Thoughts on networks

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)

Roland continues,

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.

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