How to Write Well: 4 Steps to Improve Your Writing

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Introduction 

Looking back, I always struggled with writing. I felt pain every time I try to fill a blank page. I could bear the pain of writing in high school, but I almost gave up in university. I could read many books and understand the lectures, but give me a writing task? My mind went blank as if I never understood any of the concepts. Maybe I do not understand what I learned and the struggle to write is a symptom. Or it could be that I have been reading bad writings in university, which affects my thought process. Or maybe some concepts are complex, and I struggle to communicate them. Nonetheless, writing is my major weakness.

I tried to search for help with my writing. Reading books on writing did nothing. Most books tend to give generic advice such as “Don’t use passive voice” or “Be clear”. These are bad advices, similar to how “just be yourself” is the worst dating advice. Everyone knows you should do it, but no one tells you why it works.

How do I isolate the mechanics of writing and focus on each component one by one, thereby improving my writing? After further research, I have explored the potential answers to these questions. This article will outline the aspects of good writing namely clarity, cohesiveness, emphasis and conciseness.

Table of Contents
1. Good writing is clear
2. Good writing is cohesive
3. Good writing has emphasis
4. Good writing is concise

Good writing is clear

Clear prose is one that a reader can understand. But it is not enough merely to be understandable. A statement can be easily understood yet tells nothing interesting to the reader. That is a common flaw in clickbait journalism like BuzzFeed. Readers can understand it, yet it does not captivate anyone. So, what makes prose clear and good? Clear prose is good when it tells a story. A story has two components – characters and actions. The characters are the subjects of the sentences that name the cast of the characters. Meanwhile, the actions are the verbs that go with these subjects.

Every prose can be simplified using these two principles. When your prose seems too complex, locate the cast of characters and their actions. Remove the unnecessary information and focus on these two components. Once you have clear subjects and their action, add more information if needed.

A prose may also be difficult to read when it has unnecessary nominalisations. Nominalisation is the process of making a noun from a verb or an adjective. Since nominalisation is a noun, it does not carry the same weight to the prose like an action word. Prose that contains a subject and a nominalisation lacks the element of a good story. Consider the following examples:

1. Our lack of knowledge about local conditions precluded determination of committee action effectiveness in fund allocation to those areas in greatest need of assistance.

2. Because we know nothing about the local conditions, we could not determine how effectively the committee had allocated funds to areas that need the most assistance.

Readers will find (2) clearer than (1). Not only (2) relies on fewer nominalisations than (1), it also uses more verbs that express actions. (2) also tells the readers a story. There are clear subjects (we, committee) and the actions know, determine and allocate. This creates a clear story in (2) and makes it more interesting than (1). 

Good writing is cohesive

Cohesive prose means that the separate sentences that form the prose flow into a single, unified whole. Williams and Colomb (1990) illustrate the principle of cohesion:

“Put at the beginning of a sentence those ideas that you have already mentioned, referred to, or implied, or concepts that you can reasonably assume your reader is already familiar with, and will readily recognize.”

The principle suggests that we focus on one concept at a time. Prose that does this will have a consistent topic string, which will make it feels more focused and cohesive. Prose that breaks this rule, such as an arduously long sentence usually does not focus on one topic. Hence, the reader will struggle to assemble these concepts into a cohesive discourse. Consider the following examples:

1. The hotel is famous. It is one of the most well-known hotels in the country. The latest international dancing competition was held at the hotel. The hotel spent a lot of money to advertise the event. Because the hotel wanted to gain an international reputation. But not many people attended the event.

2. The hotel, which is one of the most well-known hotels in this region, wanted to promote its image around the world by hosting the latest international dancing competition. Although the event was widely advertised, not many people participated in the competition.

The first paragraph has inconsistent topic strings, such as hotel, international dancing competition and people. These topics strings are not introduced properly, hence, it feels disjointed. Furthermore, the characters do not have any actions attached to it, making the paragraph lacks a story. The lack of story and the inconsistent topic strings make the paragraph confusing. 

