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People around you

10/14/20

It is commonly stated that you are the average of the 5 people closest to you. We are largely a product of our environments, and the people around you massively influence your habits, interests, and actions.

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time alone (with my parents) and in my childhood house. I find myself reverting to many old habits, not pushing myself, and being satisfied with how things have always been. Conversely, I see people quarantining together at "hacker houses", pushing each other, and achieving things that they likely would not have alone.

So if you are trying to make progress, to grow, to optimize for something, it would make sense to surround yourself with the best people possible. So how would you go about doing that?

The single biggest determinant of the people around you is the potential pool of people that you are exposed to throughout your life. Expose yourself to more / higher-quality people, and the average quality of person around you will improve (this is probably the value of an elite education, more than the education itself).

For tens of thousands of years, humans were only exposed to the small tribe that they were born into. These people did not have much of a choice, and the quality of people around them was fully fixed by the randomness of the situation they were born into.

As sedentary living evolved, and complex nations were created, you could interact with a much larger pool of potential people. This shift introduced serendipity as a major determinant of the people around you, though pre-life randomness (e.g., religion, social class, geography) still played a large role.

Now, much of the world exists in the cloud. You can theoretically meet or interact with anybody in the world, regardless of location. Still though, the overwhelming majority of relationships are constrained by the same factors - most people's relationships are with people who you were co-located with at some point - people you went to school with, lived near, or worked with.

In other words, even as our potential pool of people to meet has expanded to the entire population of the world, we still rely on in-person serendipity and randomness to be the drivers of the people we are exposed to.

Probabilistically thinking, what is the likelihood that the people I encounter in my life are actually the best possible people for me?

Essentially, we are exposed to an extremely limited set of people, and we choose the best of that group. But what if we could expose ourselves to a bigger or better group?

This is the central argument for why Twitter is replacing LinkedIn. Twitter has created a great discovery mechanism for finding new people based on their content. I find two main problems with this solution.

1) the signal to noise ratio is poor

2) it is hard to judge someone based off of planned content, especially Tweets

Dating apps are also an interesting case study. For millenniums, to find a partner, you could either be introduced to a partner (traditionally arranged marriages, more recently "blind dates") or randomly meet someone in your life. But this only exposes you to a small circle of people. Dating apps provide value because they bring people who would likely not encounter each other, but who have a common objective, into some sort of contact. But the filtering mechanisms are minimal, and dating apps are basically playing a numbers game (e.g., if we show you thousands of people, a few of them will be interesting to you).

So how do we optimize the pool of people we expose ourselves to? There is probably an interesting balance here. There exists a limit at which a marginal person I am exposed to is such low probability of being compatible for me that it does not pay to meet this person. The corollary - the people closest to me already are the people I am most likely to enjoy and bond with. How do we find the happy medium?

My thought is we increase our exposure by an order of magnitude but in a focused way - we unlock our current friends' network to ourselves. In my experience, some of the best relationships come from a mutual friend introduction. But this arrangement puts a lot of onus on the mutual friend. What if there was a way to facilitate that introduction, or at least enable it to happen more freely? To me, this would be a great step to helping people meet the right people.