A while ago I came across The Strength of Weak Ties, an article written by Mark Granovetter some 40 years ago. After the article had been refused in the sixties by the American Sociological Review it was eventually published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1973. That was the tipping point, as Granovetters’s theory became one of the most influential of its time.
When it comes to finding new ways and new ideas, the theory claims that weak ties (i.e. acquaintances) are much more valuable than strong ties (i.e. close friends). An acquaintance is much more likely to come up with new and valuable information than a close friend. This is because close friends use the same information as you do. The weak tie bridges between social networks (of strong ties) and accounts therefore much more for innovation and breakthroughs.
So if you’re serious about innovation then it’s time to ask yourself how you use your weak ties.
- Do you use them at all?
- And if so, what do you ask them?
- And what is the quality of the information you get back from them? (This last question is usually directly related to the quality of the information you provide them with in the first place).
How to weaken your network
Frans Johansson, in the Medici Effect, explains that you can create an intersection of weak ties thereby propelling innovation. One prerequisite is to organise a space where a big variety of different minds meet regularly. He draws the parallel with what influential The Medici family did for Middle Age Florence. They brought numerous scholars, artists, craftsmen into the city and nurtured the exchange of ideas thereby initiating many revolutionary innovations. It propelled Europe into the Renaissance.
And at the Creative World Forum, Keith Sawyer put a similar notion forward under the name of collaborative web. He shows that innovative ideas originate and are being developed over time within a web of connected people. Many fail to make it a real success until someone at some stage finds the key. But what characterises these persons is that they are all loosely connected to one and other.
Nurture your weak ties in 2012!
So I hope your weak ties will bring you lot’s of change and innovation in the new year!