I do not have a lot of very close friends—the kind you call at 2am to bail you out of jail. This is typical of most people and research tends to back this up. I do, however, have a lot of regular friends, friends of friends, and many acquaintances. The friends of my friends and acquaintances are my weak ties. They are critical in just about everything that happens in my life, and in your life. There is a great deal of value in weak ties.
A weak tie is a social connection that is not close. There is a theory that suggests that new and novel information is shared mostly through weak ties. This is not as crazy as it sounds. We tend to hang out with like-minded people, have the same social backgrounds, and are exposed to the same information as those closest to us. There is considerable overlap of information and knowledge with those closest to us. For new information to enter into this system, we need someone who is outside that circle, but not so far outside that we do not have access to the information. That is the value of the weak ties.
Weak ties provide that bridge to people that we do not know, and thus to information and knowledge that we do not know. Over half of jobs are not posted. How are you supposed to know about, let alone apply for, a job that is not posted? Your friend’s neighbor’s dad has a job opening at his company. You find out about it, and through your weak tie connections, find out about it. Not only is this weak tie connection powerful, people also trust those that their friends trust, even when the degrees of separation are more than a couple. You find out about this job and get the job because of your weak ties.
Most of us find our partners, jobs and learn about new information through weak ties. The old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” is very true. Cultivating your weak ties is important. The type of weak tie matter as well. Certain people provide bridges from one group to another. Those bridges are critical as they are what make it possible for you to be exposed to information outside of what you already have access.
I know a lot of people around the world that I have met through traveling. This has made it possible for me to find out about the best places to visit, special little spots that tourists don’t know about, and even have a local show me around. I get a lot more out of a destination that most people because of my weak ties.
Of course, my weak ties do not have to be as far afield. I have past co-workers that have introduced me to potential clients, provided me with valuable information about projects, and introduced me to some great people. I learn and interact with a variety of people that have exposed me to so much, that I can’t imagine what my life would be like without those weak ties. Take the time to cultivate weak ties and build your networks.