The Strength of Weak Ties

In class, “The strength of weak ties” was mentioned in brief.  Recently I had the opportunity to read “The Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell and he talked about this very point.  He discussed a study by Mark Granovetter and said, “In his classic 1974 study Getting a Job, Granovetter looked at several hundred professional and techinal workers from the Boston suburb of Newton, interviewing them in some detail on their employment history.  He found that 56 percent of those he talked to found their job through a personal connection…This much is not suprising; the best way to get in the door is through a personal contact. But, curiously, Granovetter found that of those personal connections, the majority were “weak ties.”  Of those whose used a contact to find a job, only 16.7 percent saw that contact “often”–as they would if the contact were a good friend–and 55.6 percent saw their contact only “occasionally.” Twenty eight percent saw their contact “rarely.” People weren’t getting their jobs through their friends.  They were getting them through their acquaintances.

Why is this? Granovetter argues that it is becasue when it comes to finding out about new jobs–or, for that matter, new information, or new ideas–“weak ties” are always more important that strong ties.  Your friend, after all, occupy the same world that you do. They might work with you, or live near you, and go to the same churches, schools or parties. How much, then, would they know that you wouldnt know?  Your aquantences, on the other hand, by definition occupy a very different world than you. They are much more likely to know something that you dont.  To capture this apparant paradox, Granovetter coined a marvelous phrase: the strength of weak ties.  Aquantences, in short , represent a source of social power, and the more aquantices you have, the more powerful you are…We rely on them to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don’t belong.”

At times, it is our weak ties that can give us our greatest source of social power.