Where did all of this come from: I’ve been reading a book titled, “The Power of Habit and Why People Do What They Do”, and i came across an interesting section while reading the book on the “Power Of Weak Ties”. The book has been interesting so far and the author has done a great job researching the content. Now, while reading any book you stumble across new concepts, some of which strike you as being most obvious or stuff that you are aware of and there are those that just make you ask yourself the question, is this really true and if it is true what are its implications for me? So on hearing the concepts of weak ties, Ii began asking myself a few questions and began digging deeper in the concept of weak ties. I should admit, the quest has been a satisfying one and while the revelation isn’t ground breaking or such it has helped me better understand the power of emotions and human relationships in everything we do in our personal and professional lives. In the next few paragraphs i’ll summarize my understanding of the power of weak ties and how focusing on building a larger network of weak ties could help you, your organization and your business.
What are Strong and Weak Ties: This seems like the the most obvious part, so let’s get into it. Strong ties are relationships with individuals whom we know really well, get along with really well and most probably are on the same wavelength with. Sociologists have proven that strong ties are created between human beings of the similar type. Strong ties are most likely created between human beings who share similar likes, backgrounds, tastes, mindsets, etc.
“Weak ties provide the bridges over which innovations cross the boundaries of social groups; the decision making, however, is influenced mainly by the strong-ties network in each group.” - Gabriel Weimann, University of Haifa, Israel
Strong ties are essential for human survival and has played a very strong role in our evolution as humans. Weak ties on the other hand are ties we have with individuals we don’t really know very well. These are ties we have with organizations, groups or individuals we share something in common with i.e. possibly a common mutual friend who actually connects us to something or someone else we don’t really care much about or know very well and is part of a local movement or group that meets up once every month. As human beings we create weak ties with acquaintances and colleagues whom we don’t meet very often and whom we don’t really share a lot in common with.
Relevance of Strong & Weak Ties in our daily lives: Harvard professor Andrew McAfee sums up the Strength of Weak Ties theory really nicely by describing how acquaintances with whom we are less familiar are more likely to give us information and tell us things we don’t already know about. People we don’t know all that well are hugely valuable in our work and life in general. They’re sources of such novelty and innovation because they know quite different things than we do and help us form bridges to other social networks because they know quite different people than we do. As human beings we tend to form a combination of both strong and weak ties the ratio of which will differ immensely from individual to individual. However it’s the context, content and free flow of information from our weak ties which i find so intriguing and interested.
Why should you focus on building Weak Ties: Strong ties are like echo chambers and a lot of your ideas will resonate with the individuals with whom you’ve got strong ties. However Sociologists have proven that breakthrough ideas, concepts and innovations don’t spread very far with strong ties alone. Great solution or innovations rarely come from strong ties within large groups but from weak ties in smaller groups located on the boundary of your internal or external networks. Strong ties are important to help you get the job done and to help you get the right amount of support required within your business or your organization however it is the weak ties that are essential for you to spread the word and get the message out there. It’s the weak ties through which much of the brand building and mouth to mouth marketing of your products of services happens.
Let’s take for example the brand building that needs to happen for your product or service to reach a critical mass of customers. Marketing gurus worldwide have proven that it is important to cultivate the strength of weak ties to reach out to the wider audience and convince them of the value of your product or offering. Strong ties can only get you so far and a lot of ideas won’t really make it beyond in the inner sanctum if you focus on your strong ties. As a leader, manager, strategist you have to work on cultivating a large network of weak ties whom you can reach out to and lean on when in need.
One another example that comes to mind and has been very frequently used in this context to illustrate the importance of weak ties is the sourcing of job opportunities. When a new job opportunity comes up you are most likely never going to hear about it from your strong ties who share the same skills, experiences, background or interests. Your strong ties would have most likely either snapped up the opportunity themselves or refused to pass it on unless they have your best interests at heart and are keen to support your growth in the organization or business. However, research has proven that when looking for jobs or opportunities you are most likely to get leads from your weak ties since that’s where the path of least resistance lies. Weak ties are essential for your growth and survival in this cruel world and cultivating a large network of weak ties will only do your business, our organization and your career a lot of good in the longer run.
The take home from all of this as human beings we require a healthy combination of both strong and weak ties. Strong ties give us the support required to get the job done while weak ties are really important for propagation of ideas, innovation and information on topics that are relevant to you in your personal and professional lives.
References: These are a few references i would suggest you look up if you are interested in going into the details of weak ties and it’s importance to evolution of human societies and relationships.
- http://sociology.stanford.edu/people/mgranovetter/documents/granstrengthweakties.pdf – Strength of Weak Ties, Mark S Grannovetter, John Hopkins University
As always, please feel free to write to me and send me your thoughts, inputs and comments. You can reach me at trevor at practical performance analyst dot com.