It’s not what you know, but who you (slightly) know

People PicIn August last year I wrote a post about Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (How little things can make a big difference).  In it he talks about how trends get started and gain momentum, and how at some point they reach a critical mass – a ‘tipping point’.  Word of mouth is a big factor, and Gladwell identifies a particular type of person – a Connector – who plays a crucial role in the WOM process. Connectors seem to know everyone.  They’re social animals and build rapport very quickly with people, thus accumulating large numbers of acquaintances.

The author also refers to a sociological test (I’ve called it the Connectedness Test) which crudely measures how good you are at making casual acquaintances.  I’ve attached it again here (see below) together with some instructions for completing the test.

But why are casual acquaintances (these so-called ‘weak ties’) so valuable?  Reading Tipping Point again, I came across an insight I’d missed, hence the re-blog!

Gladwell refers to a classic study from the 70’s (Getting a Job) by sociologist Mark Granovetter, where the academic analysed the employment history of several hundred professional and technical workers from a suburb of Boston, Mass.  Unsurprisingly, 56% of those interviewed said they’d found their job through a personal connection – the old adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”.  But more oddly, Granovetter discovered that the majority of those personal contacts were only casual acquaintances – those weak ties again.  As Gladwell summarises, “People weren’t getting their jobs through their friends. They were getting them through their acquaintances.”

When you think about this, it makes sense.  It’s likely that the people you know well mix in the same circles as you do, and know the same people and stuff that you already know.  But those weak ties occupy a different world to you and are therefore more likely to know of people and opportunities that wouldn’t normally appear on your radar.

This has important implications for anyone seeking new opportunities in business or employment.  It’s the reason networking can (and does) work so well – and of course in the modern era of on-line social media, nurturing weak ties is easier than ever.  But it also underlines the importance of physically getting out there, of talking to strangers (especially those ‘connectors’), of improving your communication/interpersonal skills and just being curious about the world around you.

I do hope you take the test.  I’m not going to reveal the results that Gladwell found (although you can, and should, read the book!).  Instead, take the test and do it honestly!  Contact me and we’ll chat about the results and the implications for your networking strategy.


  • Download the list of names by following the link below.
  • These names are taken at random from the South Manchester telephone directory.
  • Give yourself a point for each surname you ‘know’.
  • In other words, if you know 6 Smiths, that’s 6 points.
  • The definition of ‘know’ is that if you passed them in the street, you’d at least know each other by name.
  • DON’T CHEAT! Resist the temptation to go through your old diaries and count a person who was in your class at school. If you don’t have a relationship of some kind with them NOW, ignore those. You want an accurate rating.


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