I recently came across a really great article by Adam Grant, Wharton Professor and Entrepreneur in Residence. It applies perfectly to every person professionally and personally.
From Adam: Last time you really needed help, who did you ask? My bet is that you went to one of your strong ties—someone you know well and truly trust. Whether you’re looking for a new job or some good advice, it makes sense to go to your closest friends, family members and colleagues. After all, those are the people you can trust to understand what you need and have your best interests at heart.
In favoring strong ties, you might be overlooking the strength of weak ties. In a classic study, sociologist Mark Granovetter showed that people were 58% more likely to get a new job through weak ties than strong ties. How could acquaintances be more helpful than good friends?
Strong ties tend to have the same information as you do
Despite their good intentions, strong ties tend to give us redundant knowledge. Our closest contacts tend to know the same people and information as we do. Weak ties travel in different circles and learn different things, so they can offer us more efficient access to novel information. Most of us miss out on this novel information, filling our networks with people whose perspectives are too similar to our own.
“Dormant ties” are your network’s hidden gems
I recently interviewed Adam Rifkin (the “Kevin Bacon” of Silicon Valley), who was named Fortune’s best networker in 2011. He told me that, years ago, when he moved to Silicon Valley in the hopes of starting his first tech company, he was seriously lacking contacts there, and he needed guidance. He remembered that five years earlier, he had exchanged a few emails with a guy in the Bay Area named Graham Spencer. Rifkin reached out to reconnect, and when they met up for coffee, Spencer offered to connect him with some venture capitalists. One of those venture capitalists funded Rifkin’s startup for $50 million.
When they first corresponded, Spencer was just a college student studying computer science. By the time they reconnected five years later, Spencer was the co-founder of a company called Excite, which he had just sold for $6.7 billion. During the time that they lost touch, he had met some extraordinary people, but several years had to pass first.
People may surprise you
When researchers asked executives to rank 10 dormant ties in order from most to least valuable, they failed miserably. The dormant tie they expected to be the least helpful was every bit as useful as the top-ranked tie. When you haven’t seen people in four or five years, you can’t predict what novel ideas and networks they’ll be able to share.
Pay it forward
It’s easiest to reconnect with dormant ties if you’ve been generous in the past. If you have a history of self-serving behavior, your old contacts are likely to lock the door to their networks and throw away the key. If you’ve given to them without strings attached, on the other hand, they’ll greet you with open arms.
Make it a habit
After learning about these ideas, I added a repeating reminder to my calendar: reconnect with at least one dormant tie each month. With social media, it’s easier than ever to track them down and get back in touch. Instead of asking them for help, I’ve been searching for ways to help them—sometimes by sharing knowledge, in other cases, by making introductions.
In my experience, rekindling old connections has become a source of meaning and happiness. Our dormant ties can help us revitalize our favorite features of our past selves, while opening doors to new future selves.
I hope you enjoyed this article and the light bulb is on. Let's go find our dormant, untapped ties.