What is it about quiet achievers that people like?
In this fast paced world where to be heard one needs to be increasingly loud and visible, the quiet achiever can be increasingly pushed into the background. Inevitably those that achieve visibility have to be loud, confident, extroverted and sometimes even a little arrogant to get attention. We are bombarded by media channels fronted by celebrity extroverts competing for our attention, to the point that we can become cynical in our search for genuine people. Sandra Cain’s Ted Talk on the “Power of Introverts” certainly struck a chord with the audience, which is essentially a call for the quiet achievers. According to Cain, introverts can use their private time away from the limelight to reflect more deeply on game changing ideas and innovations. And when forced into the limelight, like Mahatma Ghandi, their humility becomes more engaging and therefore more influential.
So how do we find the quiet achievers?
By definition, one might feel that because they are ‘quiet’ achievers they would be hard to find. Interestingly though inside organisations they are often not that hard to locate. Think about the last time you needed to locate some specialist expertise in your organisation. I suspect you started the process by asking someone you know to help direct you. It’s likely that you will find the quiet achiever you are looking for in three or less calls. This is the power of networks. Referral networks are not something you will see published in the corporate directory. But through the use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) these referral networks can be exposed. Typically the “quiet achievers” will be heavily nominated central players in the referral network. Additionally, we will often find that those referring to them are drawn from a broad and diverse range of peers.
We regularly use the following network leadership framework to characterise the roles individuals play within organisations based on their networking profiles:
Individuals identified in the top right quartile demonstrate the unique leadership trait of attracting a high number of nominations for value adding to their peers, with the nominators coming from a diverse range of business units and/or locations. Such individuals are in a particularly influential position in the organisation. Regularly individuals occupying these roles are senior executives, whose power comes from their position in the hierarchy (ambassadors). However, those individuals that can sustain such a network position without the privilege of hierarchical power are indeed our quiet achievers.
Quiet Achievers Lead ‘Quietly’
As SNA practitioners we get excited when we find a heavily nominated staff member who sits relatively low in the formal hierarchy and/or are short tenure members compared to their more long tenured colleagues. It’s not uncommon for us to find these special ‘quiet achievers’. They are what we have previously referred to as ‘leaders without authority’ in our blog post on “Leading from the Bottom”. We don’t know for sure that they are introverts, but what we invariably find out is they are not usually visible to the senior executive. One such find was recently reported in the AFR BOSS magazine article on “Secret Power Brokers”. The back story on “Elvis”, who is featured on the cover, is that out of some 700 staff, Elvis was a newcomer at the lowest level in the organisation, yet his network profile was right up there with the top 5 senior, long tenured executives. We knew there was something special about Elvis and when we queried the leadership team about him, no-one knew who he was. We went down a level in the hierarchy and still no-one knew of him until one of the fringe members of the team, the business improvement manager, walked in and yes, he knew of Elvis. While he was a simple storeman he had the power to reject goods received into the store if they didn’t meet certain standards. Rather than misusing this power, Elvis was seen as extremely helpful and accommodating in helping staff across the organisation to rapidly access their procurements. He quickly became the ‘go to’ person in the store from all levels of staff across the organisation.
Senior Executives intuitively “know” the value of Quiet Achievers
One of my early SNA studies was conducted across a global network of some 2000+ engineers at BHP BIlliton. Our sponsor, Paul, was a former head of Engineering but by now the President of BHP’s largest revenue earning operation. He made it clear very early that he wanted to find out who the quiet achievers were so that he could make a point of personally visiting them and thanking them for their contribution. We duly delivered a couple of names of engineers who made the top 10 most nominated list, yet were regular engineers located at remote mine sites. Having himself come up through the ranks, Paul was well aware of the value that the quite achievers contribute to keeping the business running effectively. As a senior executive he commented that in his experience it’s the ones who just get on with the job, without feeling the need to “tell the boss” about everything they had done that week, that invariably contributed the most.
Unanticipated Consequences from Quiet Achievers
Sometimes the “quiet achiever” is nominated for unexpected reasons. In one exercise we conducted for a large rail utility, the General Manager (GM) was surprised as to why one of his technical staff, Tim, was in such high demand from his peers. On investigation we found out that IT services had been recently outsourced, making access to computer systems support bureaucratic and cumbersome. Tim was good with computers and always happy to help out to the point that he had become the de-facto IT support officer, taking him away from his real work. The GM was able to use this evidence to gain preferential attention from the outsourced IT providers, freeing Tim to do his real job.
Quiet Achievers don’t “fit” the Traditional Leadership Archetype
In one of our recent studies for an energy utility we again found a heavily nominated technical specialist that was somewhat a surprise to senior management. Some months later I met with the Head of HR who revealed that based on our results they had invited this person to address the executive team on his area of speciality. She indicated that they were largely unimpressed. He didn’t appear to show the confidence and presence they would have expected from an emerging leader. This was somewhat troubling to me. Sandra Cain elegantly identifies how the western world has come to expect our leaders to always exhibit confidence, extroversion and statesman like behaviour. Quiet achievers in contrast are likely to be more introverted and more comfortable responding to people looking for help, more so than pushing themselves forward and promoting themselves to others. In fact it is the humility trait that endears people to them in the first place. It is therefore somewhat disturbing that their value to an organisation might be measured against a leadership archetype suited to leading in a traditional hierarchy. I’m confident that as organisations flatten into more networked forms of operations, it is the networked quiet achievers that will come to the fore. While we might want to celebrate them publicly and put them on pedestals as role models for the future, I suspect that quiet appreciation from their workplace peers will be reward enough.
Last week I came across a Mythbusters video Shawn Callahan mentioned in a post on Facebook. In the video the two hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, test the effectiveness of a traditional 4-way stop versus a roundabout. Having grown up with roundabouts I wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that roundabouts got almost 20% more cars through compared to the 4-way stop.
However, what made me sit up was that they also ran a test where they put Jamie Hyneman in the middle of the 4-way stop playing the role of a policeman directing traffic. They simply wanted to test if the decision-making a traffic cop is making is more efficient at getting cars though than the decision-making all the individuals in the cars can do by themselves.
