The Strength of Weak Ties

A consulting colleague recently described some research she did with a client: she helped key executives sort and analyze 3 months of calendar and email transactions. In most cases, executives maintained very insular networks–that is, they spent most of their time with and communicating with a very, very small set of people. Is this good? I don’t think so, and neither did they.

What Makes a Network?
Mark Granovetter describes it this way: ‘the strength of an interpersonal tie is a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie’. Our networks are comprised of strong ties and weak ties.

Weak Ties help Innovation
Granovetter found that more numerous weak ties can be important in seeking information and innovation. Cliques have a tendency to have more homogeneous opinions as well as share many common traits…being similar, each member of the clique would also know more or less what the other members knew. To find new information or insights, members of the clique will have to look beyond the clique to its other friends and acquaintances. This is what Granovetter called the”the strength of weak ties” (adapted from wikipedia)


Weak Ties may help you in a Job Search
Granovetter’s research also suggested that job-seekers were more successful in their job searches when they tapped Weak Ties than when they sought leads through their Strong Ties. If we all know the same people we are unlikely to open unfamiliar doors.

This is not to say we don’t need Strong Ties. Connections characterized by time and intimacy are very important for emotional health. But we also need Weak Ties to expand our overall pools of ideas and options.

Now is an excellent time to take a census of your own social network.  Wolfram|Alpha even has a tool to help you.

Photo Credits: Marc_Smith and jonhchichas via Compfight cc