Weak Ties

As 2018 arrived, I spent some time thinking about weak ties and the pretty profound impact they’ve had on my life. Weak ties aren’t close friends. They aren’t colleagues or family. They’re loose connections who might share an interest or mutual friend group, but aren’t people you are tight with or know well. Interested in more on weak ties? If so, there are a couple links on the bottom of this post for you to read more about them.

What prompted this reflection was that I was lucky enough to get to spend an amazing 72 hours over the New Year on Oahu, staying with and getting toured around by people I had never met. While that might sound weird, it isn’t. Kind of. My wife met Ben Mountz at the Apple Distinguished Educator program in Miami in 2015. They hung out some, prepped for short talks they had to give, and got along well. Turns out Ben and his wife Jess were talking about moving to Hawaii.

Well, fast forward a couple years. Ben and Jess have moved to Oahu. We were headed to Maui but wanted to visit other islands at some point. Victoria and Ben chatted, we invited ourselves for New Years, and got to hang out with some amazing local tour guides – and educators – on Oahu for the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018.

I had never met either Ben or Jess. We had something in common – education – and some mutual friends, but had never hung out.

Ben and Jess were weak ties. They clearly aren’t weak ties anymore, but before hanging out for a few days? Yes.

And that weak tie connection? Well, I got to see a huge chunk of Oahu, eat some great food, chat about education, and hang out with Jess and Ben (and their dogs!).

And all that was pretty awesome, actually. But it made me think about the impact that weak ties have had on my life.

My job as a secondary vice principal? I happened upon Grant Frend, a secondary principal, through the design thinking and education chat – the #dtk12chat – about 18 months ago. Grant was excited to see someone interested in the connection between DT and education. A weak tie.

We got to chatting. He invited me to come by and check out his school. We kept in contact, and when I was applying for administrative positions in districts around where I live – including in Grant’s district – I reached out to him for a hand with the application. I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t have the job I have now were it not for Grant. Is he a weak tie today? Not at all – I now consider him a friend and a mentor. But Grant was a weak tie who helped me get a job in a new part of the world for me.

My family – married, with a kid on the way? My wife was a weak tie, someone who I followed on Twitter because she was an educator and was a part of my buddy Sam Patterson’s old #patue chat. We met briefly when she headed to the Bay Area for a #cuerockstar event. We kept in touch, coplanned a conference presentation with my favorite crazy (but the good kind of crazy) Southern California educator John Stevens, and here we are 4.5 years later.

Oahu NS sunset
Jess and Victoria checking out a sunset on the North Shore of Oahu

That’s where I ended up as I was thinking about weak ties and three great days on Oahu: so much of what I’m doing today, both personally and professionally, is because of weak ties. Friends who knew people and connected me to them, or people that shared a common interest with me and reached out: weak ties. But also weak ties that led to amazing personal and professional opportunities. And weak ties that subsequently became strong ties.

It turns out that 72 hours in Oahu was a great time to prompt this reflection.

***

Interested in more on this weak ties thing? There’s a really good article about the importance of weak ties from TechCrunch here. It gets a bit into the weeds when talking about retention of people when hiring through weak ties, but the big ideas are there, Worth a read. And if you’re interested, the originator who pointed to the importance of weak ties was Mark Granovetter, who wrote this paper in 1973 (!!!).

5 thoughts on “Weak Ties”

  1. Hi, Karl — If you define “weak” as not a lot of face-to-face IRL contact, I suppose you and Victoria count as weak links to me. However, meeting you both plus Alice, Nancy, John, Moss, Kate, Ed, Jen, etc. at a RockStar Camp in 2014 TRANSFORMED my professional life. It’s been fantastic keeping up with everyone’s life changes via social media and the occasional F2F edcamp or conference. Keep on keeping on! Continued health and happiness as you and Victoria grow your family! ❤️🌴🎊

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    1. Hi Theresa! You’ve got me thinking about how to define weak ties more accurately – maybe I should have read more of Granovetter’s article… I wonder if there is some preset affinity screening that connected educators have? Or if maybe people we know mainly through online forums are more than weak ties, even if we haven’t spent much time with them face to face? Something to keep pondering on for me -thanks! And a happy 2018 to you 🙂

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    2. Teresa,

      I would classify myself as a “weak” tie in your network. We have met in person a couple times, talked online a few times, but I don’t get invites to dinner, emails about something cool happening, or a text checking in on me and my family. Not that I /need/ those things, but that would merit what I would consider a “strong” tie. In reality, we need the weak ties to keep us from becoming stagnant. You are the creative teacher that knits and has a creative personality and that’s someone I need in my life, so I appreciate that. Weak ties are just as, if not more, important than the strong ones!

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  2. Karl,

    I’ll gladly be the crazy friend any time you need it. As for the murkiness of whether our tie is “weak” or “strong”, it doesn’t really matter as long as we continue to lean on those ties and use them to push each other. You have always been the person who will challenge an idea, push the thinking of a hypothesis, and respectfully debate, so whatever tie you can be to someone in your network is an advantage to them /and/ you.

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    1. Sentence two kinda nails it on the head – ultimately, the relative strength of the tie doesn’t mean a whole lot. The fact that the tie is there and that it can be relied upon to push learning and growth is what matters.

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