Adventures #46: Resurfacing our dormant ties

A lot of us feel pinned up against a wall watching this new dance unfold. While some people are out there moving smoothly in their careers and companies, the rest of us are uncertain which way to look, let alone which way to move.

London Business School professor Herminia Ibarra is well-known for her work exploring career changes and networks. One of the concepts she explores are the strong and weak ties we hold in our personal and professional lives.

Our strong ties are the ones that have sustained. We’ve carried them with us into the tumultuous tide of the past few months. Many of our strong ties have fortified and become even stronger.

The weak ties? Most of those have dissolved. Sure, we can pep them up with a bunch of energisers and stimulants, but in times like this it’s difficult to organically strengthen them rep by rep.

There are also new ties. In some ways the pandemic has enabled more of these to be made. The challenge is that new ties start out weak by default. They need dedicated time, effort and energy to strengthen, and too often it can feel like we just don’t have those reserves to draw upon - especially now.

So what to do?

Disturbing the dormant

In a recent blog post, Ibarra suggests moving away from the traditional wisdom of focusing on amplifying strong and weak ties, and instead looking at the hidden space between: the dormant ties. She classifies these as relationships that were once close, but with no contact in the past 3 years.

Ibarra references a study where 200 executives were asked to reconnect with such people to get advice that might help them on an important work project. The executives reported that what they received from the dormant ties was more valuable and novel than from their strong ties.

There’s huge value in the dormant ties, and for almost of us these dormant ties are plentiful. They can also bring much discomfort.

As time winds on, the fidelity of our dormant ties warps and fades. They get buried deeper, and with enough time and pressure, begin to fossilize: merging into the earth of our personal history, where only a trace of their remnants remain. We can’t really identify them as we could before, and so we forget.

Of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of people I knew from the ages of 5-25, I can count on one hand the number of people I’m still in regular contact with. From ages 25-32 it’s probably less than 10.

Hardly any of these ties snapped; they just picked up dust and went dormant.

But then they got forgotten. Some started to fossilize.

When it comes to resurfacing these ties, the barriers to restoration can feel overwhelming: so much effort; so much energy. It’s much easier not to disturb the dormant. And the longer it goes, the harder it gets: worrying about what they think if you get in touch; avoiding sounding like an idiot or an opportunist; over-thinking which ‘version’ of yourself to put out there.

It’s like being at the school dance; pinned to the sides of the room, unsure and uncertain of how to be. Waiting for someone else to go first. Until the dance is over, and we too become a remnant out of view.

The other kind of confidence game

Last week I wrote a post on LinkedIn that got a bunch of people liking and tagging. Many of them were dormant ties. Along with the dopamine hit, good memories flowed. Yet despite the ostensible engagement, these ties are still dormant.

A bit like the other kids stuck to the sides of the room at the school dance, they can give me a look of encouragement or a half-smile, but it’s up to me to actually commit.

I’m reminded of what Derek Sivers describes in his TED talk on how to start a movement. Rather than ‘leading’ in the traditional sense, what’s most important is to find the courage to show others how to follow.

Or, to take a David Mamet bit and flip it on its head:

“It’s called a confidence game.
Why? Because you give me your confidence?
No. Because I give you mine.”

Resurfacing the dormant ties aren’t about hard grind, or careful styling of our virtual persona. They’re about memories, shared histories, and a just a little bit of courage.

Going back to the school dance, I’m plucking up the courage. It’s not too late.

I’m getting off that rickety old gym bench and onto the parquet floor - actively inviting others to join. It’s not always comfortable, but the music’s playing and I don’t want to become a fossil of regret.

And if, like me, you can’t dance - just nod your head.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’d love to hear what’s got your attention right now. Just hit reply.

Howard


Career Fuel

The Age of We Need Each Other: This past few weeks I’ve been really feeling the resistance around creative output. This Charles Eisenstein article is a remedy: pulling apart success fantasies, and instead finding a place as “a kind of receiving antenna for information that a certain segment of humanity is asking for”. A big shout out to Josh for putting this under my nose - just when I needed it most.
Speaking of noses…

Dom the Somm: The tale of a renowned MC and rapper spreading his wings into a dual career. Taste, curation, and hyping it up are most definitely transferrable skills. Lots of us are going to need to think about what our skills truly are, and how they can translate, reconfigure, and merge into new lanes. Luckily, there’s a startup for that.