Here is what really surprised me: The ‘top-down’ traffic cop approach was 30% less efficient compared to the 4-way stop. In other words, when decision-making is removed at the local level efficiency is significantly reduced. However, when we replace the traffic cop with a roundabout we get a 60% improvement!
For me there are strong parallels to the way we manage our workplaces. I often see a battle between ‘old style’ industrial top-down traffic-cop approach where management is clearly visible, authoritative and controlling, versus the emerging network leadership approach, where management sets out the principles but pushes autonomy down through the organisation.
While the network leadership approach is emerging, the winds are changing fast. According to research by the Chief Executive Board, employees’ work is getting more and more inter-connected, and the need for coordination continues to grow. According to their 2012 report ‘Driving Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment’ 67% of respondents (of which there were more than 23,000) stated that greater amount of collaboration is required, and a large majority (ranging from 57% to 67%) said that they regularly coordinate work with people on different teams, at different job levels, in different organisations and with people outside their own department or function.
Tasking managers to be traffic cops directing collaborative efforts across and between organisations is – as the Mythbusters show demonstrates – simply too inefficient. Rather, we need to let employees coordinate work among them, and in our view the role of management should be all about creating the equivalent of efficient roundabouts:
Set the overall rules and priorities
Help employees connect
Empower employees to make decisions locally
Monitor what is going on and adjust rules and policies accordingly
Only get involved when there is a need, e.g. resolving conflicts
Ordering Yahoo workers back to the office certainly gained its share of critics for Marissa Mayer when instituting this Yahoo policy some 18 months ago now. There are a couple of reasons for me to reflect on this at this point in time. Principally, my upcoming presentation at the Social Business Forum 2014 in Milan at the beginning of July is one. My presentation is entitled “Who would you like to sit near at work?”, and is not unsurprisingly about co-location and collaboration. Here is a sneak preview from an earlier blog post.
The presentation will not be about leading the charge back to the office though. I’ve been presenting at the Open Knowledge social business forums since the very first one in 2008 held in Varese and pioneering what was then called Enterprise 2.0. It was my first introduction to the serious use of twitter (less than 2 years old then) and its use to connect the world to an innocuous event held in a quaint but sleepy town in northern Italy. In recent times I have been providing twitter maps and affinity mapping (feel free to join up) to support networking at the forum. Interestingly, while Open Knowledge provide a rich suite of recorded talks and presentations supporting the forum, my sense is that the forum also provides a rallying point for conversations, led by the abundantly ‘followed’ keynote speakers. The following map emphasizes just how global this twitter audience is. A majority of the participants were nowhere near Milan.
The second ‘event’ prompting my reflections on the topic is a recently submitted doctoral thesis entitled “Creativity and Innovation in Virtual Teams” by Hari Sangha, who I was supervising, and therefore reading his thesis closely. Hari’s research was a case study of his own government agency workplace and the introduction of a new system. His organisation is a mature user of virtual teams technology and he was interested in how well factors like presence, trust, group identity and implementation effectiveness impacted innovation success. Hopefully without stealing Hari’s thunder, he did find that indeed the presence factor for virtual teaming did not interfere with the overall success of the innovation, in his context. What did catch my eye though were some of the comments extracted from his qualitative interviews. Several of his interviewees complained of not having on-site support during the critical “first impressions” installation stage. The “canned online training” fell far short of providing the organisational change support required when convincing an end user of the need to move from the comfort of a well-loved legacy system, to a new “integrated” system. In fact the new system suffered substantial criticism on installation, that took some time to overcome. For me it was evidence that there is definitely a case to choose wisely when to apply both your virtual and co-location initiatives.
The “co-location touch points” tend to occur where the human factors of organisational change substantially outweigh the efficiency of process compliance. In Hari’s context it wasn’t so much about training in the operational aspects of a new system, but “communicating to me why I should be changing in the first place”. To give Marissa Mayer her due, it must have been a shock to come from the highly energised and innovative Google environment to one at Yahoo that had been reduced to something akin to clock watchers. The size of the organisational and cultural change perhaps dictated her mandate. That said, I was intrigued by comments made to us by Lend Lease’s head of workplace Natalie Slessor, that the business case for activity-based working is not principally about space now, but collaborative performance. And its not just about having an environment that staff will be comfortable in attending; but one where staff choose to come to because there is no better place that they would prefer to be, in doing their work; a place where they can collaborate with who they need to collaborate with, at these critical touch point times. No doubt this is something Google did get right from all reports.
While context will often dictate where these touch points are in your business, I’ve had a go at identifying where I think they are in an innovation context:
The Social Business Forum Twitter network is a ‘searching for inspiration’ network and therefore can comfortably work virtually. However, acting on an inspiration to design a new product or identify how to gain a brand new client requires some high touch collaboration and co-operation. Once a design or plan is settled on, the execution of the design/plan etc. could be accommodated by a mature virtual team. The next high touch point is when engaging the ‘early majority’ i.e. key buyers, influential users etc.. Here we need all ‘hands on deck” to rapidly respond to previously unseen or unexpected issues, objections and/or complaints. Inevitably with any innovation there will be issues that will require an agile response from a team of people. Once adoption is assured we can then move back into virtual customer support mode, perhaps even engaging our customers into a social business support community.
So did Marissa Mayer get it wrong? Well maybe just a little. A few months after her policy was introduced she rationalised her decision with a comment: “…. they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.” This looks like my first “high touch zone”. But does that have to mean that those doing standard IT builds or providing after sales customer service should be made to feel dictated to? And what about creating an environment where Yahoo staff actually want to show up to by choice?
