Thought Leadership Essays

Stepping Outside the Bubble – The Case for Open and Diverse Networks

September 21, 2017

Vikas Narula

I grew up in a new age town surrounded by meditating, herbal tea drinking, liberals. It was all I knew. This oddity was compounded by the fact that I was a child of Indian immigrants. While I was living in America, my home and community life was quite a bit outside the traditional mainstream.

When I moved to Minneapolis 21 years ago, I think I spoke to a hunter for the first time ever. I was appalled. “You actually shoot live animals on the run?”

A few years later, at work, I crossed paths with a gun-toting, Republican from the outback of Wyoming. We couldn’t have been more philosophically opposed on every issue known to man.

Ironically, we became really good friends. While we could not agree on most political issues, we had an affinity towards one another. We were curious about our upbringings and perspectives, given how vastly different they were.

It was almost comical. He grew up shooting live game and riding horses on the range. I grew up a yoga-loving vegan. We would laugh and joke about our divergent and contrasting interests, and despite being opposites, we enjoyed hanging out. I would introduce him to new vegetarian dishes at Indian restaurants and he would share stories about life in rural Wyoming.
We worked together for several years and even after I left the company, we stayed in touch. We are good friends to this day.

I think he was the first person I had become close friends with who was far outside the lens through which I viewed my world. He challenged me and expanded my perspective in ways my “regular” friends did not. When I think about it, our friendship taught me something important: we don’t have to agree or believe in the same things to love one another and be friends.

It turns out having friends and connections that share perspectives and experiences that are different from our own, isn’t just a comfort-zone buster, but a hugely important catalyst for career success and growth.

In 2016, Michael Simmons – notable author, speaker, and entrepreneur – wrote this riveting article (which was also covered by Fast Company, Inc., and Forbes) about the latest social science research surrounding the biggest predictor of career success. In this article, he draws from cutting-edge research pioneered by Ron Burt from the University of Chicago.

The research suggests that the biggest predictor of career success simply boils down to whether you are in an open network vs. a closed one. In essence, it has to do with our connections – not necessarily the volume of our connections, but the degree to which we bridge diverse clusters of networks.

I was naturally fascinated by this research, given my work, and couldn’t help but to reflect and wonder whether these findings supported my own career journey.

Is it true? Has my career been dictated by the nature of my networks and have I grown professionally as a result of stepping into open / diverse networks? This reflection became the heart of a TEDx talk I gave earlier this year.

What I hope this research and talk does for you and others is get you to think about the nature of your connections as it relates to the evolution of your life and career. Think about your ten closest friends. Do they look and think like you? What are their religious and political beliefs? Think about the times you were learning and growing the most. Where were you and who were you working with?

One of the questions I frequently get is “Where do I start?” How do I begin to know where to best spend my diversified “networking” efforts?

What are you drawn to that is a little different from your norm? Are there certain groups or associations you have wanted to join, but avoided because it didn’t necessarily align with your current career goals or aspirations? Are there certain types of people you’ve wanted to know better, but have hesitated out of fear or complacency?

Go there.

Make connecting a joyous experience – get excited about it, and if it feels a little scary, even better. Meet people in a domain you are attracted to, which is a bit outside of your comfort zone. See where it takes you. If you follow the connection trail, with a spirit of curiosity and openness, in due time you will find yourself in new circles, delighting in new conversations, forging unlikely friendships, and discovering hidden treasures.

It starts with one small step or connection.

Who are you going to connect and forge a bridge with? It not only has the potential to transform your life and career, but also our world.

Vikas Narula (@NarulaTweets) is Creator and Co-Founder of Keyhubs (@Keyhubs) – a software and services company specializing in the power and wisdom of human networks, connection, and crowd-sourced sentiment. He is also Founder of Neighborhood Forest – a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to kids every Earth Day.

Other Recent Blog Posts:

Ode to Resilience – A Reflection on 2016

The Power of Connection – Bridging the Divide

Keyhubs – The Next Frontier


  1. François Lavallée |
    6 Years Ago

    Excellent blog post! Thanks Vikas
    People sometimes cll me to help them build their network. For some resons, they think I know everybody!!
    Those same people refused to come to network and training events i hve been organizing for the lasr 12 years.
    “no time”
    “No interest”
    ” i do not need this at this time”
    Ah… so true!… almost of it.
    But… when they lose their job…
    And do not know anybody outsite their inbred corporate environment…
    Well… they call me and i gladly offer my help.
    And a reasonable time frame for their network-creating initiative :3-5 years for a modest network.
    I also invite them at a very special rate to my training event so they can connect and stay connected to their former colleagues and peers.
    And most simply refuse.
    Building takes times, an open mind, trust and a long term view .
    We are apparently connected to everyone by 6 degrees of separation. Social networks are all the rage.
    But people are people.
    With social paradigms and values.
    Not everybody value diversity of race, gender and opinions.
    Ah Well… gotta go meet some more people!

    • Vikas Narula |
      6 Years Ago

      Thank you! Yes, people tend to go to their “network” only when in need. Not a very good strategy.
      Appreciate your feedback and enthusiasm around building connections.

  2. Barbara Shipka |
    6 Years Ago

    Wonderful post, Vikas. Thank you!

    The idea of stepping outside the bubble has been (and continues to be) very powerful in my experience. Some of the times when I have been most outside of my comfort zone have been the most beneficial to my evolution…as a human, as a soul. What comes to mind are my years living in The Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Very, very different from growing up in northern Minnesota of European heritage.

    Actually, I couldn’t wait to be in unfamiliar territory and amongst people who lived differently. My first adventure was on a scholarship to Czechoslovakia while I was in college. One detail that continues to stand out for me is that my host family put their butter dish in an entirely different place than my mother did. I had learned that it had to be refrigerated. They didn’t do that…never had! Both ways worked. Not good or bad. Just different.

    • Vikas Narula |
      6 Years Ago

      Thank you, Barbara!

      I figured you would appreciate this post, given your vast experience overseas. I continue to read your daily Haiku updates – they are food for the soul.

      Thank you for being a vital bridge in our world.


  3. Heidi |
    6 Years Ago

    Really enjoyed this and the linked articles, Vikas. Nice to see research that helps me understand why I don’t “fit in,” and also shows how that can be an advantage. Thanks for taking the time to write and share!

    • Vikas Narula |
      6 Years Ago

      Thank you, Heidi!

      Appreciate your feedback. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  4. Joanne Funch |
    6 Years Ago

    Vikas –
    Love the research behind specifically the open and closed network. Your work behind the mapping process is fascinating! I couldn’t agree more that building a diverse network is so much more rewarding personally and professionally. I will continue to follow your work.

    • Vikas Narula |
      6 Years Ago

      Thank you, JoAnne!

      I really appreciate your work in this field and our shared sense in the power of connecting.


  5. Teresa Thomas |
    4 Years Ago

    Imagine a world where this mindset in embraced. What a great way to get this message out through a TedTalk. I can’t wait to talk with you more about this!

    • Vikas Narula |
      4 Years Ago

      Thank you, Teresa! I can’t wait either! We are kindred spirits! 🙂

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