The Strength of Big Bits

Need a job, or want to find a better job?  The economy may be recovering, but for too many people this question remains all too pertinent.

One of the most cited contemporary sociologists, Mark Granovetter, has found that people more often get jobs through personal contacts than through formal channels, like job ads, employment agencies, or interviews sponsored by professional associations.

Furthermore, as Granovetter explains in his book, Getting a Job (1995), contrary to what one might believe, among one’s personal contacts, “strong ties” of friends and family are often less helpful in getting a job than one’s “weak ties,” that is, people we know less well, like acquaintances from work or school, or friends of friends.

InformationInformation – about where the job openings are, how to apply, who to contact, how to distinguish oneself, etc. – matters greatly.  However, our strong ties are less likely to know information we don’t know because they tend to be more like us (the adage “birds of a feather flock together” is far truer than “opposites attract”).  Our weak ties, however, are more likely to know information we don’t know – information that could lead to a job – precisely because they are less like us.

Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties” in the title of an earlier and now classic sociological article (Granovetter 1973).

There are two important connections here between Granovetter’s incisive findings and Learning Life’s approach to learning.

First, we share Granovetter’s – and many other scholars’ – conviction that information matters.  Getting the right information can mean the difference between getting and losing a job, between success and failure, even life and death (example: safety and health information).

Second, printing big bits – small, useful pieces of information that can have big, beneficial consequences, like information about how to find work, fund a college education, or recognize the signs of a stroke – on the surfaces of everyday life where more people can see them turns public places into information environments that can be as or even more useful than weak ties, especially for those with fewer weak ties.

The future is not just about weak ties and social media.  It’s also about big bits and information environments.

If life is learning, let learning live.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life