The 20s are finally upon us. Last time round, it was a singularly glamorous decade, at least retrospectively.
This is what Mark Granovetter's groundbreaking study of social networks established back in 1973. He called it 'The Strength of Weak Ties'.
In it, he demonstrated that the weakest, not the strongest, social ties are the most irreplaceable ones. Since then, his weak tie theory has been validated repeatedly by more recent, data-driven research.
The finding, in fact, is not as counter-intuitive as it first appears. If you surround yourself only with people, views and connections that are close to you, then you will inevitably form a clique. The problem with cliques, as Tim Harford observes in his sociocultural study Messy, is that they become blinkered: "In a clique, everyone knows everyone and all tell you the same. The more peripheral the contact, the more likely she is to tell you something you didn't know."
What we don't know, of course, is precisely the thing we need to master in order to progress and flourish. Denying ourselves access to it, avoiding weak ties, is strategic folly. This has been illustrated emphatically in politics of late. The failure of the two opposition parties in the last general election was, to some extent at least, their failure to be peripheral. Neither of their leadership teams managed to reach meaningfully beyond their electoral cores. They spoke to their strong rather than weak links. A friend of mine drove across America just prior to Trump's election victory and, a devoted Democrat, ended his trip convinced that Trump would win. The periphery between the two coastlines gave him the insight of the weak tie.
As we know from Dominic Cummings' recruitment blog, politics and communications are inextricably linked. So, with the new decade unfolding before us, I would urge adland to run towards the periphery, to nurture and cultivate the weaker links it has perhaps neglected over the past decade, particularly during those late teenage years.
We are now moving from adolescence to adulthood. Let’s act accordingly and embrace the looser ties of difference, diversity and heterogeneity, rather than the strong ties of the village and the clique. Let’s open ourselves up to the margins and the overlooked. Let’s start the 20s with a roar, not an echo.
Charles is a brand strategist who began his advertising apprenticeship at Burkitt’s, working subsequently at BBH and WCRS. In 2002 he decided to start working for himself and, along with his three partners (Rooney Carruthers, Adrian Coleman and Ian Priest), set up VCCP. Their founding client was O2, to whom they are eternally grateful. Over the last two decades, Charles has worked on and, in some cases, helped launch a diverse range of brands including O2, ING, Hiscox, easyJet, Canon, Cadbury, Domino's, Dyson, Nationwide, and Vitality.
Outside of work Charles doggedly pursues a variety of sports including cricket, tennis, football, golf, shooting and snooker, all at a consistently low standard. Charles is a Trustee for both The Change Foundation and The Fred Foundation and is co-author of a book called The Branded Gentry.