What is the weak ties theory of entrepreneurship?
The weak ties theory was put forth by Mark Granovetter in 1969 as a theory that explains why some people seem to access to more and better opportunities than others. He conducted a study of around 200 people who had just gotten new jobs and asked them how they got their jobs and most of them, around 75% had got them from acquaintances. The rate was even higher for the higher income earners in his sample.
The core idea is that weak ties are more important than strong ties in terms of providing you with novel and actionable information. Close ties refer to individuals that we interact with on a nearly constant basis, such as roommates, nuclear family members and a few good friends. Close ties provide very little new information because most of the individuals within the clique of a close tie network share many of the same relations.
Weak ties refer to social connections to individuals who are not closely related. Rather, weak ties may be part of disparate networks. These weak ties form bridges of information between networks that might otherwise never interact directly. Individuals that have many weak ties to disparate networks will encounter a greater variety of information and gain greater insights about the needs and capabilities of various networks they are connected to. This placement in the middle creates an opportunity for the entrepreneur to act to match those with needs to those with solutions and to potentially take a cut for facilitating the transaction. For instance, if I tell you about a great job opportunity that I found out about because of my network, then you might buy me lunch to thank me. Similarly, if I can connect a supplier with a client I might ask for a finder’s fee or commission. Many organizations actively manage networks to control the flow of information within them.
Some regard the weak ties theory as potentially leading to unethical practice recommendations because it seems to advocate for the active creation of weak ties at the expense of strong ties. There are also some implications about how a good set of weak ties are obtained that may have some “divide and conquer” or Machiavellian characteristics.