I’ve long been a fan of Sandy Pentland’s work at the MIT media lab. Pentland is perhaps best known for his ‘social tags’ used for monitoring individual human interactions to identify those interaction most associated with productive teams. When his new book “Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – Lessons from a New Science” coincided with the Easter holiday break, what better way to spend the break than to consume another Pentland tome? The title “Social Physics” in itself is notable as Pentland’s desire to a put a name to what he is doing, that is, identifying social interaction patterns from logged activity data. I once had a similar aspiration based on my early explorations into mapping discussion log and email data, long before even the Internet and social media/networking was around. My term was “Net Mining”, which I cheekily tried to introduce into Wikipedia, but was rightly rejected by the Wikipedia moderators as having ‘no recognised history’. Perhaps Pentland from the loftier heights of the MIT Media lab will have more success. The use of the ‘Physics’ term is an attempt to align his activities with a fundamental science, and perhaps in the future a few Pentland inspired “Social Physics Laws” that underpin our daily lives.
For some, placing the words ‘Social’ and ‘Physics’ side by side is an oxymoron only to be used in the context of sex education (but lets not go there!). An early critic of Social Physics is none other than Nicholas Carr, who famously stated a decade ago that “IT Doesn’t Matter”; has written an article in the MIT Technology Review (to add insult to injury). Carr states about Pentland “what he fails to see is that those norms and influences are themselves shaped by history, politics, and economics, not to mention power and prejudice” in referring to Pentland’s claims that social norms, behaviours and influences can be accurately modelled mathematically.
While its hard to argue with Carr’s points here, it is fair to say that Pentland’s ‘experimental rig’ is unquestionably the most sophisticated that we have seen to date, generating copious data for measuring social interactions. While the social tags were viewed as a little extreme when first introduced, since then, the smart phone has become a proxy social tag in Pentland’s research, which brings the practicality of his work eerily close. So even if the ‘physics’ analogy is a bit of a stretch, as Carr suggests, perhaps the Pentland crusade could still prove the tipping point for the legions of social network analysis (SNA) academics, who have been analysing social relationship networks using mathematical methods for over 80 years now, to a point where mainstream business finally ‘gets it’.
The book essentially builds on his earlier work with social tags and effective teams. Whereas this earlier work identified the correlation between conversational interaction patterns i.e. the to and fro of dialogues had; equality (or not) of interactions used along with body language attributes identified by the social tags; this book goes a little further to claim a degree of predictive capability. The claim to be able to infer a cause and effect, over a simple correlation observation is facilitated by the longitudinal data that the social tags and now mobile phone apps can collect. Pentland rightly points out that traditional survey based collections are mostly ‘single point in time’ (marked as ‘1’ in the graph) and therefore make it difficult to claim any cause and effect relationships from the results.
This graph from the book is notable in identifying where the social physics efforts exist when compared with the more traditional survey based social science studies (and our own social network analysis surveys, I might add). As much as we could be offended by being placed close to the (0,0) axis point I still feel there is a big difference in the quality of the intelligence you might gain from an astute survey question and any number of social tagging data points. But one can’t argue with the duration of observation measure. Surveys are a point in time. And pragmatically the same survey is unlikely to be repeated more frequently that on an annual basis at best. My long-term view therefore has been that they are complementary instruments, so I am happy to be a Social Physics follower at this point in time. I might add here that Pentland does not rely solely on ‘mined data’ or what he calls ‘reality modeling’. He does describe a mobile phone app they have developed to turn the device into a social tagging device, which includes surveys to capture personal feedback information as an adjunct to the logged data, reinforcing the view of their complementary usage.
The predictive models Pentland and his colleagues developed for use in predicting consumer behaviour, influencing behaviours, or citizen behaviours identified in the book are mathematically as sophisticated as traditional physics and therefore mostly out of reach to 99% of the population. But this is a necessary requirement that is often understated by ‘Big Data’ proponents. To come up with the conclusions that Pentland does, means that terabytes of data have to be filtered and analysed. This is a non-trivial task and is prone to the same erroneous conclusions that poor physics or economics can produce if not undertaken with care. Just one slight criticism here. While Pentland starts to identify some of the mathematics behind his predictive models, in the book there was scant recognition for the decades of social network quantitative analyses undertaken by many researchers around the world, with perhaps the SNA ‘Bible” by Wasserman and Faust and the UCINET software being best representative of its application.
As I worked through the chapters I became more excited by how similar Pentland’s key findings, from his sophisticated big data modelling, reinforced our own more speculative assumptions, gained from our more traditional survey driven social network analyses. The most prominent finding relates to idea flows traveling through an exploration phase, where diversity of input is a key success indicator; followed by an ‘engagement’ phase where more intense interactions are required to turn ideas into actions. These findings reinforce the concepts we introduced in our white paper ‘The Three E’s of Innovation” (Explore, Engage, Exploit) which was designed for application within traditional organisations, where specific organisational departments and individual roles might play one or more of these roles, as part of their organisational mandate. Pentland’s Explore/Engage was more generically framed, though he does acknowledge the organisational context in his work with organisations in identifying what makes great teams. In the book he makes the same plea as many of us working in the social business world, to put the formal organisational hierarchy aside and to focus on the interaction patterns. He suggests that one way of achieving this is by making such interaction patterns visible to the individuals, in the hope that by viewing their own interaction patterns, they will be more motivated to adjust their own interaction behaviours; in contrast to being coached or instructed from above. We are comforted by this suggestion as again it reinforces some of our own experiences regarding the use of network visualisations to influence behaviour change. For example, we collaborated with the University of Technology in Sydney in visualising project interdependencies to influence project manager decision-making. More recently we have been using our interactive web maps as a vehicle for prospective leaders to ‘discover’ their own better networking strategies.
For us Pentland has added the science, which reinforces our own less data intensive findings and field experiences, and therefore adds to our confidence in pursuing our networked approach to innovation.