Compare this to the second paragraph, where it has only two topic strings, hotel and event. The character, hotel has an action wanted. The combination of a character and an action creates a story in the sentence. In addition, the second sentence starts by repeating the event, which the writer has mentioned in the first sentence. Therefore, the second paragraph has a story and consistent topic strings. As a result, the paragraph feels more cohesive.

Good writing has emphasis

Prose has a good emphasis when it ends itself well. To emphasise, Williams and Colomb (1990) suggest readers to:

“Put at the end of your sentence the newest, the most surprising, the most significant information: information that you want to stress – perhaps the information that you will expand on in your next sentence.”

Most writers struggle to write well when the subjects use technical terms. Technical terms are confusing when they are not introduced properly. This technique is helpful when communicating complex information that requires technical terms. When you introduce complex information, design the sentence that it appears in, so that you can locate that term at the end.

Why does this work? When you end a sentence with a good emphasis, the readers know what to expect in the sentence. A sentence that does not end with an emphasis, will feel monotonous. Also, putting the emphasis at the end has more impact on the reader’s feeling. Consider the following examples:

1. My friend John commented, “The movie Captain America was thrilling”.
2. “The movie Captain America was thrilling”, my friend John commented.

In the first sentence, the word “thrilling” is the emphasis, which is a strong endorsement for the film. In the second example, the sentence ends with the word “commented”, which does not carry any impact. Meanwhile, the word “thrilling” is buried in the middle of the sentence. This diminishes its impact to the readers. 

Good writing is concise

Prose is concise when it gives a lot of information clearly and in the fewest words. Williams and Colomb (1990) outline two principles to be concise:

a. Compress what you mean into the fewest words
b. Don’t state what your reader can easily refer

Principle (a) means writers should remove any redundancy or unnecessary wordiness in the prose. Principle (b) means that we remove attribution that does not add anything to the prose. One way that a writer can violate these two principles is by using an attribution. An attribution tells the reader the source of ideas or facts. When the attribution does not add anything to the point, it should be removed. Consider the following examples:

      “Regular patterns of drought and precipitation have been found to coincide with cycles of sunspot activity” 

which can be simplified to:

      “Regular patterns of drought and precipitation coincide with cycles of sunspot activity”

Not only the phrase “have been found” adds nothing to the prose, it also does not state the subject. Removing the phrase will make the prose above more concise.

Conclusion

To conclude, I have identified the aspects of good writing, which are clarity, cohesiveness, emphasis and conciseness. Any writer who aspires to improve their crafts should practice these aspects. Nonetheless, these are not the panacea for all your struggles with writing. There are many other aspects of good writing. And only with continuous practice and the iterative process of writing will help you to improve this craft. 

Books and resources on writing well

  1. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace
  2. The Craft of Writing Effectively (YouTube)
  3. Ohio State University: The Function and Value of Academic Writing

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I Will Teach You to Be Rich (Book Review)

I have been resisting to read I Will Teach You to Be Rich for a while now because of the clickbait title and weird book cover (on the 2009 version), although it has good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. After seeing Personal Finance and FIRE (Financial Independence/ Retire Early) subreddits recommending this book, I decided to watch some YouTube videos by the author, Ramit Sethi. Surprisingly, Ramit has interesting perspectives on managing money and personal finance. This article will review the book, its key messages and the insights that I find interesting. 

No more Ramit on the cover.

Summary

I Will Teach You to Be Rich employs a unique approach in personal finance, which is to use insights from Psychology and applying them in personal finance. This is similar to the idea of nudging in Behavioural Economics, which is to design the choice architecture surrounding your personal finance behaviour in ways that promote certain desired actions. His main messages are:

Start Today

Starting earlier enables your money to increase exponentially via compound interest. If you start investing earlier in life, your money will have more time to grow.

