Weak ties are valuable to have - they will share information with us that we may not have otherwise discovered, answer simple questions, and expose us to new things that we never knew existed - but it is still pretty random, especially as we collect thousands of 'friends' online.
We cannot live without strong ties - it is how we create and transfer value.
However, I am intrigued by connections somewhere in the middle - the latent strong ties, the strong ties of those with whom we have strong ties, & the connections that would be much closer if circumstances were different.
In Connected, Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler explain the surprising power of friends-of-friends to influence complex behaviors like obesity and smoking. Personally, I have been blown away by the value I've realized through latent strong ties - people that I once worked with, friends I used to live close to, family friends who I don't see as much as I once did.... people for whom our relationship has gone into hibernation mode. When circumstances do bring us back together and provide a reason for us to re-engage, the relationship is as good as it ever was or better.
I believe in the concept behind Dunbar's number. I can't really keep track of more than ~150 people in any amount of detail. But what's interesting to me is that it is 150 people at any one time. Because I've held a variety of jobs in different markets and I've lived in many different places, I have a large number of latent strong relationships. What I've found surprising is that with those relationships I've left well, I've also left goodwill. When circumstances and context brings us together again, the relationship springs to life and is productive very quickly.
On an individual level, this is quite interesting but I also believe that this is why communities are so powerful for organizations. Communities sit at the sweet spot between strong & weak ties - big enough to allow for growth and innovation but not so big that people are lost and unsure of the social/political dynamic which can inhibit deep participation. Communities maintain relationships between the episodes of rich collaboration and latency and accelerate the ability to execute when new issues and opportunities arise. We often don't value the middle path because we see it as a partial solution and not necessarily as exciting or interesting as the extremes, but it is where long term sustainable value lies.
The questions I have are this: How many latent relationships can a person have and how could we better understand the 'Dunbar's number' of an organization?