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  • Writer's pictureKara Maddox

The Power of Weak Ties in the Age of Digital Branding – the KJMdigital Story

I decided no, I wasn’t going to call her a third time to force something I knew nothing about.

The story of KJMdigital starts with a closed door – with the word 'no.' The one word your brain somehow instinctively starts to hate by age two - no one really likes the word. It represents an obstacle, it crushes plans, it breaks hearts. Luckily this 'no' led to a team of rockstar branding experts and the birth of something new - KJMdigital - all with the help of a little piece of magic, something called Weak Ties Theory.

Photo by Bart Christiaanse on Unsplash

Weak Ties Theory is a concept that kept popping up in my coursework. It says our acquaintances, the folks we don’t really talk to much or see too often are actually more beneficial when it comes to business.

Think about it - when you’re talking to your close friends and family, much of the communication is implied. We use simple, restricted codes wherein a good bit of what’s communicated is implicit and even taken for granted. You know your friends and family well – you know just a slight change in voice can mean a dictionary of things. This familiarity can, at times, make us lazy.

Photo by The Roaming Platypus on Unsplash

On the other hand, when communicating through weak ties to the people who don’t really know us that well, we need more explicit, elaborated codes of meaning. When we elaborate, we have more room for creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and idea expansion - the perfect environment to create a truly innovative idea. Plus, through the numbers alone, your weak ties connect you to way more people compared to your close friends simply because there are many more of them.

And if you get the right weak ties, your connections grow exponentially.

As many Hopkins grad students know, a big part of our final coursework requires us to work with real-life clients. Naturally, I wanted to help the people that helped me first: my current employer, a community college in Georgia, and the students they serve.

The project would help realign their avenues of communication, help identify bottlenecks, dead ends and silos. I knew there was a big problem in the communication structure having worked at the college for nearly nine years. Four separate silos are causing resources to seemingly vanish. There’s little to no communication from the folks at the top, and this is leading to a bubbling mess of chaos.

I was instructed to reach out to Alumni Affairs, an easy pass-off to a department with even less direction. I had met the woman in charge at the tail end of my meeting with the college execs, so I thought she would call me back after my second voicemail message – and email.

She didn’t.

I decided I wouldn’t call again. Why force something that just didn't feel right? It was right before Halloween, fall semester had already started, and I needed to move quickly, so I switched gears and let the cards fall where they would.

Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

As a bookworm, a true believer in story and the power of fate, I enjoy looking back and identifying these defining moments. Deciding one day to visit the University of Georgia on my college hunt – and then actually going there, alone – (no one had ever attended from my Chicago high school, and that was a shock. I had graduated with just under 900 students) - applying to that one college 700 miles from home that was a defining moment.

We see these moments easiest looking back, so that’s how I know Halloween of 2017 was also a defining moment – it’s what kicked off a long, grueling few months of working my tail off for a group of MBA students at the University of Chicago. It was a time where I stepped completely outside my comfort zone, pulled up my big-girl pants and jumped in headfirst. The stakes were raised – there was no going back.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

We had just arrived at trivia – a common Tuesday night activity for the local medical students and residents (my husband was a 2nd year resident at the time) and that’s when I learned Dr. Avinesh Bhar – one of the top ICU Physicians at our local hospital and an MBA student at the University of Chicago needed help launching his start-up. I needed a client, and he needed the help. We started right away.

Pairing my Practicum with University of Chicago’s Global New Venture Challenge was a crash course in superstar organization. I pushed myself to help get his company off the ground – all while continuing with my courses and working full-time. I lived the inner workings of the agile method, hit new milestones in my creative stamina, learned to lean into the discomfort. In short, I changed.

That was the most important aspect of this experience – the ability to say no. I have always been one to push myself, to always default to yes – even when I knew I’d eventually burn out. Finding this balance is key, and my final year at Hopkins taught me this.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

In January 2018, KJMdigital started with a pilot. I went back through the group projects I completed over the past semesters and reached out to the top contributors. I wanted people who wanted to learn, because that’s how I saw KJMdigital – a new way to learn, a new way to interact with the world. I started with five members, shaved down to three and added one.

Today, our team of 4 helps c-suite execs make those strategic, online connections. The KJMdigital mission is to help artists by connecting them to opportunities through our digital landscape. And the KJM Team works because our mission and values align with what we value - radical transparency, autonomy and flexibility. At KJMdigital, we put people first because we know real relationships are what matter most.


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