- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (20 Aug. 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393338452
- ISBN-13: 978-0393338454
- Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2 x 21.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,914,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Consequential Strangers: Turning Everyday Encounters into Life-Changing Moments Paperback – 20 Aug 2010
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The essential guide to navigating our new twenty-first-century social waters.--Mark Granovetter, professor of sociology, Stanford University
Especially cogent today. . . . Illustrate[s] the importance of individuals we often take for granted yet who enrich our lives in ways not immediately noticeable but that could prove highly significant.
About the Author
Melinda Blau, co-author of the best-selling Baby Whisperer series, writes extensively about relationships and trends. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. Karen L. Fingerman, PhD, the Berner Hanley Professor at Purdue University, lives in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Top customer reviews
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I'm prepared to believe it, but then, I've always thought so; it seems like common sense to me. However, the authors buttress this argument with a great many studies, and Blau has done more than two hundred interviews in furtherance of the idea. The book's accessible, easy to read, but rather repetitive. Blau has written more than 80 magazine pieces and a dozen other books, including the best-selling Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby series. Fingerman, who coined the term "consequential strangers", is the Berner Hanley Professor and Director of Adult Family Research at Purdue University. She's an internationally known scholar who has authored more than 60 articles and chapters.
Funny, years ago I had lunch once with a woman in classes I was taking. I have always believed in telling "consequential strangers" honestly what was on my mind, on the theory it would come back to me, and, as the woman, a black, high achiever, was complaining about her inability to marry, I told her about an article that I'd just read, that said any woman who really wanted to marry could: that she probably already knew the guy; she just hadn't thought of him in that way. Much later, we lunched again, and the woman, having forgotten our previous lunch and conversation, mentioned to me that she'd just married happily, to a guy she'd been friendly with for years. So I gave her a good idea, didn't I?
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The extensively researched and highly accessible book starts out by reviewing Mark Granovetter's seminal study on "The Strength of Weak Ties", first published in the 1973 (and revisited in 1983), which demonstrated that people outside our innermost social circles were the most likely to help us find jobs and mobilize our communities. They continue on with research published in 2003 by Keith Hampton and Barry Wellman on the strength of weak ties abetted by technology in connecting and mobilizing physical communities, "Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet Supports Community and Social Capital in a Wired Suburb", as well as research by Robert Wuthnow ("After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion") that explores the different kinds of groups outside of our neighborhoods - religious, self-help and activity-oriented - in which consequential strangers seek and provide assistance to each other.
In addition to the academic research reviewed in the book, the authors include a number of other stories highlighting the importance of consequential strangers. For example, Karla Lightfoot, an enthusiastic member of the Ladies Who Launch entrepreneur network, has achieved personal and professional success due, in part, to her delight in the interactions and connections with the people she encounters in a variety of contexts. Lightfoot, who the authors describe as an acquaintanceship artist, extols (and demonstrates) the benefits of being more open to serendipitous opportunities: "It's about sharing whatever you have and people being able to ask for what they need". Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University (with over 38,000 employees and 80,000 students spanning 24 campuses), spends the first week of the school year living in a freshman dorm in order to expand his network of consequential strangers, noting that breaking down barriers can help leaders become more effective. Sue Ellen Cooper, founder of the Red Hat Society, discovered that assembling a group of consequential strangers to engage in a "small act of rebellion" - wearing purple outfits and red hats to lunch (as shown in photo to the left) - helped unleash "their most carefree, playful selves". This group of women over fifty who gather for "fun, friendship, freedom and fulfillment" has become the world's largest social networking community for women, having grown to 40,000 members in a little over ten years.
The authors cite psychological studies by Marilyn Brewer (who pioneered optimal distinctiveness theory) that differentiate between a personal self that seeks distinction, and a social self that seeks connection and belonging. They note other studies that demonstrate the power and prevalence of social mirrors, and the role of audiences and witnesses in the perception and construction of our complex selves: "We see ourselves in others' eyes". Consequential strangers help us stretch beyond the relatively rigid boxes that the people who have known us the longest - our family and close friends - often put us into. Through interacting with people who do not know us as well, we are more free to experiment with ourselves, and less likely to have our new behaviors and roles reflected back to us by people who object, "But that's not like you!".
Places and groups that offer support for redefining or extending ourselves might be thought of as self-construction zones. This support is, I suspect, a large part of the power of entrepreneur networks - where people are experimenting with new businesses - colleges and universities - where people are experimenting with new fields of learning - and social networking groups - where people are experimenting with new ways of having fun (not that I mean to imply that business, learning and fun are mutually exclusive).
Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
One corollary may be that every consequential stranger represents a lab partner, and the places we interact with consequential strangers represent living laboratories.
Some of the most productive living laboratories are coffeehouses, prototypical third places where people may be especially receptive to serendipitous encounters with consequential strangers. I first encountered Blau and Fingerman's book in my research into the social aspects of coffeehouses.
The book includes an entire chapter on "Being Spaces": places "where a stranger can become a consequential stranger" that feature "an atmosphere and activities that inspire us to connect". The authors do talk about coffeehouses, of course, but extend the discussion of sociable spaces to include diners, banks, supermarkets, gyms and other physical environments that are seeking to integrate communal and commercial benefits by creating "human watering holes" that promote the "linger longer effect".
Toward the end of the chapter, the authors extend the notion of being spaces from the physical world to the online world. They profile [...], a web site where people can make plans online to connect offline with others based on shared interests and activities. Throughout the book, they make references to online communities and social networking sites. Interestingly, while they make numerous references to Facebook, it seems to me that Twitter is the online platform most conducive to the transformation of strangers into consequential strangers and acquaintances.
In closing I want to note that this is only my second Amazon review. While I have reviewed many books on my blog, Gumption (and the foregoing is an excerpt from a longer review that appears there), I typically only post a review on Amazon when I feel my rating or review deviates from the norm. In this case, I'm surprised that there is a glowing review accompanied by a 3-star rating, and a 1-star review that is complaining about Amazon service, totally unrelated to the content of the book. I hope my rating - if not my review - will help compensate for these others.
Finally, another reviewer took issue with the title. I, too, felt that a more accurate title might have been "Consequential Acquaintances", but suspect that "Consequential Strangers" is more provocative ... and [thus] more likely to pique people's interests.
I like getting new terms and concepts to use, 'social convoy' has been really helpful. This book encourages us to embrace each other in community. I am better with others that I might just be consequential stranger to.
A comfortable read, with great examples and good influence. I've written four blogs about this and have told almost 50 people about the book!