(Excerpted with permission from Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone.)
It has become part of our accepted wisdom that six degrees is all that separates us from anyone else in the world. How can that be? Because some of those degrees (people) know many, many more people than the rest of us.
[Is your professional presence up to par?]
Call them super-connectors. We all know at least one person like this individual, who seems to know everybody and who everybody seems to know. You’ll find a disproportionate amount of super-connectors as headhunters, lobbyists, fundraisers, politicians, journalists, and public relations specialists, because such positions require these folks’ innate abilities. I am going to argue that such people should be the cornerstones to any flourishing network.
What Michael Jordan was to the basketball court, or Tiger Woods is to golf, these people can be to your network. So who are they, really, and how can you get them to become prized members of your circle of associates and friends?
In his bestselling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell cites a classic 1974 study by sociologist Mark Granovetter that surveyed how a group of men in Newton, Massachusetts, found their current job. The study, appropriately titled “Getting a Job,” has become a seminal work in its field, and its findings have been confirmed over and over again.
Granovetter discovered that 56 percent of those surveyed found their current job through a personal connection. Only 19 percent used what we consider traditional job-searching routes, like newspaper job listings and executive recruiters. Roughly 10 percent applied directly to an employer and obtained the job.
My point? Personal contacts are the key to opening doors—not such a revolutionary idea. What is surprising, however, is that of those personal connections that reaped dividends for those in the study, only 17 percent saw their personal contact often—as much as they would if they were good friends—and 55 percent saw their contact only occasionally. And get this, 28 percent barely met with their contact at all.
In other words, it’s not necessarily strong contacts, like family and close friends, that prove the most powerful; to the contrary, often the most important people in our network are those who are acquaintances.
As a result of the study, Granovetter immortalized the phrase “the strength of weak ties” by showing persuasively that when it comes to finding out about new jobs—or, for that matter, new information or new ideas—“weak ties” are generally more important than those you consider strong. Why is that? Think about it. Many of your closest friends and contacts go to the same parties, generally do the same work, and exist in roughly the same world as you do. That’s why they seldom know information that you don’t already know.
Your weak ties, on the other hand, generally occupy a very different world than you do. They’re hanging out with different people, often in different worlds, with access to a whole inventory of knowledge and information unavailable to you and your close friends.