Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Urban Planning

Book Review – Superconnect: Networks and Weak Links

Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood’s 2010 book “Superconnect” gives a good sort of prelude to the Platform Revolution book that came out several years later. The idea is to illustrate the value of “weak links” in human networks. Weak links are the person you know, but not your best friend. Superconnectors, then, are the people who know a bazillion people. You often hear that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This is an imperfect maxim for many reasons, but the idea of the weak link is pretty interesting. The book doesn’t ultimately provide enough followthrough to make the issues quite as relevant as it seems to want to, but it’s got some valuable content nonetheless.

The Weak Link

StartingBloc first introduced me to this concept. The idea is that we have our core group of people in our orbit, and then we have the “weak links”– the people we know by name but don’t really know that well. There are different bits of psychology and economics that factor in here. The psychology is that there is a limited number of faces that an individual can remember, but a far greater number of names. Depending on how good your memory is, this might be several hundred people, but it’s definitely not all five thousand people on your LinkedIn. The economic issue that factors in is that the people you move with share your network and vice versa, but the weak links connect you to, well, everyone else. The six degrees of separation thing? Kevin Bacon, whatever? That’s real!

The Superconnector

Koch and Lockwood give examples from throughout history of how this plays out through the idea of a “superconnector,” that is, a person who brings other people together for whatever reason. The authors note throughout the book that the ability to “superconnect” is not necessarily associated with a specific type of career path or quest for social dominance. Rather, it can be a product of some combination of these and the ability of two humans to connect on any random subject.  I would argue that I’m a bit of a superconnector. I have a broad network of people I know vaguely but don’t know terribly well. I’m generally decent at forming and maintaining relationships. But I’m also good at starting conversations with strangers. The authors cite this as an important ability in becoming a superconnector.

Superconnectors aren’t intrinsically more valuable people or workers. But they’re vitally important links in networks.


Has it aged well? I mean, I guess so? The examples don’t feel dated. But they don’t hold up quite as well when you consider that most of them are just sort of anecdotes, rather than deep dives into concepts around human connectivity. The connections are, in other words, incidental. Perhaps this is the point? I’m not sure. I was just left wanting a bit more depth. In cases of the sort of snapshots of individual superconnectors, these felt somewhat ephemeral given that they were largely separate from the idea of the kinds of network effects we’ve come to appreciate from things like the platform economy. I think you can skip Superconnect in favor of some other book. Especially given alternatives like Malcolm Gladwell– who talks about a lot of this stuff in arguably more compelling detail and from more compelling angles. (2011’s Outliers, for example, or Talking To Strangers from 2019). But it’s a fast read. (⭑⭑⭑)

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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