As I was writing this week, a friend sent me a text. She was just called on to do a teambuilding event for her company with 3 hours' notice. We had worked together doing team development courses 15 years ago and since then she has moved to the West Coast, so we don't get to see each other very often anymore.
We traded a couple of texts back and forth, and then I called her. We spent 20 minutes on the phone as I helped her work through what she could do without a dedicated space or any equipment readily available. Problem solved, we chatted for a minute about when we might be able to connect, and then she went to go solve her problem.
I don't mention this story to show how great a guy I am, but rather to show the power of reconnection. Researchers from Rutgers, George Washington and Northwestern Business Schools found that old ties that we have left on the wayside are an amazing resource. Dan Levin, Jorge Walter and Keith Murnighan asked executive MBA students to reach out to formerly close colleagues who they didn't interact with anymore. They found that these dormant ties had the advantages of both strong and weak ties.
Weak ties were first described by Mark Granovetter. These are connections that don't occur regularly, and are consequently less intense in both emotional and information exchange. A positive consequence of this is that weak ties are the main avenue for new information and resources to travel across social networks. Networks tend to be clusters more than perfect webs of connections. We interact with the same people regularly, and while that repeated interaction creates comfort, trust and a shared experience, it can result in an echo chamber. Weak ties are people who are loosely associated with a particular group and act as a link between groups.
The research on reconnecting with dormant ties showed that these old colleagues still shared a sense of trust and perspective of being in a shared cluster, even though years had passed. As an extra benefit, they also provided new information and connections like a weak tie because of all of their experiences since last being a strong tie.
So reach out to that old classmate or colleague to reconnect. I know I often feel embarrassed in that attempt, but the research shows that great benefits can be found in rekindling old connections.