Articulate January 2018

Building Strength from Weakness: An Introduction to the Weak Tie Theory


Written By: Ernesto Mandowsky

Eight years ago, a mentor and friend gave me a book that fundamentally shifted my understanding of the connection between social relationships and innovation. “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson discusses patterns and trends that are common in entrepreneurial discovery throughout the course of history. Curious by one of the recurring themes in the book, I began to research how the “Weak Tie Theory” can help us innovate” in our daily lives.    

Over the years, after starting two businesses, connecting with new people and companies, creating my own jobs and evolving my long-term goals, I have realized that evangelizing the application of the weak tie theory in our daily lives is my life’s mission. By providing my interpretation, and application of the weak tie theory, I hope to introduce a different way of connecting the dots and enabling a new approach for creating change in your life. 

About 50 years ago, a thesis titled “The Strength of Weak Ties” was published by a researcher at Johns Hopkins University. It describes a phenomenon observed within social networks, made up of nodes and arcs. People are the nodes connected by arcs, that symbolize the relationships between them. Known as ‘ties’ in the thesis, these relationships between people are divided into two types: ‘Strong Ties’ and ‘Weak Ties.’  

‘Strong Ties’ are made up of the people who we have close, emotional bonds with and include parents, siblings, best friends and spouses.

‘Weak Ties’ are people that we develop objective, mutually beneficial relationships with. These short-term relationships spawn during certain points in our lives. These people could be teachers, acquaintances, industry colleagues, bosses or direct reports. According to the theory, there are more opportunities for creating change when interacting with the ‘weak ties’ within our social networks, than with the ‘strong ties.’ 

As humans, we prioritize maintaining our ‘strong ties.’ However, these ties are primarily driven by emotion and potentially conflict with interests and beliefs that we have developed over time. What happens when we mature through our teen and young-adult years and realize that our interests have completely changed? What about when you realize you don’t want to be a doctor, a lawyer or whatever you thought you wanted to be? How can you use your strong ties to further your transformation and growth?  

While it is extremely important to maintain emotional support systems driven by our ‘strong ties,’ we should also be constantly developing our ‘weak tie’ network to find new jobs, meet new people and get exposed to new ideas. These people work in different professions, industries and/or countries. Although these people are not intended to be a part of your emotional support groups, they do still enhance your personal evolution. They give you opportunities to develop skills through college courses, projects at work or even community service activities. This is where true opportunities for growth and change live. How do we apply the ‘Weak Tie and Strong Tie’ in today’s interconnected world?  

Technology has dramatically increased our abilities to connect, to experience and to evolve. Although the formal theory is just under 50 years old, the application is timeless. As described in Johnson’s book, people have been interacting with ‘weak ties’ to innovate in their personal and professional lives throughout history.   

Today, we have the power to connect on Facebook groups, network at various Meetups, and discover projects on Instagram, Kickstarter and Pinterest. Topics are infinite – food waste, nanotechnology in the energy industry or social injustice due to the rise of urban development. Regardless of the topic, each area is connected by hundreds of thousands of people and ideas – ‘weak ties.’ We have the ability, now more than ever, to build these connections.  

Before college, I dreamt of opening and operating six restaurants. While in school, I studied Industrial and Systems Engineering, joined a fraternity, increased the corporate presence within a national engineering club and interned at a few Fortune 500 companies. Throughout these experiences, I focused my attention on meeting diverse people, understanding new ideas and connecting them to my culinary passions.  

After graduating, I continued to connect the weak ties to my dream of operating restaurants. As I continued to develop new skills, internalize new insights and completed various projects, I began to realize that my long-term goals were evolving as well. Today, my desire has shifted from operating restaurants to creating educational products to teach others how to use technology to enable restaurants to survive. 

Developing more data-driven restaurateurs will help food establishments turn a profit, keep farmers in business and enable the food industry to grow in a sustainable fashion. By teaching people how to use technology and analyze data, I can enable others to create new opportunities for themselves to evolve and to grow.  

Looking back, the ‘Weak Tie Theory’ has helped me find meaning in my evolution over the years. The keys used in building, nurturing and developing connections will be discussed in my next article. 

In the meantime, take five minutes to reflect on the weak ties in your life- the people you’ve met, the jobs you’ve had, the books you’ve read and the skills you have developed. How can you channel your weakness into a strength?

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ERNESTO MANDOWSKY is the Lead Analyst at SALIDO, a restaurant technology company that is building integrated software to help restaurants drive profitability and enable a livable wage for employees. During college, Ernesto ran two food startups, developed a Guest Management tool for a nightclub and was an active member of the University of Florida. After graduation, he joined Deloitte Consulting’s Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice. The knowledge gained as a management consultant- along with the intersection of Food and Technology-led him to SALIDO, where he is leading the company’s efforts to build a best-practices technology platform for the hospitality industry.

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