The importance of weak ties

Firstly, I’m not referring to weak ties as in #TiedayFriday, practiced by two of my favourite weak ties: Lawrie Phipps and Marcus Elliott. Their tie game is very strong indeed. What I’m actually referring to is the idea that the connections we have with our acquaintances or professional contacts, which are ‘weaker’ than the connections we have with our close friends and family, can actually benefit us more in a professional context and be more useful to us. These weaker ties are actually able to bond together groups of people who share a stronger connection, therefore putting you in touch with people who may have useful knowledge and information that you otherwise would never have come across. This theory is based on research by Sociologist Mark Granovetter, who argues that networks of weak ties are better for transmitting ideas and innovation:

“…whatever is to be diffused can reach a larger number of people, and traverse greater social distance…when passed through weak ties rather than strong.” (Granovetter, 1973)

Granovetter’s theory can be handily summed up in this article from leadershipcloseup.com and in the video below.

I’ve had discussions with Andrew Preater about the weak ties theory, as he has also been reflecting on this and is particularly interested in the way that Granovetter’s theory supports the “spread and uptake of new ideas that challenge the status quo or are otherwise ‘risky’ and discomforting”. It has been invaluable for me, on a professional level, to be able to draw on a network of ‘weak ties’ to challenge my world-view and gain perspective from people working in different sectors and different areas of the country. My network has presented me with many opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across if I only shared information and ideas with those closest to me – in both a work and personal context.

After reflecting upon my last blog post, I realised that I hadn’t explicitly mentioned the people who have helped me along my way in a professional context over the last 6 months, and beyond. The people I have solicited professional advice from via Twitter, texts and emails have been invaluable resources and I am so grateful for the time and energy they have given me. I keep in touch with people I’ve known since I was a library assistant right through to people I’ve met at conferences within the last year, with differing degrees of regularity. I actually owe my current job to the strength of one of my weak ties, as a friend of my former colleague sent her the job advert and she passed it onto me! Proof that the theory works!

One of the things I currently do as part of my self-care routine is to practice gratitude at the end of every day. I make a note of three things I am grateful for that day. It’s a great exercise for helping you live ‘in the moment’ and get perspective on your life. I am conscious that saying thank you in our professional lives is something that often gets overlooked, especially when we’re busy, tired and stressed. I wanted to extend my gratitude to some of the ‘weak ties’ who have helped me over the years. I am eternally grateful and I hope you know that I am willing to give my time and energy to help you in the ways you have helped me. This list is by no means exhaustive, and is likely to change and adapt over the years depending on our contexts, but the people mentioned below are those in my network that I’ve been in touch with over the last 6 months or so.

        • The aforementioned Lawrie Phipps and Marcus Elliott for the banter and the ties (as well as the occasional pearls of wisdom).
        • Kerry Pinny for being one of the most awesome women in EdTech and someone to share professional experiences with.
        • Andrew Preater for encouraging critical perspectives and always recommending good reading.
        • Liz Jolly for the fantastic wisdom and guidance over the years and encouraging me to see the importance of reflective practice.
        • Simon Barron for being there through numerous job changes and offering support and advice, as well as a funny podcast.
        • Sarah Maule for excellent support and art school library advice when I was applying for and starting my new job.
        • Siobhan Britton for more art school library advice and a reminder to always question things and think critically.
        • Donna Lanclos for introducing me to anthropology when I had no idea it could be relevant to libraries.
        • Natasha Chowdory for being my buddy since library school and always having a perspective from outside the HE/FE Libraries ‘bubble’.
        • Jackie Oliver for offering support at various intervals in the last decade…from being a library assistant at Teesside Uni until now.
        • Matt Cornock for always having a thoughtful take on all things EdTech.
        • Phil Vincent for being a supportive manager and encouraging me to push myself into a new role that seemed terrifying.

I could go on, but you get the point. The networks that stem from the people listed above (assisted by social media) keep me from getting complacent and stale. My network of ‘weak ties’ has been a source of information and knowledge, but also support and advice during the times when I’ve wondered what ‘the point’ of something is. Personally, I class regular engagement with these networks a form of lifelong learning and professional development that is just as important as attending training days or conferences. It’s the thing I love most about working in libraries!

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