April 2018 Innovate

Weak Ties in the Swamp: A Strong Approach to Networking

Written By: Ernesto Mandowsky, Lead Analyst at Salido

Recently, I wrote about how the concept of the Weak Tie Theory can be applied to identify opportunities for change and growth — specifically, opportunities that align with our interests and goals. Today, I take a dive into the application of this idea and what it means during our day-to-day. With an entire magazine issue dedicated to networking, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to expand on how everyone in the City of Gainesville can use the Weak Tie Theory to grow in their personal and professional lives while giving back to the community. The networks within this city can enable everyone who is willing to connect the dots between their current passions and future aspirations. All we have to do is figure out how to form those weak ties.

For those who have not heard of the theory, here is a quick summary (or check out the January edition of BIGG)1 : the types of relationships in social networks can be classified into one of two types. Strong ties are relationships among people that are formed by deep emotional connections. These are usually parents, siblings, children, spouses and closest friends. Weak ties, in contrast, are people who connect serendipitously over a mutual interest while working in companies, networking at events, attending conferences or in other moments throughout our day-to-day. The theory proposes that opportunities for change exist with the weak ties more often than with the strong ties in our lives. The research, which was published a half-century ago, has more relevance now than ever — especially with advances in communication technology and the rise of communities filled with young professionals.

Over the years, I have reinterpreted this theory to extend the idea of a weak tie beyond a person. In my opinion, weak ties are sources of inspiration that unlock new ideas and direction in our lives. They include people, but they can also be books, videos, conferences, lectures, courses and even our projects at work. I first began to reimagine the theory when I was introduced to one of Gainesville’s leaders, John Spence.

Years ago, John lectured on the principles of success, leadership and growth at a fireside chat for an Engineering Innovation course I took while at the University of Florida. One of the key lessons he shared was to develop mentors. Mentorship is a simple, yet valuable, relationship: Mentees are responsible for driving the relationship by asking the mentor questions and treating the answers given to them as a set of assignments — be it to work in a job, read a set of books or complete a research report. Once completed, the mentee develops a curiosity about a new topic and asks the mentor a new set of questions driven by what was discovered. The iterative process repeats itself. Mentors have a chance of paying it forward to the mentees who they help grow and develop. Mentees begin to develop a body of knowledge and experiences that further strengthen their stories.

My personal application of the Weak Tie Theory decentralizes the approach to the mentor-mentee relationship and enables us to take advantage of multiple vantage points on a specific topic. I think of it like having multiple mentors at the same time. The approach stays the same:

  1. Identify a specific goal or topic that you want to learn about.
  2. Share your mission, curiosity and/or passion with others.
  3. Receive advice or direction on what to do.
  4. Do it.
  5. Repeat the process with newfound inspiration.


So, what does my interpretation of weak ties have to do with this?

What if we don’t have mentors who specialize in what we want to do? At the time, my mission was to create restaurant technology. I didn’t really have anyone in my network who had that experience. Every person’s combination of interests brings unique gifts to the table, but realistically, it’s extremely hard to find people with experience in the exact same field as your long-term goal. My reinterpretation of the Weak Tie Theory relies on the ability to use books, online courses and conferences to learn a little bit about your interest. We need to build weak ties across all of the knowledge tidbits that we pull from each experience. As we continue to learn from each experience, we are able to identify the next couple of steps in our journey. When sharing our stories with others, the passion is exemplified, and they are able to recommend ways they can help you. The process iterates, and the cycle repeats itself.

What does this mean for you and the City of Gainesville?

College towns and growing cities have the highest potential for weak tie development. There are hundreds of student groups, research teams, companies to work in and organizations to volunteer with — not to mention the thousands of recreational opportunities where people get together. It’s simply a matter of channeling our focus and aligning it with

our vision.

While I was a student at the University of Florida and a resident in Gainesville, I was constantly sharing my passions with complete strangers. After expressing my love for food, systems engineering, Hispanic culture and entrepreneurship, I was directed to organizations that I shared those areas with. By getting involved and taking leadership roles in all of these groups, I was able to work with a group of people who helped each other by sharing opportunities for job interviews and introducing new ideas. By aligning my interests with these “hives,” as I like to call them, I was exposed to a myriad of valuable opportunities.

As a resident of Gainesville, one has access to a multitude of hives that already share the rallying Gator pride. For us, it’s a matter of getting out there in the community, joining a new hive, and giving back to the City of Gainesville with our love, our skills and our time. Over time, you will see that positive things will come your way

Below, I’ve laid out some of my favorite hives throughout the City of Gainesville. These are the places where I interacted with new friends, got inspired by their stories and learned about new things that I could incorporate into my life.

Make: Use your hands and heart to create a product with a group of tinkerers.

HackerHouse – Live in a home with 15 other entrepreneurs for three months to build a prototype.

Gainesville Hackerspace – Use various machines to sketch and 3-D print your next product. Take some classes, too!

3 Day Startup or Startup Weekend – Join a team for a 48-hour competition to find a customer, sell a vision and pitch a business to a panel of successful judges.

Eat: Because innovation doesn’t happen when you’re hungry… Union Street Farmers Market, Pascal’s Coffeehouse, Alachua County Farmers’ Market and Vine Sourdough Bakery

Learn:  Blend new ideas from classes in boxing, coding, fine arts, or chemistry by taking continuing education courses from the University of Florida or Santa Fe College. Listen to lectures from makers, bakers, builders and more from the leaders at the Innovation Hub at the University of Florida.

Every time I visit Gainesville, I am amazed and inspired by the continuous development across the city. The constant investments made in real estate, hospitality, infrastructure, and the university ecosystem will continue to attract new talent and ventures to the city. The area’s insurmountable innovations will have roots with the weak ties that are developed by the Gainesville of tomorrow. And, although I’ve discussed the application of the Weak Tie Theory in the Swamp, the same approach can be successful in any college town or city.

Share your dreams and passions with Gainesville. Whether a short-term student, a young professional beginning a career here, or a Gainesville veteran, there are tons of opportunities to network, grow and develop in the region.

ERNESTO MANDOWSKY is the Lead Analyst at SALIDO, a restaurant technology company that is building integrated software to help restaurants drive pro tability and enable a livable wage for employees. During college, Ernesto ran two food startups, developed a Guest Management tool for a nightclub and was an active member of the University of Florida. After graduation, he joined Deloitte Consulting’s Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice. The knowledge gained as a management consultant- along with the intersection of Food and Technology-led him to SALIDO, where he is leading the company’s e orts to build a best-practices technology platform for the hospitality industry.

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