It’s not often that I read business books, but sometimes it’s fun to dabble in the master’s tools for a moment. Superconnect: Harnessing the Power of Networks and the Strength of Weak Links is filled with examples of the ways in which relationships make the world go round. It’s a feminist kind of wisdom, really, but applied to a very patriarchal world: international business. (The two authors, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood, made part of their fortune with an online gambling business for God’s sake.)
In any case, the thesis is pretty intuitive but there were a few interesting surprises. For example, while we all agree that strong links (family, close friends, a partner) are necessary to a healthy life, it is actually weak links (colleagues, acquaintances etc.) that are the most productive for our economic and social lives. While your college roommate may provide you with moral support when you go through a divorce, it is your college roommate’s brother who is more likely to be the one to refer you to the job you need. I’ve noticed this at work in my own life, without a doubt. Essentially, Koch and Lockwood are arguing that the most healthy and successful people are those that develop a wide diversity of weak links, while maintaining very close strong bonds.
My class analysis red flags were waving high and mighty by about the third page of this sucker. After all, who has access to this diversity of weak links? Networking remains, to my mind, one of the biggest sources of division within our society. The authors get to that eventually:
In network language, poor people are excluded from forming weak links with strangers or casual acquaintances that could help them make money. The economy from which the poor are excluded is an intricate web of weak links that arise spontaneously and easily when enterprise is established. This can happen only when people own property or other capital, and can rely upon a framework of law to make their assets work for them. Without such links, people are utterly dependent on strong links–friends, family, and the immediate community.
Interesting huh? On the one hand, this network theory shit is a total argument for diversity. I like. On the other, it reinforces why we remain so economically segregated and why the wealth gap continues to yawn wider and wider. I hate.