The neglected value

From “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success” by Adam Grant

Dormant ties offer the access to novel information to novel information that weak ties afford, but without the discomfort. As Levin and colleagues explain, “reconnecting a dormant relationship is not like starting a relationship from scratch. When people reconnect, they still have feelings of trust.” An executive divulged that “I feel comfortable…I didn’t need to guess what his intentions were…there was a mutual trust that we built years ago that made our conversation today smoother.” Reactivating a dormant tie actually required a shorter conversation, since there was already some common ground. The executives didn’t need to invest in building a relationship from the start with their dormant ties, as they would with weak ties.

Levin and colleagues asked another group of more than one hundred executives to identify ten dormant ties and rank them in order of the likely value they would provide. The executives then reactivated all ten dormant ties and rated the value of the conversations. All ten dormant ties provided high value, and there were no differences by rank: the executives got just as much value from their tenth choice as from their first choice. When we need new information, we may run out of weak ties quickly, but we have a large pool of dormant ties that prove to be helpful. And the older we get, the more dormant ties we have, and the more valuable they become. Levin and colleagues found that people in their forties and fifties received more value from reactivating dormant ties than people in their thirties, who in turn benefited more than people in their twenties. The executive who groaned about reconnecting admitted that it “has been eye-opening for me…it has shown me how much potential I have in my Rolodex.”

Dormant ties are the neglected value in our networks, and givers have a distinctive edge over takers and matchers in unlocking this value.