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Shared Activity Principle

Accordingly to a landmark study by Brian Uzzi, distinguished chair and professor of leadership and organizational change at the Kellogg school of management, there is a common origin that most of the important relationships in our life have.

In a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, Uzzi wrote “ Potent relationships are not forged through casual interactions but through relatively high-stakes activities that connect you.” He calls this the Shared Activity Principle. 

We see it almost everyday at BCA, within the relationship between members. Those relationships where a shared activity exists or existed, the participants interact with each other much more freely (unscripted behaviors), the interactions are often much more genuine and the growth of that relationship takes place on a deeper level. The shared activity changes the usual patterns of interaction and opens up the potential within the relationship.

Arguably one of the most successful relationships, rooted in the shared activities principle, is the one between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Their relationship didn’t develop over a business deal, it was the game of bridge. Not all shared experiences are created equal; In the most powerful ones three baselines exist: Passion, Interdependence, Competition and frequency. In the Gates/Buffett example, all three baselines were equally dominant.

When seeking to strengthen a relationship using the Shared Activity Principle remember four key baselines that will help maximize the shared experience:

1. Evoke passion

According to Uzzi, shared experiences based on people’s passions are important for two reasons:

  • People (even busy people) make time for their passions.
  • People like other people more when they display their passions.

Think of a hobby or talent you have that you’ve worked on for years, that really gets you energized or excited, such as woodworking or surfing or snowboarding. Also think of community service or charitable initiatives that you are very connected with, or a sports team that you bleed for. All of these things evoke passion.

2. Need interdependence

A mutual reliance between the two parties. In relationships, interdependence is the degree to which members of the group are mutually dependent on the others. A common goal that can only be fulfilled jointly with another person is one way to satisfy interdependence.

Uzzi says “through shared activities that require interdependence you quickly recognize ‘I can’t do it alone’ or ‘I can’t win it’ without the other person.’  In short, you recognize how the other person is meaningful to you.  And all lasting relationships are built on a foundation of meaningfulness.”

3. Have something at stake

“Having something at stake provides opportunities for celebration and commiseration, both of which generate bonds of loyalty that sustain a relationship over time.”  If there is some gradation of winning/losing or doing better/worse. The internal competition derived from having something at stake brings out meaningful behavior, stretches you, and reveals deeper levels of someones character and personality. This also matches classic research in social psychology which shows that when we’re in a heightened emotional or physical state, we feel closer to people that we already have some level of connection to.

4. Frequency

Another trick to accelerate deeper, more successful relationships is with recurrent activities.
Uzzi gives the example of running, a one-time activity such as going running won’t help you nearly as much as joining a running club. And you’ll form the strongest ties with other runners in a club when you train with them for a race.

It’s likely that the strongest relationships you currently hold were born from a shared experience. So don’t be afraid to seek out shared experiences as you try to cultivate and build the next strongest relationship in your life.