Focus on The Big Wins.

When cutting down your spending, focus on the Big Wins, which are the areas where you are spending a lot but do not mind reducing with some efforts. For example, unnecessary subscriptions or eating out. 

Spend extravagantly on the things you love and cut costs mercilessly on the things you do not love.

Similar to the above, after getting the Big Wins, you should allocate some money on the things that you love.

There is a difference between having possessions and living a rich life.

Ramit urges readers to start defining their own rich life and asking themselves why they want to be rich? Whether it is to have the freedom to make your own career decisions or being able to allocate time for family and the things that you love. Regardless of the reasons, it is important to define your own rich life and understand that personal finance is a tool to achieve that goal.

Do not live in the spreadsheet. Start today, automate your finance and live your life.

Using the techniques in this book, you can automate your money management. Once you have the automation system set up, you can live your life and spend less time thinking about financial issues.

Managing Your Credit Card, Bank Accounts and Investments 

The first three chapters cover personal finance basics such as managing credit card and choosing a bank account. Ramit compares all the American retail banks and recommends the ones that he thinks are good. Chapter three discusses pension and investment and recommends readers to maximise their pension contribution and allocate a certain fraction to your investment account. 

Money Dial

Chapter 4 focuses on money dial, the idea that you should cut cost mercilessly on the things you do not love but spend extravagantly on the things you do. Some of the things that people love are fitness, wellness, convenience, eating out or clothing. For example, although I subscribe to Netflix and other streaming services, I do not fully use them, therefore, I should cut them mercilessly. After that, I can use this extra money and spend extravagantly on things I love. Since I love fitness, I can spend the extra money to hire a personal trainer or buy the highest quality shoes. If I love clothing, I can spend on buying luxurious clothes rather than buying cheaper ones. 

Increasing Your Income

Next, Ramit discusses ways to increase your incomes such as negotiating for a raise, changing jobs or freelancing. Ramit explains elaborately on the steps that you should take to negotiate for a raise, starting from the discussing with your manager and executing the deal.

This is my favourite chapter from the book as it gives practical advice on negotiating for a higher salary or a promotion. If there is one chapter that you need to read, it is this one. I strongly recommend reading this chapter with the book Never Split the Difference. Both this chapter and Never Split the Difference have solid strategies for negotiations. 

Automating Your Finance

In chapter 5, Ramit outlines the ways you can automate your savings, then, in chapter 6, he discusses the myth of expert. With the advent of digital banking, your money management can be automated. For example, you can ask your bank to automatically transfer money between accounts and pay bills (utilities and credit cards). In terms of investment, Ramit recommends the readers to invest in low-cost index funds rather than relying on wealth managers. Next, Ramit discusses ways to maintain this automated system, tax laws and when to sell your assets. 

Money and Relationship

Finally, Ramit ends the book with his own experience in communicating about money issue with his partner. These include the kinds of conversations that you should have before getting married and planning for the wedding.

One thing I find interesting from this chapter is dealing with the taboo surrounding having conservation about money with your partner. It is one of those things where people know they should be doing, but most people do not do it. Additionally, Ramit suggests several ways to reduce your wedding expenses such as by cutting the fixed costs. Fixed costs are expenses that are constant regardless of the amount of good or services produced. For example, photographer, rentals, flowers, invitations, dress and rings. Ramit demonstrates that cutting fixed costs would enable you to reduce your wedding spending significantly. 

Conclusion 

Overall, the book has been very engaging. Ramit offers interesting perspectives not just on managing money, but also on communicating with other people about your financial goals. The book aims to guide people to define their own rich life and I think it managed to do that well. 

I Will Teach You to Be Rich targets young adults who are starting to learn about finance and the advice may seem basic for people who have already dabbled in the personal finance world. Nonetheless, I applaud Ramit’s effort in encouraging people to start early and spreading positive outlook on others’ personal finance. 

