The Power of Weak Ties

Right now, I’m reading Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and he writes a few sentences about the power of weak ties. He talks about how people dubbed ‘connectors’ are important in tipping trends or epidemics, and part of their influence comes from the network that they have, which consists of many weak ties. In the book, Gladwell references sociologist Mark Granovetter, whose classic 1974 study surveyed 282 Boston workers. His findings revealed that 56% of them got their job through a personal connection. What is surprising is that most of these connections weren’t a close family friend or an uncle – they were weak ties. Only 16.7% of them saw the contact often. 55.67% saw them occasionally, and 28% saw them rarely.

A weak tie, also commonly called an acquaintance, can be an old high school friend you haven’t seen in a while, or people you met once at a party or an event but haven’t talked to in months. They may be a Facebook friend you don’t know exceptionally well, or somebody you met through a friend of a friend.  

Granovetter argues that weak ties are frankly better than strong ties when it comes to finding out new information or as demonstrated in his study, landing a new job.

"Your friends, after all, occupy the same world that you do. They might work with you, or live near you, and go to the same churches or parties. How much, then, would they know that you don’t know?”

Weak ties are the ones who can feed you new information and help you meet new people. They can open new doors for you, and help you step into different environments and different worlds.

A funny story: I’m working for a start-up in Toronto this summer and this opportunity was discovered very much through a weak tie. I had a connection in high school who is very well connected in my hometown, and I met him in my grade 12 year when I was leading a local community club. Sometime at the start of first-year, this person connected me to another person to set up a chat. Earlier this year, I had reached out to this rather new connection to ask if she knew of any opportunities for this summer, and she had introduced me to somebody new, who was in the same activator network that she was. It was this last connection (who I had never met before in person, and who I did not know at all) that spotted this opportunity on her LinkedIn feed one day and passed it along. She connected me with one of the people doing hiring for the start-up, and that was how I found out about the role.

After reading Gladwell and Granovetter’s thoughts, and further reflecting on what my experiences with weak ties have been thus far, I want to share one thing: Never stop meeting people. Never turn down opportunities to get connected with or meet new people. We are so lucky to go to a university with close to 25,000 other students, which is a possible 25,000 different hellos. You never know what weak ties you could form, and how they might come into play later down the road.

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article for Her Campus that talked about connecting the dots in life. This was inspired by a quote from Steve Jobs’s commencement speech at Stanford in 2005:

"Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

I see weak ties as being another dot we can form in life, and more specifically, within the universe that is our network. You never know how they, along with your future path, may end up connecting and for this reason alone, it is worth it to always try and say that hello.So get out there and remain open to the possibility of it all, as that should be motivation enough.