve heard so much about!”

Somehow over the past ten years, I’ve become a social nexus. It’s a bizarre concept for somebody who’s as introverted as I am. And yet there it is. I’ve got my TEP crowd, a larger MIT alum crowd, a group of friends through my friends Brad and Spider (those are the three groups this weekend), not to mention my ultimate frisbee friends, my coworkers (current and former), the chorus folks, a few of the BrainJammers etc. Just thinking about trying to have farewell events with all of these different groups makes my head spin.

Another interesting aspect is that I don’t really have strong ties to any of these groups other than the TEPs. I’m on the periphery of all of them, but yet well-known enough within each that I’m generally welcome to show up to events. My network is all about the Granovetter weak ties. And I suppose that makes sense; if I were heavily invested in any particular social group, I wouldn’t have time to flit among the rest of them. My lack of commitment enables this social nexus-hood.

Via Robert Cringely, I came across a page providing a basic overview of social network analysis a couple days ago. I know basically nothing about the field, but I like some of the terminology. In this case, I would classify myself as a boundary spanner, which has actually been a boon in my professional life. When I was a programmer at Signature, the software was where everything came together – I had to understand the hardware well enough to write an interface for it, I had to understand the math and physics well enough to write the analysis software, and I had to understand the biology well enough to make useful visualizations. So I was one of the few people that was working with every constituency in the company, from the engineers to the physicists to the biologists. That made me a valuable asset, because I had a holistic view of the company that most people did not have from their functional silos (as an aside, I was talking about this at the last BrainJam, and somebody referred me to Ron Burt’s work on structural holes, which describes this phenomenon of connecting different constituencies. I haven’t had a chance to buy it and read it yet, but it’s definitely on the short list). Working with all of the different folks strengthened my communication skills and led pretty directly to me taking the leap to the management track.

It will be interesting to see if any of this translates to my new life in New York. I’ll have to start building up my network almost from scratch, which will be a painful process for me. But I’m hoping to leverage friends of friends and other weak ties to jump start the process. We’ll see how it goes.

P.S. I forgot to mention this in my New York post, but in case any of y’all were wondering about the lower frequency of posting, it should now be obvious. The spare brain cycles that used to go towards thinking up things to blog about were getting used for thinking about New York. And I’ll probably continue to post sporadically as the brain cycles go towards dealing with the logistics of moving. But I’ll try to toss something up when I have something to say. Even if it’s just commentary on why I have too many parties to go to this weekend 🙂

8 thoughts on “Social butterfly

  1. obviously you need to have a gigantic going away party with everyone you know invited so they can all meet each other… 🙂

  2. Hi Eric,

    Very interesting blog. Do you still play ultimate frisbee in nyc? I have always wanted to try it and never have. Do you have to be good at it to start out?


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