Click here to visit the Amazon book page (affiliate link), where it is available in multiple formats.

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The Definitive Guide to Investing in Malaysia

The News Straits Times reports that young Malaysians have low financial literacy. This is very alarming and reflects our poor education system, which fails to teach this important skill. 

It is important now more than ever to learn about investing. Investing is an important skill to learn simply because there is a limit to how much work a person can do. A normal human typically works from the age of 20 to 50, and then the body will reach its limit. Thus, investing will enable you to have a source of income even after you stop working. 

This guide will provide a brief review of investment options in Malaysia, their returns and how you can start. Note that this guide is for beginners and I have excluded other riskier options such as Forex, properties and cryptocurrencies. In addition, I do not recommend unit trust funds because of the high management fees which can eat up your capital.

Table of Content

  1. EPF
  2. ASB
  3. Stock market
  4. REITs
  5. ETF
  6. Crowdfunding
  7. P2P Lending
  8. Robo Advisor
  9. Bonds
  10. Conclusion
  11. Investing FAQ

1. Employees Provident Fund (EPF, Malay: “Kumpulan Wang Simpanan Pekerja”)

EPF (Malay: KWSP) contribution is deducted from your monthly salary and saved for your retirement. These savings are comprised of you and your employer’s contribution plus the yearly dividend. The statutory contribution rate is currently 11% and your employer will contribute another 12% or 13% of your salary. Nonetheless, you can opt to contribute more.

Returns

EPF reports that its past 30 years return on average is 6.26% and its all-time return is 5.94%. 

EPF historical returns chart (Source: MyPF)

How to start

If you are already working, your salary will be automatically deducted and contributed to your EPF account. 

Further Resources

EPF’s website (Contribution)

2. Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB)

ASB is an investment scheme launched by the Malaysian government for Bumiputera. The investment fund aims to generate competitive and consistent long-term returns for the shareholders. Meanwhile, non-Bumiputera can invest in Amanah Saham Malaysia (ASM), although it has lower returns than ASM

How to start

You can register for an ASB account at your nearest local ASNB branch. 

Returns

ASB all-time return is 9.91% while its average 10-year return is 7.94%.

ASB Dividend Chart since 1990 (Plotted in R, Source: MyPF)

Further Resources

ASB Product Page

3. Stock Market

A stock is proof of ownership in a company. When you buy a stock, you own a piece of that company. If the company does well, the stock price goes up. In addition, if the company makes a profit, it will share its profit with shareholders in the form of dividends.

How to start

Go to the investment branch of local banks to sign up for a CDS account. For example, Maybank investments or CIMB investment. Alternatively, you can use online stockbroking accounts such as TD Ameritrade or IG.

Returns

Depends on which company, how much dividends offered and how the stock has performed. 

Further Resources

Bursa Marketplace

4. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

REIT provides an option to invest in properties by paying a smaller fraction of the real estate prices. REITs provide a way to invest in high-quality real estate, without having to deal with the risks associated with it. Similar to stock, when you buy REIT, you won a piece of a particular real estate. The main benefits of investing in REITs are their affordability and liquidity. Affordability because REITs only cost a fraction of the original real estate price. Liquidity means that units of REITs can be converted to cash quickly as these units are traded on the stock exchange.

How to start

Similar to stocks, when you sign up for CDS account, you can start investing in REIT.

Returns

Returns range from 8 to 20% depending on which REIT.

Further Resources

The Intelligent Investor

5. Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)

Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) combines the feature of an index fund with a stock. When buying an ETF unit, you buy a piece of a group of companies, rather than one company. ETF is suitable for investors who want to diversify their portfolio, without investing in any particular stock.

How to start

Similar to stocks and REIT, when you sign up for CDS account, you can start investing in REIT.

Returns

Returns range from 8 to 15% depending on which ETF.

