sowt-image-temple-uThe movement of people around social causes, buying behavior and general trends has always been “of the moment” in both academic and popular press. From the seminal work forty years ago of Everett Rogers and Frank Bass, up to today’s Malcolm Gladwell, Richard Florida, James Surowiecki and the UK’s Mark Earls, we always want to understanding the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of group activity.

Agreeing in principal with each of their respective points of view, the one element that I see in common and critical to it all making sense is the work of Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties.” For me it’s the granddaddy of all theories regarding social networks. It is the “ties that bind”; the theoretical glue.

According to Granovetter, “our acquaintances (weak ties) are less likely to be socially involved with one another than are our close friends (strong ties).” Makes sense, no big deal, right? But the beauty of the theory is where Granovetter goes with the relationship within these “low and high density” social networks.

The theory goes that I will have a collection of close friends, most of whom are in touch with one another, a densely knit clump of social structure. Moreover, I will have a collection of acquaintances, few of whom know one another. Each of these acquaintances, however, is likely to have close friends in his own right and therefore to be enmeshed in a closely knit clump of social structure, but one different from mine. The weak tie between me and my acquaintance, therefore, becomes not merely a trivial acquaintance tie but rather a crucial bridge between the two densely knit clumps of close friends.

To the extent this assertion is correct, these clumps would not, in fact, be connected to one another at all were it not for the existence of weak ties.

This theory plays into the diffusion of information and overall trend innovation in that, “individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in education, politics, healthcare, and general advancement of quality of life.” Heavy stuff!

So be kind to all, and even more so to those you only give a friendly nod to on the train or in the supermarket, for they are potentially more an indicator of your future well-being than you realize.