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LaunchX startup mentor Amanda Anderson

Amanda Anderson: Multi-Generational Impact of Echo Chambers

By Amanda Anderson

December 22, 2018

This article was published by LaunchX mentor Amanda Anderson to LinkedIn on June 28, 2015.

I was invited to speak at Dunwoody College of Technology on June 24, 2015.  It was truly an honor. The following is the transcript from that event.

I’ve been thinking about how I got here and I’d like to share the story with you. It all started back in 1966. A friend of my mother’s was trying to convince her to move to Montana from New York. My mom’s friend told her that the male-to-female ratio was three-to-one. She was bound to find a man.

My mom didn’t need any further convincing. She packed up her place on Staten Island and moved to Missoula. Her friend was pretty well situated in the town. She knew the music scene well and one night, they decided to go see a good band. The only problem was that the band was playing at a rowdy bar. This was no place for young women traveling alone. They devised a plan…

They connected with a couple of male friends who agreed to escort them. The guys knew they were there for protection only. In fact, one of the guys had a girlfriend and the other was engaged. They all went to the rowdy bar to enjoy the band.

Not soon after they arrived, they received word that the fiancé was outside and was angry. The groom-to-be wanted to go out to assure her everything was ok, but wanted to make sure my mom was safe first. He approached a man sitting at the bar. “Hey Roy,” he said. “I’ll give you five bucks and the rest of my beer if you take this girl off my hands.”

My dad turned around, looked at my mom, and took the five bucks. Six months later, they were married and living in a logging camp with no running water. They knew this was not the place to be for long. My mom didn’t want to stay in Montana and my dad didn’t enjoy New York one bit. To appease (or displease) the in-laws equally, they moved to Minnesota.

My dad could hardly read. I believe to this day he has undiagnosed dyslexia. He grew up in a dirt-poor family. My grandmother made clothes for her and all of the children. They lived off the food stored in the cellar they had harvested from her garden the summer before.

Needless to say, when my mom and dad arrived in Minneapolis, they had nothing.

My dad wanted to be an electrician. He enrolled at a vocational school here in Minneapolis where he met an instructor named Dell Niece. After my dad became an electrician, Mr. Niece helped my dad get into the union and ultimately land a good job at Edina Electric. The relationship he forged with his instructor was carried far beyond his time in school. Mr. Niece was my dad’s first echo chamber.

While echo chambers are often used with respect to partisan media, echo chambers have other meanings, too. In this case, an echo chamber is the method through which messages move beyond social circles to reach new people across economic and cultural divides. 

Those of us who grew up in the United States were taught of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. On his horse, he rode north through the villages of Massachusetts to warn that the British were coming on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Malcolm Gladwell, as well as Professor Uzzi of The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, would tell you Paul Revere was not the only Minuteman to ride that night. While Revere rode north, William Dawes road south. Revere raised a militia to fight while Dawes did not. Today, we know only of Revere.

Why was this? Why wasn’t Dawes able to raise a militia? It’s because he didn’t have an echo chamber. Revere was what Dr. Uzzi calls an Information Broker. He had built relationships with people across diverse backgrounds and social networks. When he sent the word to his connections, they echoed it across their own connections. We still feel the affects of that night. The echo chambers leveraged on that ride had multi-generational impact.

With today’s technology, it’s easy to see our echo chambers. Using a plug-in built by Craig Tutterow, a PhD candidate at Booth School of Management at the University of Chicago, I mapped some of my contacts from LinkedIn. There are clusters that are my main networks but I have satellites that could be echo chambers. The satellites are the people who have their vast networks beyond my own. If I wanted to spread a message, I could send it through them.  

I bet you’re wondering what your network looks like and what it could look like.  According to Forbes just last month, there are more CEOs on LinkedIn than ever before. I urge you to take a look. If you’re thinking about the next thing for you, perhaps a grant proposal for a research project or participation in a think tank, your echo chambers may be able to help you.

Professor Uzzi, as well as Paul Ingram and Michael W. Morris from Columbia University, have identified areas to improve our echo chambers. I can see on my map that I have two really big clusters. These are the people who I met while working with two specific companies.  These clusters are what the researchers call the Self-Similarity and Proximity Principles. The Self-Similarity Principle describes the result from just associating with people like ourselves and Proximity Principle describes the impact of those with whom we often interact, like co-workers.

The goal in network building is to reach beyond that which is similar or nearby. By reaching out to the satellites of your network, you can find Information Brokers who will introduce you to people well beyond your immediate reach. Think of all of the great things they are doing and talking about. Wouldn’t you love to know more about the people tangential to you?

Then I’d ask you to step back a bit and think about how you are an echo chamber. Just like Dell Niece before you, you sit at the confluence of cultures and skills. There are many people just like my dad, searching for you.

Think about it. Through Dell Niece, my dad landed a good job. He moved us to safer neighborhood where my brother and I studied hard to make good lives for ourselves. My brother is now CFO at Stearns Bank. I’m a small business owner and grad student at Yale University’s School of Management. Just like Paul Revere’s, the echo chambers at Dunwoody can have multi-generational impact.

Imagine what your impact will be.

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Here is the link to the plugin I used to map my LinkedIn network: http://www.socilab.com/