Further Resources

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing 

6. Crowdfunding 

Crowdfunding is a method of financing a new business using small amounts of capitals from a large amount of people. Crowdfunding works by connecting people with new business ideas and other people who support those ideas. Examples of Malaysian crowdfunding platforms are Leet Capital, MyStartr and Crowdplus.

How to start

Click Further Resources below and sign up on one of the crowdfunding platforms.

Returns

There are many crowdfunding platforms, some focus on generating profitable business while others are social enterprises. Each crowdfunding has different returns. 

Further Resources

List of registered Malaysian crowdfunding platform

7. P2P Lending

P2P Lending is a form of lending between individual investors and companies, cutting the financial institutions role as the middleman. Businesses that rely on P2P lending are usually high-growth small and medium enterprises (SMEs). 

How to start

Click Further Resources below and sign up on one of the P2P platforms.

Returns

Depending on the company, P2P Lending can have returns ranging from 10 to 14%, with higher risk as well. 

Further Resources

List of registered Malaysian P2P platform

8. Robo advisor

Robo advisor is a service that uses algorithms to match a client’s needs with a specific investment portfolio. As the name suggests, the robo advisor relies on little to no human management. Robo advisor is suitable for people who want to invest but do not want to micromanage their investments. 

How to start

At the time of writing, the robo advisor platforms that have received approval from Securities Commission Malaysia are MyTHEO, StashAway and Wahed.

9. Other resources

There are many resources online to learn about investing. For absolute beginners, I will recommend the following:

10. Conclusion

Malaysia has relatively mature and diverse options for people looking to invest their money. Choosing which to invest depends on several factors such as your salary, returns and the risk associated with each investment. However, the most important thing is to start early. Compounding interest works wonder and you will be surprised how much your net worth will be after two and three decades. For specific investment instrument, I would recommend ASB as it has low cost and risk. Once you have maxed out your ASB, you can start diversifying in other investments.

11. Investing FAQs

I don’t have the time to learn about investing, what can I do?

Contribute more towards your EPF. EPF is deducted automatically from your salary and you can opt for a higher contribution per month. If your salary is RM2000, 15% contribution per month means it is RM3600 annually. With a 6% growth rate, your contributions will be around RM300,000 in 30 years. Most Malaysians do not have cash for your retirement and having that amount is definitely better than nothing.

When should I start investing?

Now. Starting earlier enables your money to increase exponentially via compound interest. I can emphasise this enough, the earlier you start investing, the more time your money has to grow. If you’re not willing to invest in the riskier options, start with ASB. For non-Bumiputera, start with ASM (Amanah Saham Malaysia).

Are these investments halal or Syariah-compliant?

Most of these instruments have both non-Syariah compliant and Syariah-compliant options including EPF. For ASB, there are debates around its status. Currently, the general consensus is it is halal although a portion of it should be contributed to zakat

Rise and Fall of The Great Powers (Book Review)

Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (affiliate link) traces the development of major empires since the 16th century and seek to explain the reasons for their rise and fall. Compare to other works in the literature, this book focuses on the interaction between economic factors and strategy rather than finding one general rules about the formation of states and empires. Kennedy’s main thesis is a state’s power increases as its production capacity grows. The larger economy makes it easier for the state to sustain armaments during peace and finance military fleets during wartime. However, if a state overextends itself by allocating too many resources in its military or conquering territories more than what it can manage, other rivals can catch up with them.

The first chapter surveys the strengths and weaknesses of great powers in the dawn of the 16th century – Ming China, the Ottoman Empire, the Mogul empire, Tokugawa Japan, Muscovy, and the smaller states in western Europe. Kennedy argues that despite having large economies and sophisticated inventions, these empires suffer from having centralized authority which limits the formation of new ideas, military development and commercial endeavours. On the other hand, due to the lack of a central authority, European states manage to develop newer technologies and inventions. 

