When I became an entrepreneur, the smartest thing I did was creating a group of fellow young entrepreneurs called Fresh Founders. Over the years, we’ve helped each other build our companies and the community. In the process, we’ve become good friends. For example, Tobi Lütke started Shopify in his basement and built it into one of Canada’s most valuable companies. Now Tobi helps the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Researchers have confirmed that friendship has life-changing benefits:
It’s the friends that you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.
People naturally mimic friends. Hundreds of studies have shown that peers influence behaviors such as eating, exercise, drug use, and achievement.
Therefore, choose friends who pull you up rather than drag you down. Here are proven characteristics of great friends:
You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
How do I identify great friends?
Intelligence is the ability to deal with complexity. Assess it by asking someone to explain a complex topic in a simple way. Then ask hypothetical questions to test for understanding.
Here is an example:
What is a topic you know well?
Tell me something about the topic I wouldn’t have guessed but I’ll find interesting
Tell me about the Maillard reaction
Would the Maillard reaction occur if you cooked meat at very high heat? How about very low heat?
Does amount of fat influence the reaction?
What happens if there is no sugar in the sauce?
How could you cook meat without heat?
Conscientiousness is a personality trait for being organized, responsible, and hardworking. It’s related to grit, perseverance, and delay of gratification.
To assess integrity, ask others how the person would behave if given an unethical opportunity. For example, would this person tell a lie to get a $20,000 commission?
Emotionally intelligent people are aware of emotions. They’ll say things such as: “You seem sad today, are you okay?” or “You look frustrated, can I help?”
Finally, happy people make you feel happy. A Harvard study found that happiness was contagious—people were 25% more likely to be happy when a close friend was happy.
In looking for people to hire, you look for 3 qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.
Avoid the unhappy and the unlucky. People who are perpetually miserable spread misery like an infection, and they’ll drown you in it. Avoid these people like the plague. Conversely, if you associate with happy people, you’ll share in the good fortune they attract and spread. Seek them out.
Getting great friends
Here is a system:
Go where they are
Ask for referrals
The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends.
Homophily is the tendency to form relationships with people like you. For example, top students are usually friends with top students. Therefore, if you want great friends, become a great friend. Start with the chapters on “Time management” and “Happiness”.
Also, researchers found that women preferred friends who shared feelings and provided emotional support. In contrast, men preferred friends who were smart, fit, and rich.
Networking is overrated. Become first and foremost a person of value and the network will be available whenever you need it.
Go where they are
People often make friends where they spend time. This is school in early life, workplace in middle age, and volunteering in old age. Amazing people gravitate to the best schools, companies, and organizations. They also tend to live in bigger cities.
The large towns and especially London absorb the very best blood from all the rest of England; the most enterprising, the most highly gifted, those with the highest physique and the strongest characters go there to find scope for their abilities.
Ask for referrals
Yossi Vardi is an entrepreneur and investor who helped build Israel’s famous high-tech industry. I once attended a talk where Vardi shared one of his secrets: he recruited the smartest kids and co-located them in a start-up incubator. I asked Vardi how he discovered them. The answer? Ask other smart kids.
Tap into people’s social networks by saying: “I’m looking for new friends and mentors. Do you know anyone interesting? Would you be willing to introduce me?”
When you click with interesting people, schedule a follow-up meeting. And then schedule one after that. Researchers estimate it takes 200 hours of shared activities for someone to become a good friend.
We rule out people 90% of the time. Maybe we’re wrong sometimes, but what’s important is the ones we let in.
I’ve learned the hard way that low-integrity friends are bad for my life. Now, I quickly cut out negative people. This makes me happier and frees time for positive people.
If I’m doing business with somebody and they think in a short-term manner with somebody else, then I don’t want to do business with them anymore. All benefits in life come from compound interest, whether in money, relationships, love, health, activities, or habits. I only want to be around people I know I’m going to be around for the rest of my life.
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A meta-analysis of 33 studies with 2,370,452 participants found that risk of dementia was increased by poor social network (59%) and poor social support (28%)
Good social engagement lowered risk by 12%
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A meta-analysis of 26 studies with 1,016 groups found that friendship improved group performance (effect size = 0.31)
The improvement effect was higher in larger groups, and for tasks requiring quantity of output rather than quality
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A survey of 5,000 Canadians found that number of friends in real life was associated with higher happiness
Doubling number of friends in real life was equivalent to a 50% increase in income
Number of online friends did not increase happiness
Real-life friends were more important for people who were single, divorced, separated, or widowed, compared to people who were married or living with a partner
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A meta-analysis of 364 effects with 1,234,193 participants found that peers influenced use of marijuana (effect size = 0.38), drugs (effect size = 0.30), alcohol (effect size = 0.27), and hard drugs (effect size = 0.23)
Parents also influenced use of drugs (effect size = 0.23), hard drugs (effect size = 0.20), alcohol (effect size = 0.17), and marijuana (effect size = 0.08)
Gremmen MC et al. (2017). First selection, then influence: Developmental differences in friendship dynamics regarding academic achievement. Dev Psychol. 53(7): 1356–1370.
A study of 601 students found they initially selected friends based on similar grades
Over time, they influenced each other to continue achieving at the same level
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A study of subordinate ratings of 672 directors and vice presidents of a Fortune 500 technology firm found that integrity ratings did not identify managers who lacked integrity
A second study with 80 MBA students asked them to estimate the likelihood that managers would engage in unethical behaviors, and this “dubious reputation” method was effective in identifying unethical managers
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A 20-year study of 4,739 participants found that the likelihood of a person being happy was increased by 25% when a friend who lived within a mile became happy
Similar effects were seen with next-door neighbors (34%), siblings who lived within a mile (14%), and coresident spouses (8%)
Getting great friends
McPherson M, Smith-Lovin L, Cook JM. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review Sociology. 27: 415–444.
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Hall JA. (2011). Sex differences in friendship expectations: A meta-analysis. Journal Social Personal Relationships. 28(6): 723–747.
A meta-analysis of 36 studies with 8,825 participants found that women expected more intimacy/self-disclosure/empathy/emotional support from ideal same-sex friends (effect size = 0.39)
Men expected more wealth/status/physical attractiveness/fitness/intelligence/education (effect size = 0.34)
Thomas RJ. (2019). Sources of friendship and structurally induced homophily across the life course. Sociological Perspectives. 62(6): 822–843.
A survey of 1,077 people found that the most common sources of new friends were school during youth, work during midlife, and volunteering groups in later life
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Hall JA. (2019). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal Social Personal Relationships. 36(4): 1278–1296.
A study of 429 participants found it took about 94 hours for acquaintances to become casual friends, 164 hours for casual friends to become friends, and 219 hours for friends to become good/best friends
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