As a child I saw a constant parade of strangers arriving at our house, sharing stories, eating dinner, and retiring to our guest bedroom. Of course they were only strangers to me. This parade of visitors were connections from my parents’ past. Some were strong ties, some were weak ties. Everyone left our house fed, rested, and encouraged on their journey.


Did we run a Bed & Breakfast? No. My parents were immigrants.

Immigrants understand interdependence. Although many of their activities support surviving a new world, an immigrant’s goal is not just to survive but to thrive. Many of their daily survival tasks set up the foundation for thriving. Their secret? Recognizing, accepting and using interdependence.

It often amazes me how my parents and their extended network intuitively knew many of the network concepts I study in my work and in academic papers. They were masters of using weak ties. Structural holes? No thank you! We close them and help someone connect to a useful other. Overlaps in networks? Yes, we know how to find and use them. While people searched for jobs, homes and partners in this new land, common ground was constantly calculated to make the right introductions.

These people, who came here with just the clothes on their back and few photos, have built a thriving community with many successful offshoots. What lessons can be learned from these natural builders of community?

  1. Know when to leave. Not all of your communities are built for thrivability. Not all situations will permit building for the greater good. Know where to build and contribute to yourself, others, and the planet.
  2. You never “make it” on your own. Find common ground to bring people together. Individual success assisted by community usually flows back to the whole community. You are only as successful as the network you are embedded in.
  3. Close triangles. Build a stronger community and distribute trust and knowledge by introducing those who can help each other. Weave your network – make introductions – you and your friends & family will benefit. By improving your own network, you improve the networks of all of those connected to you! Join your community to other communities – your city and region will benefit.
  4. Connect on your similarities and profit from your differences. Everyone has knowledge and skills that can benefit others. Look for opportunities to build upward spirals via creative combinations of similarity and difference. Set up the conditions and connections for the success of your extended community – know when to reach beyond your immediate group to bring in diverse knowledge, experiences and resources. This is the mantra for making smart introductions.
  5. Giving results in getting. Give others what they need. You create a better place for yourself by creating a better place for others. Your outflows affect your inflows. In an interdependent community it always flows back to you – so, it’s better to create good! You live in the network you create.

I am writing this blog post while in an airport. A mass of people are moving in all directions to their various destinations. I hope some of them are heading to stay with an immigrant family.

An earlier version of this post was published in “Thrivability – A Collaborative Sketch” Curated by Jean Russell