The book did well in providing a broad yet detailed survey of each empire’s economy and political structure on its own. For example, in the first chapter, Kennedy provides a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of great powers in the dawn of the 16th century – Ming China, the Ottoman Empire, the Mogul empire, Tokugawa Japan, Muscovy, and the smaller states in western Europe. Kennedy argues that despite having large economies and sophisticated inventions, these empires suffer from having centralised authority which limits the formation of new ideas, military development and commercial endeavours. On the other hand, due to the lack of a central authority, European states manage to develop newer technologies and inventions. 

What the book lacks however is explaining why other regions did not develop like Europe despite not having a central authority. An example of this is the African subcontinent. Despite political fragmentations, the region never developed anywhere close to Europe. In the book, Kennedy never dealt with this issue. In addition, Kennedy did not explain how empires such as Ming China and Tokugawa Japan could develop in the first place despite having centralised authorities.

To sum up, in Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (affiliate link), Kennedy argues that a state’s power increases as its production capacity grows. As a state overextends itself by allocating too many resources in its military or conquering territories more than what it can manage, other rivals can catch up with them. Finally, the state declines and is replaced by another state. I recommend this book to those who are interested in detailed history of the rise of empires. However, the book spans 500 pages and its deep flaws suggest that you should consider to invest your time in other similar books such as Toynbee’s A Study of History or Kissinger’s Diplomacy.

Click here to visit the Amazon book page (affiliate link), where it is available in multiple formats.

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Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career (Book Summary)

Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

While studying at UCL, one of the most diverse universities in the UK, I have found two interesting social observations: (1) most people tend to stick together with their own nationalities and (2) some people just seem to be more connected than the others. Although there are groups where people hang out with different nationalities, these tend to be the exceptions rather than the norm. I never paid much attention to these and simply conclude that (1) humans like familiarity and there is less barrier to integrate with others who share the same nationalities. For (2), maybe, some people are just more extroverted. After reading the book Friend of A Friend (affiliate link), I am surprised to learn that these two phenomenons are more nuanced that they seem.

In Friend of A Friend (affiliate link), David Burkus sets out to apply ideas from Sociology and Network Theory in fostering new relationships. His main thesis is that in creating new connections, it is not necessarily about who you know, but about knowing who is a “friend of a friend” and applying the correct strategy in navigating these networks. The book then explains how networks work and the implications for anyone looking to improve their connections.

Each chapter starts with an abstract of the chapter, two anecdotal evidence or stories, empirical evidence and actionable advice at the end. This summary focuses on what I think are the most important insights from each chapter and the actionable advice that Burkus suggested. 

Weak Ties

Chapter 1 examines “weak ties” or people that we maintain a connection but rarely interact with. Meanwhile, strong ties are people we regularly meet – friends, families and co-workers. Burkus argues that weak ties may present us with bigger opportunities than strong ties as strong ties are more likely to share the same contacts as us.

On the other hand, our weak ties have different social circles and learn different information than our social circle. Therefore, weak ties are the best source of information to solve our dilemma.

Another form of connection, dormant ties, or weak ties that used to be stronger is also important in getting new information. Although dormant ties can provide us with valuable information, most people tend to lose contact because of specific reasons. These reasons make some people not comfortable reconnecting with dormant ties.

When given a choice to reconnect with dormant ties, most people tend to avoid factors such as novelty and engagement (Walter et. al, 2015). This is because reconnecting with old contacts may provoke anxiety. Hence, most people prefer to re-connect with whom they had spent a lot of time together.

Characteristics of Social Networks: The 3S (Six Degrees of Separation, Structural Holes, Silo)

Chapter 2 discusses the first feature of social networks. Burkus presents us with the six degrees of separation theory, whereby any person can be connected to another person on the planet within six or fewer connections. To utilise this effect, Burkus suggests using or creating networks such as university alumni network or professional groups.

In Chapter 3, Burkus presents us with another characteristic of the social networks, called “structural holes”, or the gap between two groups of people. People who fill the structural holes, “broker” are the people who become the gatekeeper of information between the two groups, thus having more power than those who only stay within the groups. In terms of career strategy, Burkus argues that filling the “structural holes” is a better strategy than climbing the ladder vertically as you would develop relationships with different groups.

