If I had a 100F coin every time I heard somebody say they were “cleaning” their contact list or cutting off people who did not communicate with them within a certain period, I would be writing this article from my dream house in Denver, Bonamoussadi.
Maybe one day.
We all know a classmate or friend who flunked every test, repeated several classes, did not belong to any cool cliques in school, but currently has an excellent job at a major organization. News of their recent promotion, business, or scholarship makes us gasp “What! That guy?”
Sometimes we gossip about people who resent a relative because they thought this person will connect them to an opportunity or job but remained unemployed 10 CVs later.
These are examples of scenarios we analyse over long-neck cold bottles of beer when we meet up with our close-knit friends from college. The friends we vent to about bad dates and old debts, who are known by our family members, with whom we watch the same TV shows, and who may or may not know our future goals.
Without any doubt, these friends play a supportive and significant role to us as they provide good times and memories. They are our makeshift family and out of the circle, no one else matters.
We cut off everyone else and sometimes act as emissaries for memes that carry ‘I will rather have a few close friends than a million acquaintances’ and ‘quality over quantity’ messages. We cling to and protect this tribe or strong ties.
Flash news – strong ties are overrated.
With the attention paid to this urban tribe, many young people have limited themselves and their careers. While our strong ties help you survive, they do not make you thrive.
Research shows that very few people who get new jobs or opportunities accredit this brood. And this usually does not mean that they don’t wish us well.
Paradoxically, the simple reason is that you share the same information, have similar interests and professions, live in the same zip code, thus, have limited connections. You also go to the same social gatherings, forward the same messages on WhatsApp, retweet the same tweets, sometimes even share the same partners, but what do I know?
Compare this to our weak ties – the people we call acquaintances. These are the people in our 2nd tier network who may be on our contact list but we do not call often and therefore, do not know very well.
They may be former classmates we have lost touch with, co-workers we do not talk often to, or friends of friends we have been meaning to hang out with but never do, even though we don’t fail to wish them a happy birthday every year.
They are our LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers, and Instagram monitoring spirits. They feel different – but that’s the whole point!
Weak ties have access to different information and networks. They know things and people we will never know in our crews. They bring something fresh to our experience and because you would normally not have many overlapping contacts, information and opportunities travel farther. These estranged people act as bridges to areas where you most likely won’t have access.
It is not just about who and what your ties have to offer. Think about how communication varies across the different networks. With our strong ties, we probably use encoded communication – slangs, creoles, and bottom barrel grammar constructs because these are people we are comfortable with and who understand us.
Whereas communication with weak ties requires organization and reflection. Personally, when I communicate with a weak tie, I make sure the last syllable of every word gets the same attention as the preceding ones, I offload my wobbling GRE diction, and ensure that I listen to and evaluate myself as I converse.
Another area where the strength of weak ties trumps is in marketing. Using word-of-mouth marketing is common practice in various sectors. In the strong ties where every friend is friends with the same people, information is difficult to spread to outside parties (this is the reason WhatsApp supermarkets will never make successful business models).
In contrast, weak ties create crucial bridges through which information can move rapidly and widely in a network creating awareness and boosting sales.
I do not want to give the impression that being closely-knitted with family or having a clique of friends is misleading. This author has more friends than a new biracial girl in a boarding school. My message however is that, while friendship groups accept you as you are, often do no more for you than encourage you to stay the same.
There is little incentive for growth. It is, therefore, imperative that we acknowledge and grow our weak ties. Find a way to be visible online. Listen to your weak social ties and follow them. Share your knowledge and expertise to demonstrate that you are “worth knowing.” Seek out diversity. Be open to new concepts, ideas, and people. When people talk of ‘going out of the comfort zone’ this is what they mean. Nothing grows in there.
I bet leveraging weak ties is how that classmate we all know who flunked every test, wasn’t cool enough to belong to any cliques, and studied a not very relevant degree got all the life-changing opportunities that make us gasp “What! That guy?”
Magic happens out of our comfort zones.
– Sabina Nforba
Sabina Nforba is a Computer/Telecoms Engineer and a volunteer at AfriTech Hub who encourages young people to develop a passion for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Besides being an avid Twitter fanatic, Sabina owns a blog called <Scoop With Sabs> where she writes once in a while.