Looking for new insights to boost your products or services?
Look beyond the people in your “inner circle” network.
Social networks play a central role in creativity and innovation. Being socially connected allows us to get hold of useful information and knowledge. Most of us, however, tend to stick to those we have rather close connections with. It can be someone you went to school with, your colleagues or the friends you’ve kept in touch with over the years. These connections are normally strong, social ties that makes it easier to achieve mutual understanding and trusting one another. Yet these strong ties seldom promote fresh thinking and novel solutions – as the knowledge base tend to be quite similar.
This is where the strength of weak ties comes in, which is also the title of the world’s most cited sociology journal article by Mark Granovetter. Here, the seemingly less important weak ties with less similarities and less frequent interaction can in fact “connect individuals who has diverse perspectives, outlooks, interests, and experiences” (Granovetter 1973, p. 1364).
This is where the magic happens to promote innovative solutions.
“Fresh inputs are more likely to blossom on the fringe of the network”
– G. Cattani and S. Ferriani (2008, p. 838)
As human beings, we naturally feel safer (or better) with others we have things in common with. As Festinger famously acknowledged in 1957, seeking out those who are similar to us is a natural social comparison act. In trying to reach new heights, (e.g. in projects, business development or improving current products and services) this feeling of security should be set aside to also tap into people in the periphery of your social network. I will especially like to point out that people within a related field might even turn out less useful than someone with competences in a completely different field. Truly innovative solutions often have better chances where there is a “cross-fertilization” of seemingly unconnected fields.
So get out there and speak to someone in another department than your own, meet up with an old acquaintance, attend breakfast seminars with other topics and attend networking events where you avoid those with a similar background. Setting your inner circle aside for a while, or introducing them to someone “in the fringes”, might be the smartest strategic move for the new year to come.
- Cattani, G., and Ferriani, S. (2008). A Core/Periphery Perspective on Individual Creative Performance: Social Networks and Cinematic Achievements in the Hollywood Film Industry. Organization Science, 19 (6), p. 824-844.
- Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Granovetter, M. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), p. 1360 – 1380.