The third reinforcement comes from the findings from activity around ideas (as assessed by the social tag information). The diversity of participants in these more open conversations was shown to characterise the exploration phase, and then the denser interaction patterns were shown to characterise the engagement phase. We had conducted some preliminary research on data collected from a Spigit implementation. Spigit is an ideas platform, which makes use of an innovative gaming engine to attract participation in a more open and transparent ideas market place. Ideas platforms largely reflect Pentland’s Exploration phase. In our research exercise we had data on ideas that had actually been accepted for implementation by management and therefore could look for patterns of interactions from the Spigit conversation platform that correlated with accepted ideas as opposed to ideas that were rejected. Our tentative findings were that the key predictors were the level of conversation activity around an idea and the diversity of participants in the conversation. Happily Pentland finds exactly the same thing from his more copious data and undoubtedly more sophisticated analyses. Again we can now move forward with this proposition with much more confidence. Thank you Sandy!
Finally the book addresses the use of social physics in planning cities. Geo-tagging is now a common feature in Smartphones, so it becomes a relatively simple task to visualise social interactions in a geographic layout as an alternative to the common ‘force field’ layout for social networks. Thanks to Google maps, it is now possible to overlay social network connections onto geographic maps. “Location” is a common attribute used to characterise different actors in a social network in identifying the level of collaboration or otherwise between say, geographic regions. We have reported elsewhere how important co-location can be to facilitate effective knowledge sharing. We have recently also been experimenting with providing geo-mapping visualisations of social networks with this example taken a social network survey of a consulting organisation:
So Oxymoron of Tipping Point? Personally I have seen many terms accused of being an oxymoron survive and proceed to a healthy existence; with ‘knowledge management’ being one notable example. We acknowledge that many a oxymoron are just a statement of aspirations, more so than a legal claim. We can live with ‘health tans’ and ‘business ethics’, so why not Social Physics? In terms of the use of big ‘social’ data for gaining new performance insights; no doubt there are many an HR professional with their carefully crafted HR Information systems shaking in their boots at the thought of a bunch of data scientists, mining data outside their formal HRIS, making them redundant. For us it is whether ‘Social Physics’ can be the tipping point between the ‘other physics analogy and that is the contrast between Newtonian thinking and Quantum thinking:
Is it enough to break mainstream business’s penchant for reductionist thinking; in breaking businesses down to individual processes and/or people, in favour of looking at networks as a whole?
Eurovision, the (in)famous European music competition is just around the corner with semifinals starting 6 May in Copenhagen, Denmark. To get in the mood we have created a map showing a summary of the 2013 voting patterns.
Have a close look at the red lines which highlight countries that have voted for each other, and you’ll see some interesting cultural patterns, such as ‘blocks of countries’ that vote for each other:
Scandinavian countries Denmark/Norway/Sweden
Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia
Belgium and Holland
Given that voting is in the hands of the both TV viewers and a small jury made up of music industry representatives (50/50 power) one would expect that the voting patterns resemble musical preferences based on cultural similarities rather than being ‘nice’ neighbors or repaying last year’s votes. But what do you think?
Will we see similar patterns this year? Please tell us by using the comments field.
Here we show the same data, but with the countries placed on Google Maps:
Sounds a simple enough question, but likely to provoke a mix of emotions that strikes at the heart of the social and business dichotomy. On one hand we like to sit with people that we can get on with; people that potentially share our interests, both inside and outside of work. But also they might be people that are different enough from us to challenge and stretch us without descending into acrimony. On the other hand we might put our ‘business’ hat on and consider our current role. As a technical specialist we might want to sit near other like specialists to share our learnings and experiences and deepen our capabilities. As a line manager I may consider whether I would like to sit with my boss and be more visible and aligned with the strategic directions of the organisation, or alternatively be with my team, to be a ‘hands on’ manager. As a client facing person I would similarly be considering whether it is best to sit near my customers or my service providers. As a senior executive I would also have to consider which stakeholders I would benefit most in being near. Even the idea of individuals being allocated a ‘seat’ is becoming outdated. Hot desking was established to enable facilities to be shared by staff not requiring a permanent location. A recent workplace study conducted of its CBD premises by one large organisation found that staff only spent 63% of their time at the office and of that time, were away from their desk 47% of the time, with the rest of the time being mobile between other workspaces and meeting rooms. The average occupancy was just over 30% overall. Facilities managers are now looking to design workspaces that can accommodate more modern and productive activity based work practices, while at the same time, making more economic use of the spaces provided.
In reality, when it comes to where we sit and co-locate with at work, most of us do not get asked. The task of assigning workspaces is left to line management and facilities staff. By default, workspaces will often be aligned with the formal organisation chart, making the assumption that the formal structure also reflects the preferred work patterns. This assumption is becoming highly questionable as workplaces become increasingly interdependent. Workspace allocation can become a highly emotive issue. It’s not just about the corner offices. It can be impossible to meet everyone’s expectations, yet its important that organisations maximise the opportunity that co-location offers. Despite the facility offered by modern communications technology, physical co-location is still by far the best means for sharing knowledge and maximizing productivity. So how can we converge the duplicity of personal co-working preferences, natural team collaboration patterns with physical workplace design, to achieve maximum possible productivity?
Social Network Analysis and Workplace Design
Modern organisations are rapidly moving away from ‘command and control’ structures to more ‘empower and support’ frameworks, with of course social business initiatives leading the way. It is therefore not surprising that staff would be given more input into their physical working environment and in particular who they would like to sit near. The essence of this change is cleverly articulated in “Re-imagining Work”, part of the popular RSA animate series, where the choice of who we choose to work with and near is increasingly becoming a personal one. Social Business principles would dictate that it’s the people themselves, more so than their management, that are best placed to choose their most productive collaboration partners. One doesn’t need to look further than the successful open source software industry to see this in action.
Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a method of choice for analyzing and understanding informal collaboration patterns. Typically an SNA study surveys staff about who they benefit from working with. Social networking maps and analytics can then be developed to assess where the most productive patterns of collaboration exist and also potential productivity bottlenecks or blockages.
