The strength of weak ties: building and maintaining the ecosystem

Your ecosystem of contacts

Collaboration was one of the implicit themes at last week’s Social Entrepreneurship Summit and as part of the summit’s kick-off participants were spurred to think about the strength of weak ties. What does this have to do with social entrepreneurialism and what is networking — beyond the sharing of tiny pieces of paper with our coordinates?

The more time one spends on the planet, the more one begins to understand that we exist within ecosystems that consist of an enormous array of relationships: some peripheral and some solid as cement. Among the social scientists studying these relationships is Ron Burt who has observed that, perhaps counter-intuitively, the most productive personal connections result from the weak ties in your network and not from those who know you best. So in the context of the summit, there was enormous latent connective potential among the 280 participants.

Upon closing, participants were asked to remember that they are both members of an ecosystem as well as part of a continuum: “We are standing on the shoulders of others.” Therefore, it’s important to recognize that individual contribution matters to the collective effort. Throughout the day I observed many exchanges of business cards among the tables, but in order for progress to be made some action needs to be taken beyond copying the coordinates into one’s Outlook.

I have heard somewhere that we are all extras in someone else’s play. With this in mind, how will you contribute to someone else’s goals, and what would you want if someone were to ask?