How Your Distant Friends Can Often Help You the Most

You need to maintain a network that’s not only deep but also broad. 

Typically when we think about a network we divide it into strong ties and weak ties.  The strong ties are the people that you are close to and you know well and you have a lot of trust with.  The weak ties are more of your acquaintances. 


There’s some wonderful work by Mark Granovetter and his colleagues at Stanford showing that most people tend to go to their strong ties when they really need help - when they’re looking for advice or a new job.  But actually the weak ties tend to give more valuable information.  So you might be almost twice as likely to get a new job through a weak tie than a strong tie.  And that’s because the strong ties tend to provide redundant information.  They often know the same information and the same people that you do.  

The weak ties, on the other hand, travel in different circles, they discover different opportunities and they can typically get you more quickly to ideas and possibilities that you weren’t aware of.  And yet, we can’t survive just on weak ties.  We need strong ties that we really trust to be able to open up, to bounce ideas back and forth, to really feel like we’re in close and meaningful relationships. 

And so I think that it’s really important to keep a balance of strong and weak ties.  One of the things that I think is most effective when we study givers is they actually are willing to extend their help often to both groups.  They don’t just help the strong ties. When somebody reaches out and they feel like, “Yeah, I can help and it won’t cost me a lot." So often they will do it.  And I think that’s a great step toward making sure that you maintain a network that’s not only deep but also broad. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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