In the 2004 cult classic Mean Girls, erstwhile queen bee Regina George is banished from the group’s lunch table after she violates their dress code:
Gretchen: Regina, you’re wearing sweatpants. It’s Monday.
Karen: So that’s against the rules, and you can’t sit with us.
Like most high schools, the fictional North Shore had numerous cliques. A group of girls sat at the top of the pecking order. Known as the Plastics, the girls maintained their high social status through militant exclusivity.
Conversely, I posit that high status individuals are generally better off being inclusive. Not in a moralistic “it would be mean to exclude people” sense, but because it has positive expected value for everyone involved.
By being inclusive, I don’t mean letting everyone have unfettered access to you. You can include people simply by inviting them into your community or sharing your microphone with them, like a famous comedian might do for newcomers.
If you habitually exclude people, you are depriving yourself of weak ties. Popularized by Stanford sociology professor Mark Granovetter in 1973, weak ties are defined as acquaintances or strangers with a common cultural background (e.g. shared alma mater). Although you wouldn’t call one up at midnight to help bury a body, weak ties are the best source of new jobs, business opportunities, ideas, and even romantic relationships.
Weak ties are positively asymmetrical – they have high upside and low downside. Think of them like lottery tickets. The more, the merrier.
Derek Sivers is the best example of this. Over the past eleven years, he’s answered around 85,000 emails from 65,000 people. At the beginning of the pandemic, he asked his entire mailing list how they were doing. 7,000 people replied, and he responded to them all. Doing so has resulted in a global network of friends, four romances, and (I can only imagine) countless new ideas.
As you allow people to join your group, they begin to form connections with each other. Interconnection not only benefits both parties, but also the group as a whole. You benefit from being a high status member of it.
Connection opportunities rise in a nonlinear fashion. You and another person represent one connection. Add two people and there are six potential connections. 100 people represent 4,950 potential unique connections.1100! / (98! * 2!) Emergence occurs.
Emergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own.
The same Derek Sivers (and first follower Gregory Brown) started a movement called the /now page. It inspired me to create my own now page, which I submitted for inclusion. While browsing the collection of now pages, swyx’s (Shawn Wang) caught my eye. I tweeted a particularly insightful paragraph from one of his essays:
Now we’re weak ties on Twitter.
Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first.Robert Cialdini
By letting people into your group, you’re doing them a favor. In return, they’ll feel obliged to return the favor in whatever way they can. At the very least, they’ll like you more. People who like you will attribute all kinds of positive qualities to you. And they’ll speak highly of you when you’re not around, bolstering your reputation.
I use Derek and Shawn as examples primarily because I admire their work, but partially because they included me. Conversely, I would never employ a follow-unfollow strategy to grow a Twitter audience. Your follower count will receive an artificial boost, but at what cost? Engaged users will be left with a negative impression.
You can benefit from reciprocity by including people even if you didn’t start the group. Much like the attribution of ideas, people attribute their group membership to the person who initially welcomed them in.
One concern is that a group with zero standards will suffer from value dilution. I am not suggesting that anyone and everyone be included. I am merely recommending that you err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. If you’re cool, so are your fans.
Mean Girls ends with Cady Heron winning Spring Fling queen, snapping the crown into many pieces, and sharing it with her classmates.2Spoiler warning. By the way, Snape kills Dumbledore. Be like (reformed) Cady.
Featured photo by Millie Wollney.