Fascinating Read from The Tipping Point on Relationship Strength

I’m finally muscling my way through The Tipping Point. It’s an excellent concept but I’ve had a problem getting past the first forty or so pages. Last night, though, I started reading something totally relevant to us on page 53… this is where the “80% of jobs come from networking” quote comes from. Note that the “80%” has been convoluted over the last few decades, but the concept of networking in a job search is important.  What I read, and what I share below, is “the rest of the story,” and it’s fascinating.

There is a very good example of the way Connectors function in the work of the sociologist Mark Granovetter. In his classic 1974 study Getting a Job, Granovetter looked at several hundred professional and technical 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 personal connection. Another 18.8 percent used formal means – advertisements, headhunters – and roughly 20 percent applied directly.

This much is not surprising; 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 who 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 “rarely.” People weren’t getting their jobs through their friends. They were getting them through their acquaintances.


I thought I was just going to read a little bit of the history of the “80%” (or, from the book, more like 60%) “of jobs are found through networking.” Now I have a name, and the real stats, and the date of the study. But what blew my mind was the idea that the jobs were found from acquaintences.

In JibberJobber we have a ranking system where you can say you have a one star (or two star, up to five star) relationship with your network contact. My thought has always been that you want to nurture and strengthen relationships. Doesn’t that make sense? Meet someone, they start as a one star relationship (that is, the strength of your relationship), and then you get to know them better and they become a two star, then a three, etc.

But what Malcom Gladwell writes is that Granovetter discovered that new jobs were found not (as often) from the strong relationships, but from the weak relationships!


Let’s go on… on page 54:

Why is this? Granovetter argues that it is because when it comes to finding out about new jobs – or, for that matter, new information, or new ideas – “weak ties” are always more important than strong ties. Your friends, 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 wouldn’t know?

You acquaintances, on the other hand, by definition occupy a very different world than you. They are much more likely to know something that you don’t. To capture this apparent paradox, Granovetter coined a marvelous phrase: the strength of the weak ties.

Acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.

Is your mind blown?

Did you realize that the “weak ties” in your network are actually a source of great power?

Will you look at your “weak ties” differently now?

Gladwell talks about two people who have an enormous amount of weak ties, and the power that they have enjoyed.  They are, of course, “connectors.” Being a connector, Gladwell argues, is part of their DNA… it’s who they are. It’s how they think. In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi talks about “power connectors,” who are such because of their role in society: lawyers, real estate agents, etc. They meet people all the time because of what they do.

I’m excited! I’m encouraged to find more “weak ties!” Before, I had the notion that I have a responsibility to take a “weak tie” relationship and make it a “strong tie” relationship… but Gladwell (and Granovetter) have given me permission to see this differently.

Don’t be concerned that the weak tie relationship gives you more work, but realize that getting more weak tie relationships give you more (networking) power!  The more you have, the more “worlds” you have access to.

Mind blown. Now, go out and network differently than you have before!

3 thoughts on “Fascinating Read from The Tipping Point on Relationship Strength”

  1. Holy moly Jason! Many thanks for uncovering the origin of methodology I share with my candidates every day. Loving the “weak ties” descriptor. My stories always include “don’t judge a book by its cover” because anyone may have a connection helpful to you regardless of social standing, age, role, etc. If you just hang with people just like you, you’re losing out not only on finding “weak ties” but you’re also losing out on the richness that diversity brings to life. WELL DONE!

  2. Thanks Laura… it was really cool to find that writeup and learn more about the original stats… and understand that networking doesn’t always mean “strong relationships.”

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