How to work with a brand strategist: A quick bit from me on LinkedIn. Thanks algorithm, and thanks Shanley for the push

Permissionless identities: a new bit from my pals Tom and Brian on narratives, labels and modular jobs


Entrepreneurial Endeavours

Welcome to your bland new world: Is this article cynical, irritable, and cantankerous? Yes. Is it a fair skewering? Yup. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time, and also contains the Mamet gem I mentioned up top (in its original context)


Learning < > Doing

The future of fandoms: I’ve gone through this deck by Zoe Scaman a few times now. There’s plenty to chew on when it comes to building engagement between different depths of fandom, plus helping forge (strong) ties between seemingly disparate tribes.

Google AI plays football: Manchester City got thumped 5-2 by Leicester City last week, with their $400m defensive line getting a pasting in the press as well as on the pitch. City have just announced a Kaggle competition with Google to explore how AI agents may perform better than their carefully-coiffured centre backs. Comedy is all about the timing.

Opportunity for Adventure: Bringing Kaggle’s “behind the scenes” approach into other environments. Oh, and offering Kaggle teams more prize money than what City midfielder Kevin DeBruyne pockets every 3 hours.

Entertainment

How Hollywood agents are going to survive the pandemic: Agents are in a tricky spot right now. While performance work has been the biggest piece of the pie for a while, the tail-risk that is the pandemic has wiped out the vast majority of their business, and not being in the quarterback position a manager occupies now leaves them exposed. Amid ongoing rounds of layoffs, several agents have (unsurprisingly) moved into management. As this continues, expect a bunch of new businesses looking to differentiate by occupying the space somewhere between regular management companies and startup studios.

Opportunity for Adventure: Providing specialist services to the new breed of talent development companies.

The entertainment value curve: The TL;DR here is Entertainment Value = Production Value + Social Value. The cases in point here are TikTok (wriggling out of a ban) and Quibi (wriggling out of blasting through more than $1bn), but this model applies into plenty of adjacent areas too.

Also:

  • Receiptify: strangely simple, but aren’t most of the best ones? Get a receipt of the songs you’ve listened to most on Spotify. Oh, and no refunds, no store credit.

  • Techno Club: A virtual nightclub, with DJs streaming their sets? Sounds old hat, but this take is interesting. Techno Club has entry prices like an actual nightclub, the music is fully licensed, and it rethinks a system that was already teetering. The rather large elephant in the room is competing against a torrent of free content - of which a growing amount has premium production involved.


Jukebox: Leaving Laurel

A week ago I was scrambling for new music. Now, there’s new stuff from Sufjan Stevens, Sylvan Esso (including a music video created within Nintendo’s Animal Crossing), and a Nicolas Jaar album I had no idea existed.

However, this month’s Jukebox goes a little further towards the edges.

I’ve been thumping out a lot of electronic music this month. Amongst other things, it’s done wonders for my morning run: the 12 minute carcass-dragging plod around the East Village has magically transformed into 35 mins of Forrest Gump focus. Maybe it’s New York humidity dropping, but I’m putting this progress strictly down to 4/4 techno grooves and jungle mixtapes.

This month’s selection comes via one of my dormant electronic music ties.

When I was an agent, I worked quite a bit with the team at Anjuna Beats and Involved Management. The label shared this live set by Leaving Laurel on Soundcloud (note: a good reminder about those dormant ties staying visible), and I was hooked.


Footnotes

Other things I’ve been up to this month:

  • Moving in. After 3 weeks there’s still no shower curtain in place, but we’ve invested into a pro-level coffee grinder. Priorities.

  • Writing again. Just one horribly bad blog post so far, but I’m back baby!

  • Pondering producing a podcast, and appearing on a couple of podcasts. More news on those next time.