Have you heard of Ruslan Kogan? I think he is one of the most exciting business entrepreneurs in recent years. I only got to hear about him when the major Australian electronics retailers started to complain about how unfair it was that a business could manufacture offshore and sell directly to consumers via the internet.
This snapshot from Kogan‘s website captures their business model.
Here’s a picture I’ve used before that expresses it another way – and says why conventional organisations might be worried.
And this seems to me the key point Steen makes:
The power of IT isn’t just changing organizations, its redistributing economic activity away from firms and into markets and networks.
I enjoyed Antony Mayfield’s notes on business networks. This line resonated strongly:
We don’t grasp how magnificently terrifyingly complex networks are. We like to draw pictures of them and then think we’ve captured their meaning, when they are more like the weather – always changing, hyper-complex.
One thing I see a lot of are presentations and books that do a good job showing how old models fail to capture the wonders of complexity. Sadly, these so often go on to make the mistake Antony names. They come up with a new way to “close the field”, and in the guise of unlocking the mysteries of complexity, they merely repackage it as if it’s just complicated.
Roland Harwood has written a nice post about working in networks. Short on jargon, long on common sense. Viv and I often riff on Roland’s mantra: conversations then relationships, then transactions.
He remembers the days of the maligned “old boy networks” and suggests
I think the world has changed profoundly in the last 20 years due to the web, so that I think it’s now possible for reputation and ability to be broadly aligned in a way that wasn’t the case a generation ago.
One of the differences is our capacity for “weak ties” in excess of the revered Dunbar number and Roland points to some research by Ron Burt on their value. (It echoes my main take-out from the book Superconnect)
Burt goes on to argue that open networks create bandwidth not echo. In other words, closed networks create exaggerated opinions or reputations, whereas open networks create innovation capacity. And your reputation is not your property. You can’t control it, only influence it directly, through the stories other people tell about you. And because the internet is written in ink not in pencil (i.e. is a much more permanent record) I like to think that this means that we all need to behave more responsibly because our collective memory is being written in real time.
I don’t know about you, but after reading these kinds of insights I resolve to tweet more.
He then refers to the 90:9:1 rule… showing it’s quite natural in networks for a pretty small bunch of people to do the (apparent) lion’s share of the work. Or, in other words, it’s also quite natural to be a lurker. That’s worth remembering in live meetings where it’s possible to get a bit obsessed accusing people of being spectators rather than players. It links to Roland’s subsequent argument against “monetising” networks in ways that deter lots of people from taking part. Makes sense to me. I think it’s easy to be greedy and fasten on the 1% in any network, on some bold assumption about their influence, and not get that the rest are just as important a part of the ecosystem.
In a hierarchical world the cohesive authority group has the edge over a loose agglomeration of individuals. In a networked world the scales may be reversed. The loose agglomeration have a far higher capacity to reorganise themselves and the authority starts to look less surefooted.
Case in point, perhaps: this funny video. Protesting students were confounded by the police tactic of kettling: essentially, finding the large group of protesters and blocking them in place until they run out of steam. But, days later, the students are able to implement a new strategy and suddenly they make the police look a bit foolish (at least with the crafty addition of some Benny HIll music.)
Rob makes a great point in his post about Boingo’s human approach to social media.
At Disney the surface of the Brand Icon never changes but inside the mask is a person who changes all the time and so is never allowed to speak… But in the new world we have to take off the costume and let the person inside have conversations with the public – HARD to do.
Roland Harwood talks about the range of innovation projects made possible by the net, from global to hyper-local. He includes this view
What they miss is the power of people connecting face to face so they can literally seeing the whites of each other’s eyes. And whilst I can’t deny that I am a huge fan of the web and social media, I also see a gap in building trusted innovation networks and bringing diverse groups of people together in a room together and seeing what they can create together.
I resonate with this and I like to work real live human beings in a space more than trying to “leverage” them technologically – much as I love the contact the web makes possible. It’s a bugbear of mine that we often go to the expense of getting bodies in a room only to do to them what could easily be done online – eg download information – rather than work with magic that is possible when humans gather together.
On the eve of the only other comparable national convulsion — the lead-up to the Civil War – a strenuous public debate was able to focus on the salient question of the day, namely whether human slavery would continue in this country. Lincoln and Douglas parried for hours in the hot sun, arguing unscripted in complete sentences without the aid of teleprompters or offstage spin doctors. Yet no one above age of nine failed to understand what was at issue… Note the diminishing returns of technology at work in our time, making it impossible for us to think straight, despite the proliferation of snazzy devices, programs, networks, blog-clouds, and the pervasive, non-stop spewage of so-called information all intended to enhance communication. What did Lincoln have to work with? A pencil.
The issue is not how cool are our tools, the issue is what we use them for and I have long said that ICT is a huge accerlerator. It wont change who you are or how you or your organisation wporks at first, but it will massively amplify everything about the information environment you inhabit.
This has been coming up a lot lately in my casual conversations with bloggy friends. We’ve been, still are, excited by what networking technology makes possible… but there’s also this sense of disappointment. I get a big hit of stimulus from social media but there’s a shadow side that maybe we need to talk about some more.
For me, it’s not that social media is failing in some way, but that it can’t replace us taking risks, talking (on and offline) with more courage and depth about what really matters.
Ton Zijlstra describes his recent presentation on Open Data and Government.
His slideshare on this struck me as a brilliant insightful explanation of the whole issue and why it really matters. And a terrific example of weaving together very specific personal stories into the bigger narrative… such as how Open Data could help a fireman save lives (and how in another century, its principles helped to uncover the true cause of cholera.