Roland Harwood at NESTA has written a really excellent post: Connecting dots and valuing networks. He manages to articulate several things I passionately believe and throws in some useful maths to boot. I recommend reading it all but here’s a few highlights.
Roland reviews three recent events. He comments
In each case many people were very excited by the events themselves (myself included) and the opportunities that the events and networks presented. However in each case there was also a significant minority asking the valid question ‘well what was the point of that?’. To be more precise what I think they meant by this was ‘what real transactions occurred on the day?’ or ‘what commercial/social value was created?’. However I think this is possibly the right question at the wrong time and misses the immediate value of networking…
To try to assess the value of networks or events such as Amplified, V-Jam or Learning Dreams based on the transactions that occurred on a particular day is to miss the point and value of networking. There are a variety of ways we can connect the dot, people and networks and I would argue that we must strive to maintain diversity and distribution in the networks we create, and foster, so as not to further entrench existing silos.
Roland lifts this chart from this paper:
.. and suggests we’ve got too many networks modelled on A and B and not enough of C.
The problem is, c) has lots of supposedly random links that are often considered redundant and costly.
Those links are only redundant and costly viewed through a particular lens. And nature is, of couse, awash with redundancy which turns out to be rather a good thing in terms of resilience.
On a related matter (as Hannibal Lecter put it), I participated in two of the events Roland refers to. In fact, I co-hosted one. Both used open space/barcamp formats, which meant that conversations were self-organising and fluid. As is sometimes the case, this pleased some folks and annoyed a few others – who tended to go into what was the value? mode.
The other day, Stephen Fry sparked a flurry of Oscar Wilde quotations on twitter. It led me to this one:
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
This struck me as a useful bit of wisdom went taking part in open space events. First, it’s really important if you want to talk about something to put it up for discussion without concern for it’s popularity as a topic. And second, be wary of criticising how others choose to engage: are you in effect demanding they conform to your personal view of what’s important, as if yours is the only one?
Disclosure: NESTA are a much appreciated client of mine.