What makes some people more successful than others? Top network scientists have an answer. They found that half of the difference in career success is due to one variable.

Journalist Michael Simmons explains:

The bottom line? According to multiple, peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.

How do we define an open network?

To understand the power of open networks, it’s important to understand their opposite. Most people spend their careers in closed networks; networks of people who already know each other. People often stay in the same industry, the same religion, and the same political party. In a closed network, it’s easier to get things done because you’ve built up trust, and you know all the shorthand terms and unspoken rules. It’s comfortable because the group converges on the same ways of seeing the world that confirm your own.

In other words, a closed network is full of like-minded types who agree with one another. Although a closed network may be comfortable, the downside is that it limits exposure to new ways of thinking and seeing the world.

In comparison, people in open networks are constantly exposed to new people, experiences and ideas. This may be challenging but there are clear advantages of assimilating different and conflicting perspectives.

Simmons outlines four benefits of an open network:

1. A more accurate view of the world:

It provides people with the ability to pull information from diverse clusters so errors cancel themselves out. Research shows that people in open networks are better forecasters of future trends than people in closed networks

2. Ability to control the timing of information sharing:

While open networkers may not be the first to hear information, they are usually the first to introduce information to another cluster. As a result, they can leverage the first move advantage

3. Ability to serve as a translator / connector between groups:

People in open networks create value by serving as intermediaries and connecting people and organizations that can help each other

4. More breakthrough ideas:

People in open networks are more likely to create atypical combinations. For example, research shows that the top performing academic studies have references from outside their primary field.

In open networks, people, ideas, experiences and disciplines intersect and cross-pollinate. The diversity of experience provides perspective and insight. It’s about connecting the dots in unexpected ways. It takes courage and curiosity to bust out of the comfort zone of a closed network but the rewards are worth it.

Steve Jobs describes it best:

A lot of people…haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

I would say it makes for a more interesting life too.