May 2013 | Nano Tools | Innovation
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: Adam Grant, PhD, management professor, The Wharton School. Grant has been recognized as Wharton’s top-rated professor, and is the author of the new book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.
Leverage the hidden value in your network by making new connections — and reviving old ones.
When we’re looking for new ideas, we tend to go to our strong ties: the people we know well and trust. But evidence shows that people are actually more likely to innovate and find new jobs through weak ties. Whereas strong ties tend to hold the same knowledge that we do, weak ties offer more efficient access to novel information. Yet it’s often difficult to reach out to acquaintances, as we lack the trust and shared perspective necessary to ask for advice.
Groundbreaking research highlights two powerful ways to overcome this challenge. First, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds — the trust of strong ties, coupled with the novel information from weak ties. The key is to reactivate dormant ties, the people with whom we’ve fallen out of touch for three or more years. Studies by researchers Daniel Levin, Jorge Walter, and Keith Murnighan show that it’s easier and faster to seek advice from dormant ties than weak ties, as there’s a residue of trust built up from past interactions. At the same time, dormant ties provide more novel information than strong ties, as they’ve encountered new people, ideas, and opportunities in the time since you last connected. In one study, Levin and colleagues demonstrated that leaders and managers received more valuable ideas when they reached out to dormant ties than current ties. In addition, they found that most people have a rich reservoir of dormant ties: after changing jobs, finishing school, or moving to a new region, we lose touch with hundreds of people. The more experience we develop, the broader this pool becomes, and the more useful reconnecting proves.
Second, good ideas often come from combining old ideas from different domains. Instead of reaching out to weak ties, creative sparks can fly when you introduce two of your strong ties who don’t know each other, and have distinct expertise. In a study of automotive engineers, for example, researcher David Obstfeld found that engineers were more likely to play a central role in innovation when they had a habit of introducing colleagues who might benefit from knowing each other. Brokering introductions between diverse colleagues can set in motion an exchange of ideas that leads to the creation of new products, services, and processes.
By reconnecting with old ties and making connections between existing strong ties, you can access, develop, and refine ideas that will benefit everyone involved.
Adam Grant teaches in Wharton’s Advanced Management Program, and has been named one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, Director of Innovative Learning Solutions at Wharton Executive Education. It is jointly sponsored by Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, Wharton Professor of Management Michael Useem, Director. Nano Tools Academic Director, Professor Adam Grant.
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