Career Building – The Make-up of your Network – Allies and Acquaintances


You have two types of people in your network: Allies and acquaintances.

Allies are those that you invite over for brainstorming, help you identify career options and you proactively attempt to work with. You typically have less than ten real allies.

Acquaintances are a weaker relationship. They are the ones you e-mail occasionally, ask lightweight favors of, and have regular conversations with only a few times a year. Most of us can maintain a couple hundred acquaintances.

Do you consult someone regularly for advice? Do you have someone whose judgment you trust? Do you have someone with whom you proactively share opportunities and collaborate? Do you keep your “antennae” attuned for opportunities for the other person? Do you have someone you talk up to other allies?  If this person were to come under fire, you would defend them. These same people would do the same for you. People that meet these criteria are your allies. There is no such thing as a “fair-weather alliance”. If the relationship can’t handle stress, it isn’t an alliance. Typically, if you are in an alliance with someone, you are aware of the bond and can verbalize it.

Look around. The entertainment world offers alliances all over. Here are two perfect examples. I bet you shake your head in agreement when you hear them. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are the first. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are the second. Repeatedly, you see these two teams involved in projects together.

Here is another example. An acquaintance files your taxes once per year. An alliance is when you spend your Sunday night assisting a colleague with an important presentation they need to give on Monday morning. In other words, there is sacrifice and cooperation in an alliance. You want to help the other person be better than they are because you want to be able to call on them in the future to make you better. Typically, allies don’t reciprocate immediately. The exchanges intermingle with each party’s fate.

Acquaintances, by definition are looser connections, but no less valuable. Interestingly enough, research has proven that the best career opportunities come from friends you don’t know that well. The reason for this is simple. We create cliques of friends. They are people with whom we have something in common. This limits our exposure to new experiences and opportunities. Your closer friends are probably from the same industry, neighborhood, religious group, etc. The stronger your ties are to someone, the more likely they are to mirror your views. You are also more likely to introduce these people to your other close friends. From an informational standpoint, this limits your career and growth information. In this environment, information recycles and other people in your network are probably already aware of it.

Weak ties, your acquaintances, sit outside this clique of friends. There is a much greater opportunity for one of your weak ties to have new information about a job opportunity or access to new information. Therefore, these weak ties connect you to other worlds that contain new information or opportunities you can pass on to those who need it. The point here is that it is not the weak tie that is valuable to you…it is the breadth and reach of your network that is valuable. Thus, only weak ties that offer new information or opportunities are valuable to your network. A weak tie that works in your industry and has access to the same information you do is not going to connect you to new worlds.

This is where your network connects to Plan B and Plan Z. That’s when you NEED the information and new opportunities.

How Many Allies and Acquaintances Do You Need? 

Interestingly, there is actually research that has identified approximately how many relationships a human can manage. A human should be able to manage about 150 people at a single time. Compare this to the tribes of our hunter-gatherer eras and you will find a tribe consisted of about 150 members. Of course, survival in the modern day does not require the face to face interactivity that our ancestors needed. Given today’s technology, there really isn’t a top number, but we are limited in how many hours in a day we can manage our networks and there are different requirements for different relationship types.

This is why the tagline for Linkedin is “Your network is bigger and more powerful than you think”.

It’s a Small World After All

In 1967, a famous study proved that the world is smaller and more interconnected than we realize. In this study, a few hundred people in Nebraska were asked to mail a letter to someone they knew. This person, in turn, was supposed to try and send it to someone who might know a target stockbroker in Massachusetts.  Interestingly enough, each letter took an average of six stops before finally reaching the target person. This study is what spawned the “six degrees of separation” theory.

In 2001, some different scientists performed a more ambitious test, this time on a global scale. They recruited eighteen targets of different walks of life, across thirteen countries. They then signed up 60,000 people in the US with the goal of forwarding an e-mail message to one of the eighteen targets, or a friend that may know one of the targets. The average distance between the people was between five and seven.

Earth is a social network…

Who Are Your Most Valuable Connections?

The most powerful connections you have are two degrees of separation from you. When it comes to meeting those that can affect you professionally, three degrees is where the magic is. On LinkedIn, this is called your 2nd level connections. Sure, you may know a bunch of people, but as a network, they know many more – and these connections are available to you.


Dan is the one you want to reach. Why are they the most valuable? There are real connections on both ends of the relationships. You know Joe and Dan knows Sally. Both of them know either you or Dan – the people trying to connect. Both ends of the equation have a direct connection to the people in the middle. There is no loss in relationship. Once you take the step to the 3rd level, the people in the middle dilute the connection – they don’t know either of you. This preserves a level of trust in the introduction.

There is no reason for a stranger to introduce another stranger to a stranger.

How Do You Benefit from This Knowledge?

When you extrapolate this out, that’s a lot of people. If you have 150 connections, that’s access to a network of almost 1,000,000 people.

You don’t need a Linkedin Profile to benefit from this knowledge. People have been using this pattern of networking for quite a long time before social media and online networking came into existence. All LinkedIn does is make it easier.

On LinkedIn, these connections are more transparent and they allow you to perform research and pull this information from your network. For example, you can follow a company you may be interested in learning about. In the past, you may not know that you had a friend that knew someone in this company. Now, LinkedIn brings this information to your attention so you can pursue an introduction. In a nutshell, that’s the benefit of LinkedIn – Network Intelligence.

Your Goal…

This is simple. If you want to meet someone, spend about 30 minutes researching that person and figure out how you can help them. Then, ask for the introduction. When you do, don’t be generic. Use phrases like “You mention…”, “I noticed that…”, and “I am curious about…”. This shows others that you took the time to be aware and researched them in some manner.

Three Ways to Introduce People Over E-mail

You should make it a point to make an introduction or receive an introduction at least once per month.

The best network is narrow and deep with strong connections and wide and shallow with acquaintances. There is a huge difference between being the most connected and being the best connected.


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