A few years ago Susan 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. It’s easy to do. Time constraints prevent most of us from interacting beyond those in our close networks. Many leaders tell is that during the pandemic external networking has dropped even further.
What Makes a Network?
Mark Granovetter, Sociology Professor at Stanford, 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. Strong ties are those people with whom you share a body of shared experience. 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.
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”.
Weak Ties are vital to Strategic Planning
We do a lot of scenario work with leaders. Having connections in a broad and diverse network and a working knowledge of big trends are vital to a strategic point of view. Further, it’s those weak ties that inform some of the disruptors looming on the horizon.
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.
The Pandemic has opened Access
We now know that we have access to just about anyone, anywhere. It is possible to schedule a conversation with someone far, far away from you. And if you work for a decent organization you can count on the fact that your initial query has a good chance of being returned. Most leaders love talking to leaders in other organizations.