As if readers of this blogsite didn’t need more evidence of the power of online networks to lead companies, careers or personal interests in new, greatly expanded directions. Three researchers recently took a hard look at what happens when executives re-energize their networks in a new article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review, and report a compound effect.

The researchers urged executives to renew ties that had been dormant for three years or longer, and came to an interesting conclusion that there’s an incredible amount of value in your dormant ties — in fact, they may be “as valuable — and often even more valuable — than current ties,” and that “insights from dormant ties tend to be more novel, and more efficient to get, than those from current ties.” Plus, thanks to social computing resources, dormant ties can be revived in an instant — no need for tracking down people through common acquaintances, forwarded mail, or phone calls.

For a number of years, I have been pondering the impact of digital workplaces and systems on the serendipity effect. For example, when two old acquaintances run into each other on the street, and one happens to be pondering a business problem to which the other has an answer. I have spoken to some corporate planner who try to design their workplaces to encourage serendipity through building design and layout, promoting valuable chance encounters.

For a while, as the Internet and Web became the fabric of business, it seemed the remoteness of digital work was washing away any of these opportunities for chance encounters that keep things interesting.  But if the MIT researchers’ findings are correct, social networks compensate by keeping old contacts alive and vibrant.

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