The “who would you like to sit near at work” question was designed to support projects looking to consider productive networking patterns into workplace occupation activities. Forward thinking facilities design and development firms are now appreciating that having a deeper understanding of the natural collaboration patterns of their prospective clients will enable them to provide a more convincing design and development proposition. In a recent project Optimice worked with one of Australia largest developers in developing an occupation plan for their key client, a major telecommunications organisation that was looking to refurbish their central city facilities. Their objective was not only to optimize their floor space, but to configure their physical spaces to be aligned to their ‘future way of working’ vision, which of course included much more mobility and technical enabled communications. Some 5,000 staff were asked to nominate and rate the people they would benefit most in terms of their personal productivity, by being co-located. As with any SNA study it only takes a relatively modest sample to characterize an organisation’s overall collaboration patterns. By aggregating at the ‘Team” level we were able to quickly identify those teams that feel they would be most productive when co-located. Additionally, because we were able to measure the ‘strength of ties’ between teams we could incrementally “fill” a building floor with teams preferentially by manipulating the strength filter, as illustrated below:
The top panel identifies the two teams with the highest collaboration score (94), along with the total number of staff (230) contained within those teams. Decreasing the strength filter exposes additional teams with collaboration scores above (24) as shown in the middle panel, constituting a total staff of 1589. Decreasing the collaboration strength even further down to (12) exposes even more teams configured in several clusters. The clustering patterns, along with the staff counter, can be used by occupancy designers to effectively ‘stack’ building floors according to stated collocation preferences. Note that only just over 3,000 of the 5,000 staff would have been allocated at this point. We could continue to decrease the strength of tie filter to allocate the remaining teams or we could determine that those teams with only weak connections could be placed anywhere without seriously impacting their productivity. If you like, these teams could be used as ‘fillers’ for floors only partially occupied.
Where to Next?
The above example identifies how SNA can be used to realize social business principles for collocating teams. The science of social networks can assist in mediating the politics that regularly pervade office space allocations. There is more to do however. Cohesive, co-located teams can deepen capabilities and enhance efficiency. Productivity however, is not just about efficiency. We know that a certain level of diversity of connections is needed to facilitate creativity and to deliver innovation. Such connections may not require extended co-location but will require an environment where serendipitous connections are more likely. Those staff in roles requiring diverse networks tends to be those that are more often not in the office and/or not at their desk that often. These people may feel that nominating permanent co-location partners is incongruous with their desired mode of operation. Like teams that have no strong ties to other teams, at the individual level, those staff without strong ties are far from being outcasts, especially if they are seen to ‘bridge’ between cohesive teams, providing the important balance between cohesion and diversity that characterizes high performance organisations.
For the individual, the network ensuing from the simple question of “who would you like to sit near as work?” can be much more than your position in a popularity contest. While you may have a view of who you would benefit from being co-located with, even more insightful is who, if any, have nominated you as someone that they would benefit from being co-located. But that’s another story!
Many of us who travel come home with memory cards full of travel pics. The majority will show the places that we have been to. Often they may also include shots of people we meet as well. I thought it might be interesting to have a travel log (including an evolving network map) which starts with people we meet and then support this with the places that we meet, rather than the other way around. The idea is that I intend to build the social network of people that we meet or connect with as we travel to new places over a 40 day period.
There is a connection to ‘Social Business’ here. As the term implies, the line between ‘social’ activities and ‘business’ is now well and truly blurred. Friends can become business associates in the same way as business associates can become friends. On this 40 day ‘Holiday Trip’ I met with business associates who had become friends and I also took the opportunity in Israel to meet face-to-face, two online connections I have had for some time. While the Internet affords connections that would have previously been unthinkable, relationships thrive on such face-to-face encounters.
The full Travel Blog includes ‘Side Bar’ social networking reflections I had while writing the actual travel content. I have extracted and edited the content for this blog post, but it is still quite long. So here is the network map after 40 days:
And here is a highlights reel:
Side Bar 1 – Interesting connections and 6 degrees of separation
I am reminded of how, as social beings, we naturally look for connections. We do this by trying to identify something we have in common, however obtuse. When we find something, we can start to connect and bond. If we find nothing then we will probably just move on and completely forget the contact. Sometimes it can be something simple like the episode above (chance meeting on a ski lift), that makes the connection memorable. However the more radical the connection, for example meeting a complete stranger in a place foreign to both of you and finding that you know someone in common….that becomes really memorable.
I had one such episode at a conference in Colorado many years ago. I was hanging out with some folks from Alcoa, Pittsburgh when one of them said to me…”you know I only know one person from Australia’ his name is Bill F.” Amazingly Bill was someone I did know as well through a work engagement. He and Bill had worked together at a previous company for them both. We laughed when to think that from a population of 20 million people that the two of us who had never met before would find a common connection.
More recently Julie and I had joined a tour group in Turkey and met Sharon and Tony. They lived in Sydney but had previously lived in Port Macquarie. After a bit of exploring we found that one of their best friends had gone to college with Julie and they had even lived together during that time! They shared some even more incredible six degree stories of their own. I find these small world connections so fascinating. We still keep in contact with Sharon and Tony, no doubt influenced by our shared connections. Interestingly, in that same share house of Julie’s she had another friend Margaret who she hitchhiked around New Zealand with over 30 years ago now. Recently we found that it is highly likely that they are related based on some genealogy detective work that Julie’s sister Kerri has been doing recently.
It really is a small world after all!
Side-bar 2 – Intriguing Connection Reflections
Looking back on our “White Xmas” its intriguing to reflect on how much our connections, both people and places, influence and shape our life experiences. How our social networks evolve through surprising and sometimes coincidental connection of intrigue. I’m always fascinated by such connections…we’ve all had our 6 degrees of separation moments,.. that make life interesting. Here are some of ours from this trip:
Thirty two years ago Julie and I made our first trip to Europe for a skiing white Xmas in a small Austrian town called St. Ulrich …. Interestingly Ortesei also goes by that same German name. We were a little younger than our own children are now. That trip took us through Japan to London and then to Austria for our 2 week skiing over Xmas and New Year. We had extended family with us, my cousin Debbie and her then boyfriend, Danny and Julie’s sister Kerrie and husband David. We met one couple on that trip, Beau and Janice, who were from the same town as us. Eventually our children became good friends at university. After that we travelled through Italy for the first time. With Debbie and Danny we stopped in Milan to visit with Gary’s (from Gary & Lyn), sister Lynnie and her then husband Giovanni. This visit was memorable for a number of reasons. Firstly while we were there Gary rang with the news of his first born son David (from David & Theresa) who was with us on this trip. We had first met Giovanni at their wedding in Sydney but we still recall the pleasure and relief of being met by a native speaking Italian at Milan station after several weeks of struggling with European languages, and now being guided around by a local.
