Networks and Connections

I have found Andrew McAfee’s model of ties to be quite useful because i think this model explains the way people connect with others. Andrew blogged about this here and built upon the work of Mark Granovetter to look at how people interact with their social networks to meet their requirements. This is something most of you would have read and assimilated so i am not writing about this here. What i am writing about is an interesting post where Andrew looks at the implications of this model.

One implication which i find quite relevant and something which quite a few of us who work in the realm of Knowledge Management would find instinctively true, to quote:

Enterprise 2.0 is most valuable at the outer rings of the target.

Lets try to understand what we are talking about here. To begin with, lets try to decipher what the various circles mean and from there maybe we will be able to derive the meaning of this and appreciate how this actually makes sense.

To begin with the core is the region where you have strong ties. Strong ties imply a larger intersection in knowledge, context and interest and represents more often than not (in organizations) your team. These are the people you work with on a day-to-day basis and interact on a number of activities, including transactional activities. These are people with whome you share a large overlap of work and hence the large shared interest. Weak ties, as Andrew mentions, are probably people you worked with at some point of time, or they could be people who work on things related to yours if not the same but maybe they work on different projects or different parts of the organization. So, an service engineer, for example, would have strong ties with his imediate team but have weak ties with people from manufacturing or design with whome he has an overlap of knowledge and context but the overlap is limited and maybe the overlap doesnt need to be acknowledged or leveraged on a day-to-day basis. Or if you are working on a particular technology, someone who is working in the same field as you but on a different project maybe for a different client is an example of someone you share weak ties with. People with whome you dont necessarily interact but those with whome there is the possibility of developing shared knowledge and context leading to knowledge-sharing which can enable you to do your work more effectively. And then there is the outer ring which is made of people you just couldnt share anything with.

Now, if we look at this explanation we find that the core and weak parts of the network is made of people you know. You know the people who you can turn to if you need help with something if they come from any of these two regions, because these regions are made of people you interact with closely (core) or maybe interact even if on a not so regular basis. You typically know the extent of overlap and hence how you can leverage their expertise. Going beyond these, the region of potential ties is made of people who you dont even know are there. But these are people who have some knowledge which could help you in some way or the other. If you knew about these people there are things you could learn which you probably cannot from the people in the two inner regions.

Important point to look at is that the lesser the overlap (as long as there is overlap) the larger the possibility of new ideas. Now thats not necessary but a bit of an oversimplification so please dont take this literally but i think you get the idea. Lets understand this with a “thought experiment”. If you knew someone whose knowledge-base (for want of a better term) is identical to yours, the possibility of creating new ideas by interacting with them would be next to nil because what they would be thinking would be almost identical to what you would be thinking and this scenario doesnt let too many new ideas come into the picture. On the other side if you interact with someone with whome you dont share anything then again new ideas cant emerge because you probably wont understand what they are saying and they probably wont understand what you are saying. Between the two is the region we dwell in most of the times. And in this region the level of overlap keeps varying and the more it approaches to a complete overlap the lower the probability of new ideas coming up. Imagine two colleagues complaining about some situation at the office and you would probably not see any of them coming up with a solution.

What this tells us is that if two people share completely their knowledge and context then there is very little chance of knowledge sharing or of creation of new ideas and the same is also true if two people do not have anything in common. Between these two, where we find most people with varying levels of overlap is where knowledge sharing and creation happens.

From this we can see the possibility of learning, coming up with new ideas and innovating is high in the potential region. And this is where social networking tools play an important role. The people you know you can connect with anyway, though social networking tools probably make it easier to keep in touch with these folks on a regular basis, which is something we probably didnt do even with email. For example, how many of your professional acquaintances did you tell what you were working on, in the pre-social networking days? But more important is that social netowrking can help you find the people in the potential region who can help you with something. Post something to your social network and someone in your network (who would be by definition in the core or weak regions) may know someone (who happens to be in his core of weak region but in your potential region) who could help you with what you need. Like they say, more people find new jobs through their friends’ friends than through their friends.


One Comment on “Networks and Connections”

  1. […] idea of strong and weak links with silos being created largely around the core (this is something i wrote about recently). The other aspect which Madan writes about, that of creating a knowledge-sharing culture […]

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