Escape from Your Echo Chamber

May 2008 Issue

This article appeared in the The Lean Communicator e-zine and is reprinted here with permission.

By Liz Guthridge

Do you hear only like-minded voices? If so, you’re running the risk of getting stuck and stale. You need to make an effort to break out of your echo chamber!

Who are your “go-to” people? If you’re like most of us, you tend to reach out to individuals who work in close proximity to you. Or, you call on colleagues in your department or another function in which you already have close working relationships. You trust them because you have frequent contact with them and you know them. Plus, they tend to agree with you most of the time (or at least not challenge you), which you probably appreciate if you’re pressed for time and resources.

But you’re running a big risk if you don’t enlarge your network, according to the experts in the new science of business and social networks. If you almost always depend on trusted advisors rather than seek out diverse people with different points of view, you are creating an “echo chamber network.”

In an echo chamber network, you share too many things in common with each other. Your thoughts and actions reverberate. And because you’re basically recycling ideas rather then gathering new ones, you hurt your performance. Specifically, echo chambers are bad for decision-making, creativity, and getting ahead in your career.

Brian Uzzi a social psychologist who teaches at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and researches social networks, says you need to seek out specialists from other disciplines to break out of this echo chamber. Their skill set will help you transcend the limits of what you know.

So what can you do to break out of your echo chamber? Try these three steps, which take time but little money (unless you have expensive extracurricular interests):

  • Make a point to meet people outside of work who share your personal interests. If you play recreational sports, have a hobby, take part in community services or volunteer groups, or have another interest in which you regularly meet new people, you’ve got an easy and natural way to expand your network. These new individuals can help you recharge and refresh your thinking. Plus, as you get to know them, you’ll start to trust one another and you can introduce each other to your friends and associates who more than likely travel in different circles.
  • Find brokers and befriend them. Brokers, in the social networking world, are individuals who have a foot in several worlds and different sub-cultures. Plus they get pleasure from serving as a bridge to connect disparate people who might not otherwise meet. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, they’re the connectors. They truly enjoy making friends and acquaintances and then introducing them to one another. They also have a knack for sizing up a situation and building rapport quickly.
  • Make a commitment to meet people slowly and steadily, not just immediately. Professor Uzzi advises against turning all social interactions into commerce. It rubs people the wrong way, plus it tends to make you think you should get immediate utility from all the new people you meet. Instead, you and your contacts can best help one another when something new and different comes up and you need help adapting to the unexpected. So consider saving contacts for a rainy day, but don’t forget about them.

In today’s complex world, it’s not what you know or who you know. It’s who you know who has the skills and resources you need to access.

*

Liz Guthridge is the founder of Connect Consulting Group LLC, specializing in strategic employee and change communication. Here are some links to other material authored by Liz Guthridge:

  • Blog:The Lean Communicator
  • Book: Leading People Through Disasters
  • Forthcoming book: Lean Communications: The 5-Step System for Doing More With Less and Getting Great Results

Follow the links to:

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