Extreme friendships for extreme growth–the fastest way to go the distance

October 6, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Climbing: Reach Further There’s a formula for change that I’ve come across in the past year: embrace people with diverse and seemingly extreme views.

Someone a couple steps ahead might bring you forward a few inches.  Someone a mile in the distance can change your life.

If you’re the product of the people around you, then it makes sense to have a few outliers in your friends.


A Product of Other People

I’ve always looked at myself as the product of the people I’ve known.  While some of that is their actively pushing me to become certain things, much more has been learning by their example.  Not only have my relationships affected the expressions I utter and the clothing I wear, but more importantly they’ve played a role in my personality, my career choices, my values, and how I treat people.

This is more from osmosis than active choice.  As Clay Collins pointed out a couple weeks back, there’s no better indication of where you’ll end up in life than the company you keep–you’re almost always near the average of your friends in terms of wealth and health, for instance.

In the last year I’ve altered my definition of happiness, and changed my perspective on business.  I can see the roots of these changes in the new people I’ve become close with.  These new people are from the communities I’ve taken part in: productivity, lifestyle design, web 2.0, and social media.  They’re different than many of my local friends, and now I am, too.

Extreme Changes

The most conspicuous of these personal changes has come from the people who were most extreme.  An example of this you might guess has been Tim Ferriss of The Four Hour WorkweekHis book gets a lot of criticism for ideas that are at times outrageous.  I’ve also heard people complain that much of the book is about him and not just an approach.  But that’s the point: Ferriss has led by example, thereby humanizing and proving his ideas possible.

I’ve met Ferriss a few times and built relationships with others who have succeeded in similar "lifestyle design."  The more I’ve gotten to know these people, the more I’ve respected and come to believe just how possible these approaches are.

Similarly I’ve built friendships with people who have nontraditional approaches to consulting, dating, social media, and friendship.  I’m not saying I’ve adopted all of their views…but their examples have rubbed off, broadening my perspective and affecting some of my core values.

The Formula for Change

I’ve long been a big fan of the concepts in The Medici Effect and this past week got to meet the author, Frans Johansson.  His book discusses how the greatest ideas and innovations come from mixing people of different backgrounds (culturally, educationally, etc).  I mentioned this idea about extremes affecting our own developments, which is similar to the ideas in his book, and he was very curious.  The way I look at it, it’s something like this:

[Change in yourself] = [Distance of someone's approach from your own] * [Your respect for that person] * [Your exposure to that person]

That is, the more different someone’s approach is from your own, assuming you respect them and spend enough time around or thinking about them, the more effect it has on your own perspective.

This isn’t exactly a new thought, but there are some components I find interesting.  Conventional wisdom says:

  • You identify with and are surrounded by people who are like you
  • It’s easier to change into something that’s not very foreign from your current approach or perspective

Thus we’re not really surrounded by people who are particularly likely to change us…and we’re more apt to reach for things within our view than those that seem far in the distance.

Embracing Differences

But if you do surround yourself with differing people you’ll start making progress toward goals that before seemed far out.  The power of The Four Hour Workweek was that Ferriss was so extreme that any steps toward his approach were outside of most people’s comfort zone…and thus often led to huge progress.

I would encourage you to build relationships with people who you would like to emulate in some way, and to pay attention to (rather than ignore) their differing approaches, even ones that seem unrelated or innocuous.  Sooner or later you may find that’s the core of the difference you’re seeking.

Even if you’re not actively trying, you’ll have taken some of their perspective as your own.  You may even grow a bit in the process.

Has this worked for you?

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13 Responses to “Extreme friendships for extreme growth–the fastest way to go the distance”

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1 Tweetbacks

  1. waltjones (Walt Gordon Jones)

    Extreme friendships. I just updated this post http://bit.ly/3qCf with this link: http://bit.ly/15fGcT


  1. Victoria Pickering

    Jared -
    Great post!
    I agree with what you are saying. Two extensions of it, maybe to be covered in future posts??:
    1. What you can get out of differing people only works if you are open to what they are saying – i.e. your equation works full force only if one is completely open to change, and is damped down if one is only partially open. So a key question is what are the underpinnings for being ready to be fully open?
    2. But often it’s hard to be fully open and hear what different people are saying at the time they are saying it. However, if you can remember and replay your interactions with them in your mind at some later point when you are more open to change, it can be really effective. So do you have good ways of mentally capturing the advice/examples/interactions that you can’t use or don’t think are applicable to you at the time, but might be later as you change/open up/or are in a different stage?

  2. Alexis

    Great post- and very timely for me, personally. Six months ago or so it occurred to me that the most effective and most fun way to become to person I wanted to be (or develop the skills and capacities I wanted to develop) was to surround myself with people who possess the skills or qualities I want to improve or develop in myself (sort of like a living vision board ;)

    Of course, as the universe would have it, as soon as I set my attention on developing these relationships, people and communities started pouring into my life, and continue to do so.

    I can not overstate the extent to which this change in mindset has opened my mind and enriched my life.

    I’ll also note one great side effect: Not only am I getting much more out of my relationships, but I have *so* much more to give.

  3. Jared Goralnick


    Those are really good points. I think that the more we respect someone the more we become open to their way of life. That’s not to say that everyone’s way of life is for us, but respect is the first chance for us being open to change. I also think that even when we’re not looking to change, change can find us just from the company we keep. As for really being open to change, I think that we go through cycles in our lives when we’re more or less looking for it…but I haven’t completely got my head around it.

    As for trying to hold onto lessons from people until they’re applicable, that’s a challenge. Timing doesn’t always work out. However, it does speak to the value of keeping in touch with people (just a little) so that someday when you’re ready for them, you’ll be able to reach out.

    I’ll hold onto these thoughts…maybe they will turn into another post. Thanks!

  4. Jared Goralnick

    Hi Alexis, that’s a comforting thought. I guess it speaks to *priming* ourselves for certain things. While some things can’t quite be sought out directly, a lot of things can. Sometimes you can know what you’re looking for and, especially when it’s not something rare or exclusive, it’s amazing how quickly you find it. I hope it continues to work well for you!

  5. David B Katague

    Interesting post! You mentioned you change your definition of happiness. I am curious of what is your definition now of happiness. My definition of happiness could be summarized in this statement. “The time you have really live is the time when you have touch the lives of others”.

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