The strong value of weak ties

Connections

Close relationships give us pleasure, but distant ones can prove more useful in our careers.

With the "new normal," many of us face challenges like finding a new job, developing a new business model, or speeding up product development. Take for example Tami, a marketing specialist looking for her next career opportunity. One of the most important resources available for her to address these challenges are her social and professional network connections. This network includes strong and weak ties. Strong ties involve relationships with the people in one’s close circle with whom we spend more time, and are deeper and reciprocal. Weak ties involve relationships that are more superficial with people who belong to one’s more remote circles. Weak ties serve as "information transfer bridges" between different social groups and professions. What might be Tami’s best course of action: should she contact her best friends and let them know about her job search, or should she reach out to old high-school and college friends with whom she has not been in touch for a long time, and see how they can help?

What can we learn from research?

Research has found that spending money on people who are part of your strong ties network will bring you greater happiness than spending money on people who are part of your weak ties network. However, if you are looking for a job, you should consider investing time and effort connecting with your weak ties, because these are likely to be more useful than your strong ties. A study examining men in various (professional, managerial) roles who started a new job, found that only 17% of the participants had heard about the position from a strong tie, and 28% had heard about the position from a weak tie. In addition, weak ties increase the likelihood of a creative solution to a problem thanks to exposure to new information and perspectives. This is especially true, as research suggests, for employees that are more open to experiences.

A diverse network, that also includes weak ties, can be very useful within an organizational setting. A study of 41 units in a large electronics company that examined factors that can speed up new product development found that weak ties across the units helped find useful information and shortened development time, especially in environments where complexity was not high. However, strong ties were more valuable in speeding up product development in more complex environments.

With respect to networks, there are differences between men and women in the workplace, differences that can explain the small number of women in senior positions. A study in an advertising firm found that men enjoy stronger relationships with colleagues in the workplace, while women's relationships with their colleagues tend to be more transactional and less personal. This reality may be intensified in a virtual work environment where, because of the reduced visibility by senior executives, women are more likely to be excluded from the decision-making process. This, in turn, will jeopardize their promotion prospects.

Implications

  • It is more pleasant for us to spend time with people with whom we have close relationships, but it is important to remember that a network of weak ties is as important, and you should invest in growing your social and professional circles, actively initiating relationships with new people. Among other things, it turns out that Twitter is more helpful in expanding your circle of contacts than Facebook.
  • Managers working in a virtual environment - make sure you include all the employees involved in the decision-making process and not just those who are close and similar to you.
  • Expanding your social connections is very important even if you work in large organizations. Make an effort to get to know people from different departments and areas and establish relationships with them. One day you may leverage this network of weak ties to obtain access to new information or opportunities.

Still, if you do find $ 20 in the back pocket of your jeans, please remember that you will be happier if you use it to buy coffee for your best friend than to buy coffee for the nice girl or guy you met yesterday at a yoga class.

Professor Amir Grinstein studies and teaches pro-social marketing and entrepreneurship at Northeastern University in Boston and VU in Amsterdam. He writes on Twitter about behavioral research @AmirGrinstein

Yana Shechterman is an organizational consultant, executive coach, and Part time professor at Northeastern University in Boston. On Twitter @shechterman

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 9, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

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