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Summary:

Weak isn’t a desirable characteristic for bodyguards or cocktails, but when it comes to social ties, weak is good, according to a recent study by Emergent Research. It explains why weak social ties are valuable and how coworking can help professionals cultivate them.

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Weak is generally not a desirable characteristic – not in bodyguards, not in cocktails and generally not in networking. Why would you want a weak tie to a potential collaborator or client when you can have a strong one? A thoughtful recent post for DeskMag by Emergent Research’s Steve King and Carolyn Ockels explains both why weak social ties are desirable and why coworking is effective at providing them.

Having close associates is a great thing, of course, but King and Ockels explain that those we know less well offer different but also important benefits:

Weak ties generally connect people who move in different social or business circles. Because of this, they tend to have different information sets – things you don’t already know, or aren’t aware of, or new ways of looking at things.

It’s not that strong ties (close friends, business associates, etc.) aren’t good at providing information. They are. But because they are strong ties, you are likely to already know much of what your regular social network knows. You are also likely to share similar points of view and approach things in similar ways.

Or in other words, by cultivating weak ties you expose yourself to novel ideas and information. Can coworking help you get more? Emergent recently interviewed nearly 100 members of U.S. coworking spaces to find out. They concluded that, “coworking members tend to see an increase in the size and usefulness of their weak tie business networks.”

Why is this? The full post offers a lengthy explanation and is well work a read in full, but basically coworking encourages the development of profitable weak ties by providing opportunities to socialize more broadly, enabling members to locate and tap their weak ties when desired, and deputizing a community manager to nurture members’ relationships.

Of course, all of this is fancy way of saying that meeting new people broadens your horizons and teaches you things – and coworking helps you meet people who aren’t friends of friends of colleagues of colleagues (and thus more likely to be similar to you). It’s hardly earth shattering news, but nonetheless it’s easy to forget the importance of not sinking into a social rut and helpful to be reminded of what you’re missing out on when you do so.

Are you guilty of getting complacent about branching out more widely with your social network?

Image courtesy of Flickr user The Shane H.

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  1. Creative Density Thursday, March 29, 2012

    This is an unexpected and true observation about coworking spaces. As coworking communities get larger it will be important to make sure people know each and at the very least establish ‘weak ties.’ As a community manager we must then focus on maker those weak ties stronger over time.

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