Chapter 4 discusses the dilemma of being in a silo. Being in a silo for too long may damage one’s career while not being in a silo at all may damage one’s own growth. Burkus argues that silos may not be necessarily bad, and one should focus on knowing how long to interact with a silo. When interacting with a silo, ask the following questions:

  • What are you working on right now?
  • What is holding you back and how can I help?
  • What do you need prompting on?

Chapter 5 builds on previous chapters and point out that it is better for networks of collaboration to be temporary, rather than permanent as ideas and knowledge dissipate when a person moves around different groups.  

Strategies of Networking

Chapter 6 discusses ways one can grow one’s networks such by making introductions for others first.

Chapter 7 discusses how having large networks begets a bigger one. This situation, called Matthew Effect which is coined after the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”. This cumulative advantage applies not only to capital and knowledge accumulation but also to one’s networks.

Chapter 8 presents us with another networking strategy. Suppose we want to be well-known within a community, what do we do? Do we approach every person, or do we meet the few connected persons in the community?

Burkus points out interesting empirical and anecdotal evidence in this chapter, arguing that the latter is the better way. If it is not possible to meet the most connected persons in the network, the second-best strategy is to connect with other people around the target first, especially with your own mutual connections. If multiple people around the target are talking about you, you will have a higher chance of making that connection. 

Homophily and Why Networking Events Suck

Chapter 9 examines homophily, a theory that predicts that we are more likely to develop close ties to those who are like us. In social networks, this means that networks of individuals tend to become more clustered and dispersed over time. Burkus points out that one has to actively seek people from different groups to get alternative perspectives. This means to seek out people from different industries, department, function, race, religion, political and ideology.

Chapter 10 scrutinises networking events and why they are flawed, namely, because one tends to stick with the people they already know. Even when we make new contacts, we tend to choose people who disproportionately are very similar to ourselves, whether in terms of occupation, industry, experience, training or worldview. So, what are the alternatives to this?

Burkus recommends us to stop “trying to meet new people” and focus on activities rather than relationship themselves. Activities that have shared purpose, evokes passions or emotions, requires interdependence and has something at stake tend to draw more diverse groups of people and create stronger bonds among participants. Such activities include cooking class, golf, volunteering and sports. 

Unless there is an external force acting on the groups, it is very difficult for people to break from their current group. Rather than fighting against homophily, the strategy above make use of it. Just by having a genuine interest in a new topic or an activity, one has extend himself to another group, thus, fostering new connections.

Multiplexity and the Complexity of Human Relationships

Chapter 11 explores multiplexity, which happens when individuals share different social connections. For example, two co-workers who also engage in the same sports together share and are neighbours are multiplex relationships as they are connected by multiple social contexts. Multiplex relationships are likely to develop stronger trust and bonds, thus becoming long-lasting and more valuable. An implication of this insight is that separating friends in one category and colleagues in another may not be a good strategy.

Conclusion

Friend of A Friend is a well-researched and well-written book that seeks to apply insights from the study of networks to the art of networking and making connections. In every chapter, Burkus writes on one aspect of networking and provide strong empirical evidence.

Although some anecdotal evidence suffers from survivorship bias and the story extends longer than is needed, they are interesting to read, nonetheless. Most importantly, Burkus outlines actionable steps that one can take to apply the ideas from the book. These steps can be used as a guiding framework whilst navigating one’s networking journey. 

Burkus ends the book with the key message that every human being is already embedded within networks of relationships. Utilising these networks for our benefits require us to learn the tools to navigate through them. If every person is the average of his five friends, then the friends of that friends are his future. 

Click here to visit the Amazon book page (affiliate link), where it is available in multiple formats.

For more resources and tools, visit David Burkus‘s website.

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