Sunday, May 09, 2021

The Power of Weak Ties

Picture of Obama from his 2004 keynote speech at the DNC

Barack Obama met John Kerry for the first time in April 2004. Three months later, Kerry selected Obama to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama went on to deliver a great speech that announced him nationally, eventually resulting in a two-term presidency. Obama’s big break came from a weak tie, not someone he had known forever and was best buddies with.

We know relationships are important success drivers. There is a lot of material about the importance of friends, mentors, and sponsors. These are very important people who make and shape us. We know that already, so this isn’t about them.

This is about a small but influential group that is mostly in our blind spot: our weak ties. Weak ties are people we’re cordial with but don’t connect with often. Where we occupy mostly the same world as our friends, our weak ties usually sit on different wavelengths.

According to Mark Granovetter’s work on the topic, weak ties are more important than strong ties for finding out new information and opportunities. When managed correctly, they can alert you to opportunities outside your radar.

What I’ve tried to do since learning about this is simple: have lunch with a ‘weak tie’ occasionally and gain a new perspective on the world. It is incredible how beneficial this has been and how many new things I’ve learnt and done as a result.

I totally recommend that you go on and invite an acquaintance to lunch tomorrow. You just might be surprised what you find out.


(1) I first wrote the above in November 2019. (Hence the recommendation to invite an acquaintance to lunch). One more thing I've been thinking of lately is how to increase the number of weak ties I have... I'll let you know how I get on.

(2) Just to clarifyyyyyy… I am not undermining the role of strong ties. We (and Obama) wouldn’t be who we are without the strong ties in our lives. Weak ties are not more important than strong ties overall. The theory is that they are more important for finding out new information and opportunities.


What I'm currently reading: Project Hail Mary, another novel by Andy Weir, author of The Martian and Artemis. Andy Weir is great at science fiction and this is another amazing book. I also really enjoyed this long-form article on Netflix's quest to end scrolling. As someone with maximizer tendencies, I tend to spend a lot of time deciding what to watch on Netflix/Prime Video/Disney+/Apple TV. Thanks to my Data Science course at b-school, I understand what goes on behind the hood in these recommender systems, and I'm looking forward to testing the new Play Something feature over the next few weeks.

What I'm currently listening to: Why have sperm counts more than halved in the past 40 years? from The Guardian. This was a little scary and Dr. Swan gets into a lot of detail about how chemicals in plastics are causing our fertility to decline and what we can do about it.


Cheers to the coming week!


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