Alex Pentland, author of Social Physics, is one of the under-recognized leaders of sociology research. He recently shared his work on distinguishing two kinds of social capital:
- Bonding capital is built by sticking with your tribe
- Bridging capital is built by exploring and building connections outside your tribe.
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There is tension between the two types of capital. “This is one of the fundamental conflicts of the human nature,” he says. “People need that tribe that reinforces them, but new opportunities and things come from exploring,” he said.
The people who build up bridging capital by pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and getting away from the tribe tend to do better in life (pdf). They learn different perspectives, see more opportunities, and make more money. “They just live better,” Pentland says. “But it is uncomfortable.”
The key is to invest in both types of capital. But few are aware of how they divide their time between the two (or that they even exist). Pentland’s hope is that awareness of how people live might incentivize them to live better, so he’s spent 20 years developing metrics to quantify social connections.