Caffeinating Your “What’s Next?” Exploration

When grappling with your retirement planning, some of us tackle the issue the way we would any robust challenge – with lots of caffeine. A post on Inc. magazine’s blog proposed that any time you’re in the process of making a major life decision, you should go on 50 coffees – informational meetings with friends, acquaintances, and former colleagues – to provide yourself with the opportunity to review your plans with a diverse audience (www.inc.com/peter-thomson/50-cups-of-coffee.html).

My initial reaction was, “Wow, 50 coffees? Who has that kind of time? 10 might be more realistic.” But at the essence of the article is a brilliant idea for anyone planning their exit from the top — folks grappling with the post-career “what’s next?” question. It’s a natural way to hash out retirement hopes and ideas, and make some interesting new connections, which might be especially important while exploring the possibility of a post-career bridge job or launching an encore career.

This article reminded me of some research I read a few years back about weak versus strong ties. Back in the 1970’s, sociologist Mark Granovetter documented that, particularly in the case of a job search, acquaintances (weak ties) are often more helpful than good friends and family (strong ties). The idea is that the overlap between two friends’ networks varies directly in relationship to the strength of their ties to one another – the stronger the ties, the more overlap. People with whom we have strong ties probably have a network of friendships that looks pretty similar to ours, or, at least, have a great deal of overlap. While acquaintances, people with whom we have relatively weak ties, probably have networks that are very much different than ours.

Back to the 50 cups of coffee idea. Because you and your good friends know many of the same people, you are all probably aware of the same opportunities, and probably share many of the same perspectives. This may not be as helpful to you as the perspective of acquaintances, people who could potentially challenge your assumptions about what options are available to you.

If you are looking for a post-career “bridge job” opportunity, there’s good reason to believe acquaintances might be helpful to your job search. According to Granovetter’s research, professional, technical, and managerial workers were 60% more likely to connect to new jobs through weak ties than through strong ones. Moreover, the research also shows that managers and professionals who secured jobs through weak ties have higher incomes, presumably because they had been able to connect to better opportunities outside of their own network.

That isn’t to suggest that our friends and family aren’t useful when going through a major life transition. Strong ties are an important source of validation, moral support and direct assistance during times of emergencies or distress.

But to really strengthen your “what’s next” exploration, fight the impulse to just speak with friends and family. Instead, look through your list of acquaintances – they’ll be the ones who can extend your reach to new opportunities, and potentially offer some critical wake-up calls to your entire post-retirement job hunt.

REFERENCES

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). “The strength of weak ties.” American Journal of Sociology, 1360-1380.
Granovetter, M. (1983). “The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited.” Sociological Theory1(1), 201-233.