November 27, 2023

Thankful for Weak Ties

Our newsletter always comes out in the final week of the month, which usually means I can use the November issue to talk about all the things I’m thankful for in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. But Thanksgiving was last week! I certainly hope you all enjoyed your holiday and had a chance to share it with family and friends. As my family gathered around our table, joined by some of our friends, I was able to reflect on the importance of the strong ties of family as we make our way through this world. Family and close friends pick us up when we are down, celebrate our successes, and cheer us on as we seek to make an impact. In Greater Peoria, however, we should actually be thankful for our weak ties. (You’ll have to read on to see what I mean.)

I was recently at a conference where one of the presenters referenced a 2022 study titled “The Real Strength of Weak Ties.” Briefly, a team of researchers from Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and LinkedIn studied employment searches and found that it wasn’t so much “who you knew well” that got people jobs but “who the people you kinda know.” In other words, people are rarely hired by their inner circle of family, friends, and close colleagues. However, having a wider circle of connections seems to really pay off. In the words of one of the researchers, “People with whom you have weaker ties are more likely to have information or connections that are useful and relevant.” I see this at play all the time. My first “real job” came as the result of a “person I knew” who knew someone who was looking for a program manager. My first job at the City of Peoria came from a tip a neighbor (and now a very good friend) gave me about a job opening. And while I certainly had some strong ties that led me to my job at GPEDC, I also had a bunch of “weak ties” that made it a reality. As someone whose trade in currency is knowing people, I’m often called on by people – some I barely know – to help share their resume or “keep my ears open.” The power of weak ties.

So why do I think this is an asset worth mentioning when it comes to Greater Peoria? Well, if I were a researcher, I might think about expanding this study to see the other impacts of “weak ties.” How does it impact business? Supplier and customer relationships? Community decision-making? I’ve often heralded Greater Peoria as having “two degrees of separation.” We don’t all know each other, but it isn’t hard to find someone who knows whatever person you are looking to connect with. In really small communities, the strong ties can be stifling. You might be related to half of the town and went to high school with the other half. Everyone knows everything about you – the good and the bad. In bigger cities, everyone is anonymous. There are certainly both strong and weak ties in those communities, but it is also easy to get lost or hit a dead end.  But Peoria is interconnected and, more importantly, accessible. There is power in those relationships. We all know each other just well enough to want to see each other succeed, even if we are competitors. 

We’ve leveraged those weak ties before to make things happen. When Alexandre Chequim of DigiFarmz (a Brazilian AgTech startup) was first considering Peoria for his new home, we worked our network to roll out the red carpet. We called on our contacts to help set up meetings with farmers and other agricultural companies. I asked Suzanne Miller of Jim Maloof Realtor to give Alexandre and his family a tour of the local housing market. Rick Swan at the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce arranged for a free pass to EastSide Center so that Alexandre’s son could play basketball during their stay. Brian Ray of PNC secured some tickets to a Bradley basketball game and then helped with establishing a banking relationship. This friendliness, helpfulness, and accessibility were impressive. Alexandre tells me that he felt that he was right at home almost immediately. That is the strength of weak ties. I wouldn’t want it any other way.