The Strength of Weak Ties: How to Build a Powerful Network

By Adam Mendler

When I was in business school, a few of my friends gave me the nickname “Lois Weisberg” because I reminded them of the protagonist in the chapter of The Tipping Point that explores the power of connectors. While I would have preferred comparisons to Brad Pitt, I was flattered nonetheless.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell examines the genesis of trends and identifies three rules of epidemics: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor and The Power of Context. The first of these is derived from Pareto’s 80/20 principle, a popular concept that claims that in any given situation, approximately 80 percent of the work is completed by 20 percent of the participants. To further consolidate his notion, Gladwell separates individuals into three groups, the first of which he defines as “connectors” who have a vast array of social ties and are renowned for making introductions. Connectors tend to possess an ingrained ability to unite people and have connections from various backgrounds who comprise a social network of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Able to understand the needs of others, build relationships quickly and make a lasting impression, connectors are invaluable in the business world. Connectors continually add value to others, and in turn are able to leverage their relationships professionally because the many people they are helping are likely inclined to want to return the favor. I have observed this firsthand with every business I have ever been involved with. Further, because of the network I have been able to develop, if I need someone for something -- a service provider, a contractor, a new employee, an advisor -- I can turn to my network and either know someone or know someone who knows someone.

While connecting comes naturally to some of us, others work to become connectors, following best practices rather than a gut feeling. You can enhance your prowess as a connector by working to better understand what you can offer others, prioritizing winning the hearts and minds of those you connect with by establishing genuine relationships and focusing on continually adding value. Ask prospective connections questions such as, “How can I help you?” and “What are your pain points?” to better understand their needs and determine what you can do within your power to assist. In turn, you will have the opportunity to enhance your own value while increasing the likelihood of forming a long-lasting relationship. Ultimately, people like connecting with people they like who possess attributes they admire. Transparency and trustworthiness are important qualities in developing relationships, and in turn, establishing a powerful network.

It is difficult to build a powerful network without broadening your horizons. Connecting with people similar to you is a more comfortable and an easier way to cultivate new relationships, but doing so exclusively will inhibit your growth and your network. Not only is there tremendous value in having a diverse network, but I am evangelical in my belief in the strength of weak of ties: You never know who people know and you can never know too many good people. The more good people you know, the more valuable you are as a connector, as you can provide more (and more valuable) connections to those around you.

Between maintaining more active relationships, reconnecting with people you haven’t spoken to for a while, meeting new people who reach out to you, and actively working to cultivate new strategic relationships, connecting can be very time-intensive. With that in mind, it is essential to find the fine line between making time for others and avoiding too much of your time getting absorbed by those who you clearly lack synergies with on a professional or personal level. For weaker ties, turn lunches or dinners into coffees or calls. When you truly do not have the time, politely decline invitations to meetings and events. Accept every ask at your own peril.

While there is tremendous upside to becoming a connector, the process of proactively cultivating new relationships, understanding how to add value to people you meet, and delivering on it through thoughtful and impactful introductions to others in your network is clearly not for everyone. My business partner disdains going to events, taking meetings without a clear imminent objective, and diverting time and energy otherwise spent on operations, strategy or technology management. If you are not going to be the next Lois Weisberg, make sure you befriend, hire and partner with the connectors around you. We may not remind our friends of Brad Pitt, but we are good people to know.

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Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.

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