NFX is a venture firm that is focused on companies that have network effects. They also have a great blog and regularly publish interesting stories in the world of tech.
Recently, they published a post about how network effects drives individuals as much as it drives companies.
Working with network effects in our 100+ companies makes it impossible not to notice how the same mechanisms and math that create near-destiny for companies also create near-destiny for us as individuals.
It goes through seven key networks in a persons life and how network dynamics effect individuals. Those seven ‘crossroads’, as they describe them, are below, with some key paragraphs from each section.
- What family you’re born into
You go through life thinking such things are innately “you”. But you didn’t adopt your identity in a vacuum. Had you been raised by a different family, you would likely be a very different “you” — Your religion, linguistics, political orientation, favorite foods, worldview would probably be very different despite such things not being genetically heritable.
Your family is a low-friction, high-impact network. Because of that underlying math, when making life decisions most people will choose the options that most align with their core family network. Be aware of this if you want to be more conscious in directing where your life path will lead.
- High school network, where you learn the importance of status.
High schools are typically the first peer networks we join that are large enough to have a diverse array of subgroups — better known as high school cliques. As such, they present us with our first significant network-based decision: who to associate with in high school.
Moreover, as your first peer-based network you form after you’ve come of age, your high school friends have a particular influence on your lifelong identity — from your tastes in music, to your work ethic, your fashion sense, and your life aspirations — which is only rivaled by family, and in some cases even surpasses it.
It’s not just during high school that high school networks matter. Those who go to college and build a career in the same cosmopolitan area as their high school are likely to retain some parts of their teenage cliques throughout their lifetime, usually forming a core part of their network.
- College network, which acts like a trainer in a gym getting you to become your best self.
College is possibly best seen as a place for network formation, and creating the network topology you want. The network you join will lead you to a geography, a type of work, certain ideas about life, and a group of dating/marriage options that will all have a big influence on your life. All that network force will be pushing on you to then take the mathematically obvious path from there, one which will feel like the “right decision”.
- First job, described as “the seed of your professional network which influences the arc of your career”
The early professional relationships you form will have a bigger influence on your skillset, your lifetime earning potential, and the mastery of your craft than the particulars of your job description, the income, the company perks, or the brand name on your resume.
Second, innovation is contagious. If your first job is at a place that’s a breeding ground of innovation, the chances are a lot higher that you’ll come across some really good ideas — especially if you want to start a company one day.
- Marriage / choosing a life partner, described as “attaching someone elses network to yours”
Compatibility between two people in terms of their individual characteristics is sometimes much less important than the compatibility between their networks. This is one possible reason why there is a surprisingly low divorce rate amongst arranged matches made solely on the basis of compatibility between kin networks.
- Where you live, even more important than your choice of job.
As mentioned previously, physical proximity is predictive of network formation. Cities, from a network perspective, are like scaled-up colleges. Network density, frequency, similarity, and status accumulation all drive urban network formation. Cities do a great job of helping us form our networks because they are networks themselves, both physical and social.
Some people are able to use the internet to find, build, and maintain human networks — usually around a niche or interest like gaming, cars, or fashion. For most, the Internet simply reinforces or super-imposes upon the networks they build in real life. For everyone who doesn’t do most of their networking online, physical location matters.
The most lasting and effective way to change your life is to change who you’re surrounded by. Since networks so powerfully shape who we are and what we do, the best way to change ourselves is to change our networks.