In the world of old-school thinking it is said that Facebook friends are superficial. They don’t see you face to face enough and as such they don’t have much relevance in your life. Furthermore, such digital friends may even harm your relationships with your physical friends because they take up your time without taking up space next to you. Ditto for Twitter and LinkedIn where they say “relationships matter” but with 65 million members, they could be wrong. It is said that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. But does that mean the connections of your connections are really your connections?
Research from the world of social science says there’s a certain strength to weak ties that are very useful in problem solving. Your close friends are more likely to be like you. They may be people you went to high school or college with. They may be coworkers. They may be the neighbors in your cul-de-sac or the other parents on your kid’s soccer team. And while that’s good for a Friday night beer and brat grill out, it can isolate and insulate you from distant, creative ideas. The weak ties of friends of your friends can be a bridge to more creative thinkers when trying to be more innovative. They have less overlap with your knowledge base.
While the social science research on this topic goes back a few decades, the thinking is being revived in Andrew McAfee’s book, “Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges.” After researching “Emergent social software platforms,” which is intellectual speak for social networking, McAfee was infected with the idea that managers of all types should embrace Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn among others because it brings in a wide world of weaker ties that have the potential to strengthen their innovative base. Conversely, a lack of weak ties will lead to “fragmentation,” and “incoherence.” Everybody “friend” now.
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