The Strength Of Weak Ties

In addition to the types of people in your network, you need to consider the extent to which you know people in your network.

In Getting A Job, author and sociologist Mark Granovetter found that 56% of people found jobs through personal contacts. Not surprising. After all, it is not what you know, but who you know.”

The surprise was that the personal contacts used to obtain these jobs were not family or friends – “close ties”. Rather, most could be classified as “weak ties”. 55.6% reported that they saw their “job-producing” contact only occasionally and 27.8% saw their contact only rarely.

So, when it comes to job hunting – or finding clients – weak ties tend to be more important than strong ties.

Why? Because close ties tend to occupy the same world as you do. A spouse or close friend may share many of the same network contacts as you and is likely to only refer or connect you to people you already know.

Mere acquaintances, or “weak ties”, on the other hand, are much more likely to know people that you do not. While you might share a small overlap in networks, most of the people they know are completely unknown to you.

The take-away? Do NOT rely solely on close ties to fortify your network. A better means is to associate with people you don’t know well – the person from work that you know casually from meetings or trips on the elevator; the person you see every week at church but, beyond a name, you know little else about.

From a networking perspective, the most valuable people aren’t those closest to you. In fact, the more people you know who aren’t close to you, the stronger your position becomes.

In summary, the quality of your relationships matters and one measure of quality is the strength or weakness of the tie. Having lunch with your long-time best buddy can be fun but does little to build your network. If you want to build your network, have lunch with someone you know … but not that well.

The “Kevin Bacon” Game

Kevin Bacon is a popular American actor. The idea behind the Kevin Bacon game is to link any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon through the movies they’ve been in.

For example: Mary Pickford was in “Screen Snapshots” with Clark Gable, who was in “Combat America” with Tony Romano who, 35 years later, was in “Starting Over” with Kevin Bacon. Three Steps.

In the 1990s, computer scientist Brett Tjaden determined that Kevin Bacon was on average 2.8312 steps from any actor or actress, which placed him 668th of all actors and actresses. Then he determined the overall connectivity of a host of other actors and actresses. Among the top 50 were names such as Martin Sheen, Robert Mitchum, Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Rod Steiger, and Shelly Winters.

Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz further attempted to determine why actor Burgess Meredith, who appeared in 114 films, ranked in the top 20 when Gary Cooper, with a similar number of films, ranked 878th, and John Wayne, with 183 films to his credit, only ranked 160th.

They concluded that while Gary Cooper and John Wayne appeared in a significantly greater number of movies, the movies were of a similar type. In fact, over 50% of John Wayne’s movies were westerns.

Burgess Meredith, on the other hand, appeared in fewer but a greater variety of films: 42 dramas, 22 comedies, 8 adventures, as well as action, documentary, science fiction, horror, western, thrillers, crime, children, romance, mysteries, and even a musical and one animated film.

What can you take away from the Kevin Bacon game? If your network looks like Burgess Meredith’s career, with lots of variety and diversity, you’re probably doing great! But if your network resembles John Wayne’s career – lots of connections but from relatively few sources – you need to diversify.

To explore the real potential of your network, you need to live in lots of worlds – work, church, PTA, youth sports, trade association outside your profession, etc.