We will be meeting with Giovanni later in this trip so I will talk more about our connections through Giovanni then. It is suffice to say however that without our connections to Giovanni it is doubtful that I would be writing this post from Italy today.
Sidebar 3 – Eras of travelling: Generational Networking Practices
Aussies are avid travellers and we are no different. Travel has become easier over the years. When I reflect back on my travelling experiences there are three definite eras….BC (before children); WC (with children) and AC (after children). BC is travelling on the cheap in hostels and cheap hotels; WC is more expensive and invariably requires family sized accommodations. AC is more comfortable. The accommodation is better and usually the food as well, as we only have to cater for ourselves while we spend the kids’ inheritance.
Julie and I did quite a lot of travel BC. Before partnering up I had made my first overseas trip and had my first ‘away from home’ Xmas in Asia, flying to Malaysia on a cheap student flight with a couple of mates. During that trip we endured a 42 hour bus trip on muddy back roads to Bangkok and then back down to Singapore staying in cheap hotels all the way. Yes in Singapore’s less pristine days there were cheap hotels in Bencoolan st, and Boogie St was a gay bar buzz of street markets and she-hes. Oddly enough they insisted on males having short hair. I had the 1970s long hair style of the day and it took two trips to the barber to meet the standard. The last haircut was given by a barber located at the border crossing from Malaysia! Julie had done the outback tour through the back of Queensland, NSW and South Australia. We had then both independently done the New Zealand back backer thing, hitch-hiking around both islands (in the days before back packer murderers) and staying in cheap youth hostels or just camping out in our $30 cheapie tents.
A little later in our WC days I had the bight idea that we should re-discover that experience with our then teen-aged children. They were both studying languages at school and I was sure that in a few years time they would become independent back packers as well. Here was a chance for them to practice their language skills and we would also save money by staying at pack packers around New Zealand. We didn’t go so far as to try and hitch hike, but I did find a good rental deal at “Rent-a wreck” (it really only did break down once in Dunedin). Well in hindsight I was right about them doing the back-packer thing but the early exposure was a #fail! You should have seen the shock on Erin’s face when she heard that we would have to actually share a bathroom with strangers. Even worse some backpacker had mistakenly set up in our room….how could you even think about sharing a room with complete strangers! On our last day of the trip we arrived in Christchurch to see the backpacker hotel that we had booked into. As was typical they were basically un-renovated old hotels in the centre of town (usually on the edge of the red light district). This one however was about 3 centimetres from the bell tower of the church in the centre of town….and it was ringing away as we approached. They all turned to me and said in unison…”we’re not staying there Dad!”. As it turned out the NZ tourist industry was suffering from the loss of Asian tourists because of the Asian bird flue epidemic. We managed to pick up a luxury apartment for not much more than the back packers. Erin was in heaven luxuriating with her own bath and Gav was likewise happy to be surfing the cable channels. I noticed on the recent footage of the Christchurch earthquakes that the hotel and church had been extensively damaged….so I guess both will now have to be renovated…can you get sound-proofed bells?
Our AC travel has been somewhat more relaxing. It is often said that an overseas trip can make or break a relationship. Julie and I travel well together even though we have quite diverse interests. Julie trained in Art and so the European galleries are her nirvana. I trained in Metallurgy and Computer science, so seeing the first Bessemer Iron making furnace in the Smithsonian in Washington or the Turing machine was what gave me a buzz…but alas there are far more art galleries around than science museums. We managed to find a workable compromise though. I was happy for us to visit as many art galleries as Julie wanted to, we just had to go through them fast!
Our AC travel has also seen us regularly meet up with our children overseas, mostly together, like this time, but sometimes apart. Over recent years my annual Italian conference trip has been followed by a weekend away with Erin for her birthday. This year it was Stockholm, last year Budapest.
When Gavin was also in London he decided to do a one man surfie tour of Western Europe. As parents you naturally worry about a son buying an old van and driving alone through unknown territory …. crazy Aussie surfer. Sounds just like a young Rosario driving alone to Perth across the Nullabour and then to Darwin … not without incident and as it turned out it was the same for Gavin.
In one small coastal town we called in on the recommended hostel to be told that they were full. They did say however that they had another place closer to town and that we should look there. It was only a small village so we decided to walk. On the way we saw this impressive new apartment block renting apartments so I suggested we look in there. Looked wonderful, several bedrooms with their own televisions, fully air conditioned and two modern bathrooms….and at a very attractive price. I was ready to stay here but we thought we better look at the other place as they were expecting us. We arrived at the town site…a quirky brightly coloured building on the waterfront and yes right in the village. They showed us the room, which was just that, one single room with three single beds and a small window facing the ocean. No internal bathroom, you had to walk outside and down the hall to the shared facilities. When we learned the price was the same as the previous apartment we looked at, so I declared “this is a no-brainer”. “Yes they responded in unison, we’re going to stay here!…who wants to stay in a boring apartment!”… how times had changed since the New Zealand fiasco!
We have however managed to travel to many other countries beyond my work destinations, some triggered by work connections, like Rosario and Maria’s wedding in South Africa
which was a real treat. Two more this trip being Israel and Jordan. The world is such a big place, we feel we are only just scratching the surface.
I read an article once that indicated that our networking patterns changed as we grow older. As youngsters we spend a lot of our time collecting new connections. Mid career we learn how to distinguish connections we want to nurture while still collecting new ones. In our later years we become much more discerning about how we spend our ‘networking time’. Having lived through these generations and observing my own children I’m not so sure that these findings hold up now. Apparently the growth segment for Facebook now is amongst retirees over 65! The technology not only helps us develop new connections, but to also reconnect with old connections.
