Hack Your Network: TED Talk Explores The Surprising Need for Strangeness

Flipping through my ginormous volume of RSS feeds on the bus this week, I caught a headline that I just knew was going to have to become a post. It was the title of Maria Bezaitis' TEDxIntel talk: The Surprising Need for Strangeness.

[Aside: Now, to be honest, I thought it was going to be a nerd manifesto of sorts, praising the need to be different and unique and to celebrate those differences in order to maximize productivity or innovation or some such. But I was completely wrong. It's even better than that.]

Bezaitis presents a compelling argument for us needing to find strangers and interact with people unlike ourselves. And that's definitely a topic I can get behind. She begins by challenging our societal norm of not talking to strangers and staying away from anyone who is not familiar to us. She suggests that these are actually the best opportunities for learning (I couldn't agree more!). And she asks: how much strangeness are you getting? (love that)

If you caught my presentation on Hacking is a Mindset, Not a Skillset, then you might remember that my third of five steps to a hacking mindset challenges us to hack our networks. I cited a bunch of examples of people collaborating across boundaries, including crowdsourcing, playing MMORPGs, and participating in hackfests as a non-hacker. And even stepping outside of your network of trusted colleagues to approach someone with a completely unrelated perspective to provide advice:
Maybe your question seems technical but actually has an interpersonal angle you just aren't noticing. Maybe your personality conflict has an underlying technical issue. You can hack your own thinking by finding a mentor or a trusted advisor who will tell you the truth at all times. Or by developing a network of open-minded individuals with varying backgrounds and expertise who can offer you a fresh perspective when you need it.
And that's exactly what Bezaitis encourages.

What's really interesting about her thesis is how she ties it into data and the evolution of technology: if data turns our social relations into digital relations, then we are constantly interacting with people we don't actually know. We are in fact allowing ourselves to be exposed to strangeness. Some of the language used to describe our online relationships can be misleading: family and friends. Bezaitis challenges us to think more about closeness and timeliness: what do we need from that relationship right now? What can we bring to it in this moment? If we think beyond the concept of merely sharing and evaluate those relationships, there is more that we could accomplish with these strange ties. She asks, "what can we do, learn from each other, do together that benefits us both?"

We can mistake Social for Personal quite easily on social platforms, but maybe we should actively pursue the social in certain circumstances, and be ok that it does not traverse into the personal. That strangeness can be a benefit to both parties and a necessary part of our interactions. Perhaps you need to ask yourself: Are you getting enough strangeness?

It's a captivating notion, a fantastic 8 minutes to spark some thought. Enjoy!