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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Superconnect: Harnessing the Power of Networks and the Strength of Weak Links”

        I recently finished reading the book listed in the title of this blog.  Always looking at how to more effectively network and connect I was surprised by the main point of this book, which was that our “weak links” are the most valuable in developing new ideas, partnerships and even in job searches.  This goes against one’s initial belief that our “strong” links being family, close friends and associates would be the most beneficial to us in any effort we might pursue.  The old phrase of “its not ‘what’ you know but ‘who’ you know” would lead us to believe that our closest contacts are the most valuable.

        So what are weak links and why are they so valuable?  Weak links are those people that we know very casually or have very infrequently contact with.  Think of your Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts.  Most of these individuals are probably weak links. Why are they so valuable? I would like to take a quote from the book to answer that question,
Our close friends tend to be similar to us and mainly move in the same social circles. Close friends operate in a dense network, what is called a 'closely knit clump of social structure', where most people know each other and share the same information. The individual also has a range of acquaintances, few of whom know each other. Each acquaintance is enmeshed in a clump of friends who share information. The weak tie between the individual and his acquaintance 'therefore, becomes not merely a trivial acquaintance tie but rather a crucial bridge between the two densely knit clumps of close friends ... It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends.
If information is to move from one group to another that is far away, either socially or physically, then the only way is through bridges — links between two different people, two different worlds, links that, by definition, are weak rather than strong. This means that whatever is to be diffused can reach a larger number of people, and traverse greater social distance, when passed through weak ties rather than strong. If weak links are removed — the bridges, as it were, are blown up — then this would harm the spread of information more than if strong links were dissolved. If the bridges did not exist, new ideas would be stunted or spread slowly, science would be handi­capped, and social divisions \would be perpetuated.
To get useful new ideas or information, we must go beyond our immediate circle and make contact with distant parts of the social system. The only way to do that is through weak ties…”

 The most creative people tend to be the ones that have a large number of weak ties which give them a broader perspective to see more ways that things are connected.  People with few weak ties and only strong ties tend to be more closed to new ideas that are different from what they perceive as the norm. The strong ties to be self-reinforcing in your beliefs and perspectives.  Think of growing up in a small town with a homogeneous population as opposed to growing up in a cosmopolitan diverse community. Again the “cross fertilization” of weak ties are where innovation and progress come from.

This reality also applies to organizations. Organizations that are too inwardly directed can quickly run into problems when the external environment in which they operate changes.  Establishing many weak ties can lead organizations to new partnering opportunities that can strengthen organization’s operation.  Where are these opportunities in Howard County?  We have so many that it is hard to identify all of them but a short list would be something like this:
This list is just a start.  Civic organizations, PTA’s, fraternities, sororities and neighborhood associations are too numerous to list. Feel free to post a comment with other networks.

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