Side-Bar 4 – The blessing of being born English speaking.
As English has become the dominant language across the world and more especially in the business world, I am eternally grateful that I was born English speaking. I spent 6 years in high school studying French, but even then at the end of it could barely string a sentence together let alone understand what a native French speaker was saying to me. I recall on our first trip to France down on the Riviera I called into an information booth to get a local map. The attendant refused to speak English and wanted me to speak French to her…they can be pretty arrogant to the English speakers in that area. I called on my best halting French with some effort. She immediately slapped down the map in front of me….she knew what I wanted all the time!
In my lecturing I am regularly teaching non-native English speakers from Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia, South America and Eastern Europe as well. The Scandinavians from Denmark, Sweden and Norway are excellent, as are students from Hong Kong. Chinese students are known to be very studious. However I found that they often preferred to have the online notes than to attend the lectures (though they usually did out of respect, but never interacted in class discussions). I could tell from their emails that they were working well into the night. Clearly they were doing twice the work of a native English speaker, having to tediously translate their work, while at the same time trying to avoid being seen to plagiarise. I can see how tempting it is for a non-English speaker to “borrow” a good turn of a phrase that they might find in the literature. I would often say to them that I know that in their minds they have some real insights and that they should try to share them in their own words, no matter how bad the English might be (of course this made my job harder in assessing, but plagiarism risks are much worse). I felt their frustration….”so much to say…but no way to say it”.
Language also strongly dictates whom we connect with. We will always prefer to connect with people we find it easy to communicate with. Even in my classes I could see the cliques formed around shared language. Mostly this is a good thing as they can help each other. Sometimes not so good if they are sharing a wrong interpretation or understanding of what is required. Networks aren’t selective. They will propagate both good and bad information with the same effectiveness. Rumours are different however, they travel the fastest!
A few years ago Julie and I enjoyed our first real cruise holiday down the Dalmatian coast. We were with cruising veterans, Julie’s sister Kerrie, husband David and their daughter Katrina. The Cruise line was French and therefore the majority of passengers French. Over the period of a week we found ourselves gravitating toward the small English-speaking enclave. We even found some common connections around Wollongong, where Julie and Kerrie grew up and Kerrie still lives. It was my time to experience being part of the language minority. Language can have a big effect on our networking patterns. This is why the social networking sites are so powerful as it gives the non-native English speakers the time to ingest and compose English language discussion interactions. And this is the same for e-learning and why online learning will also help bridge the language gap.
Side Bar 5 – Connections that Matter
In Network Science we often talk about Brokers and/or Bridges. These are people that can connect you to other groups that you would normally not come into contact with. This can be particularly important across language barriers as common languages tend to define our communities. As the world becomes increasingly globalised these brokers are becoming increasingly important. While I have said that I am happy to have been born as a native English speaker, I also admire the muliti-lingual talents of some native foreign speakers. I sometimes regret not being able to speak the language of my Chinese heritage. It does become awkward when travelling and/or lecturing in Asia. Of course there is an expectation that I can speak Chinese. Recently when in Hong Kong with friends Noelene and Geoff (who will be joining us on this trip in Israel) we went to a regional Yum Cha restaurant. The waitresses obviously thought I was hosting these visitors and addressed me in Chinese. I responded that I would speak English only in respect for my visitors. They weren’t fooled, we could hear them tittering to their fellow waitresses about the Chinese guy with the broad Aussie accent!
Many of these important brokers have been introduced to us through family connections. Some have come through friends, but how many of your acquaintances (or what network scientists call ‘weak tie’ connections) have ended up having a major influence on you life experiences? How did you first connect? What was the source of common interest? For my wife Julie our first common connection was that her sister Kerrie and I were both studying Metallurgy and working at the BHP (in different cities though). Interestingly my brother who was also studying Metallurgy was in Kerrie’s classes in Wollongong and working at the BHP. In those days working at the ‘big Australian’, BHP was seen as a real coup. How quickly connections can build through serendipitous associations.
Sidebar 6 – Bridging Disparate Communities
The importance of the bridge/broker is heavily reported in the social network science literature. The fact is that when we aim to build our expertise in our preferred fields of endeavour we do this by surrounding ourselves with ‘like minds’, often to the exclusion of those that do not share the same interests and passions. Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, popularized the view that it takes 10,000 + hour of concentrated effort to develop any level of distinguished expertise in an area. I think one could also come up with a complementary measure of the number of ‘Like Minds’ one might need to be connected with, to develop that level of expertise. Social Network Scientists have studied “hot spot’ areas of expertise like the Technology hubs around Silicon Valley and Boston, and perhaps the art history hub around Florence and the list goes on. We have been involved on the periphery with a number of government initiatives looking to build business ‘clusters’, acknowledging the value of co-locating clusters of expertise.
Therefore to find individuals that are able to bridge quite disparate fields is indeed vary rare. While many of us can have diverse interests, this rarely means high levels of expertise in more than one area. There are few people I can think of that have been world leaders in two quite different fields. The standout of course is Vincent Van Gogh who was able to bridge the worlds of science and art as a leader in both fields. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin in Science and Music. Who else? I’m sure that other names will pop up, but how many in recent years. Today one has to specialise to be able to compete in an increasingly globalised world. So I suspect we will never see another Van Gogh, Franklin or the like.
Side-Bar 7 – GPS adventures – unexpected but memorable experiences
Let me say upfront that I think that GPS devices are amazing technology that I’ve come to depend on to the extent that I can’t think what I did without them. That said, no technology is perfect and with any technology, if you become over-dependent on it and have no ‘Plan B’ then life can get interesting. Italy in particular can be difficult to navigate for reasons I’ve already mentioned. I recall the days when we had to rely on paper maps. We had good maps of city centres and a good map of the whole of Italy, but if you wanted to go somewhere in between, you were on your own.
GPS adventures are a little different. Map errors can prove interesting. More than once, in the UK, we have had the GPS happily announce we had reached our destination when we were in the middle of nowhere. On this trip we have visited some villages by mistake that we would never have seen otherwise. The most interesting times can happen when you miss a turn and the GPS tries to get you back on track. We have been on some pretty scary roads. This trip we have been asked to go on some of the narrowest roads (both side mirrors folded in). In the UK we have driven down roads with hedges scaping both sides of the car. We missed a turn once and had to travel 14 klms on the Heathrow express way before we could turn around. This was after a long day driving already.
On the other hand I’m amazed at how well they can do at times. One winter up near York in the UK we were driving in pitch black, no street lights or signs, only our headlights and it guided us to our remote B&B, which we would never have found otherwise. On that same trip we were out in the country and the GPS announced a toll road. We could not believe that it could be right, but sure enough, in the UK there are still some private roads that the public use and here was a toll booth with the attendant taking 10p for the kilometer or so of private road we were to use.
Who else has had an interesting GPS adventure? What memorable experiences have you had by taking a wrong path (both physically or figuratively!)
Sidebar 8 – The Importance of Weak Ties
You will notice now after some 20+ days now that the cumulative social network map is getting pretty busy. You might ask what is the value of this? It just looks like a big mess. Others may see it as a piece of abstract art. In fact network maps have been used in Art Exhibitions. I saw this exhibition of Mark Lombardi’s hand drawn network maps when I first met fellow Social Network Analyst Valdis Krebs in the 1990s when he took me to see it in his home town of Cleveland. Art aside, social network analysts use these messy network maps to explore for interesting patterns that can tell us something new or insightful about the people in the network. They do this by taking selective snapshots from the network. For example, I could extract just the network nodes from certain places, like say, Northern Italy. I could select by time like say, the 2 week period around the 1st of January. I could select based on the link type e.g. friends only, friends and family etc..
You might suggest that I could make the maps look less messy by not including the serendipitous acquaintances like the people we met in a cable car, or in a restaurant for instance. They are only fleeting connections with a high likelihood that we will never connect with them again. This is absolutely true, but not all connections need to be direct connections. Network scientists also work with what we call “affinity” connections i.e. people that are connected through common attributes. Some of these are obvious, like we met them at the same place. You can see some of those on the maps now. Others may not emerge until some time after. These are time based associative patterns that only emerge over time. We might only make these connections when looking back over time. For example I might reflect over our time in Sicily and note an associative connection between 3 of our AirBnB hosts Linda, Anna and Elena. Firstly they are independent female hosts running a B&B as their “business”. Two of them are single and still live with their parents, perhaps making a statement about modern day Sicilian women…in fact the exception Linda also provides commentary on this topic. This is all grit for the mill for the social scientist.
The other reason that we like to include ‘weak ties’ in our analyses as it has been found that weak ties are often the source of our most memorable experiences. Sure, perhaps 99% will fade into obscurity, but it is the 1%, those serendipitous 6 degrees of separation that we never forget. On a more business like note, our weak ties have also been shown to be the most likely source of innovation as they bring in new and diverse knowledge and experiences that we would not normally come into contact with. They have also been found to be the most likely way of finding a new job…. the topic of the now most celebrated theory of American academic Mark Granovetter’s Strength of Weak Ties.
Side Bar 9 – Social Technologies finding mainstream application
We mostly think of social software being designed specifically to bring people together for social interactions. Facebook facilitates interactions between friends, Linkedin facilitates more business focussed interactions. We are however now finding mainstream applications that have social technologies at their heart and with the expectation that they will outperform traditional software because of that. Twitter is perhaps a good example of software software designed for people to socialise via short sound bites, that is now being used as an early warning news source. Breaking information around natural disasters more regularly comes through Twitter, than conventional sources, with the people on the ground, in the event, being able to act as reporters. News trends are also being reported through mining of Twitter hash tags. Twitter is one of the reasons for the disruption being felt now in the publishing industry, worldwide. Ebay’s auction application was arguably the first major application of social technologies for mainstream use. Ebay was started as a means for people with common interests to get together and trade artefacts. This has now grown to be the world’s leading online selling application, on its way disrupting traditional retail markets.
In our tour with Benny H. I noticed that he was using a GPS application that is gaining popularity and one I had recently also loaded on my iphone. It is called Waze and as it turns out , it is an Israeli software innovation and the CEO is a friend of Benny’s. What is unique about Waze is that it does not rely on existing road maps as its base. It simply tracks where vehicles using its software are travelling and therefore builds its maps from this data. Additionally it uses social techniques to encourage people to report on points of interest, the most important being traffic incidents. As Benny suggested, Waze uses complex systems methods to collect information from independent agents and then to fuse this information in a way that it benefits all of the agents. Clearly cloud technology and the ability to collect realtime information from agents has made the Waze model possible….and we are likely to see more of this as cloud technologies mature. The unique utility that Waze offers is that the path it provides to you takes dynamic notice of traffic situations, and is therefore really the fastest route to your destination. As with all new software there has been some interesting anecdotes about its early use. Waze can claim to be the first GPS software with a map to the Antarctic! All it took was for someone travelling there to have Waze operating while they made the trip. It did not need a pre-existing road system. On the more negative side Benny told a story about one time where the software actually created a traffic jam by sending people through the same bottleneck. He called his CEO friend to point this issue out, only to be told that he wasn’t the first and the CEO had been inundated with complaints. Apparently there was a glitch in the cloud system that prevented certain servers from updating information …. I suspect this is an issue that only real-time applications like Wayz might be impacted by.
We will undoubtedly see more mainstream software relying on social models as their core means of delivery. This fusion of social and traditional is an exciting evolution which promises to bring another level of everyday utility to software consumers.
Side-Bar 10 – Social Network Analysis and Jewish Diaspora
While walking around Jerusalem; a complex fusion of religions, nationalities, cultures and histories I thought about whether network scientists had studied and contributed to resolving the complex issues that exist here. From a building communities perspective, I had previously commented that a common language is the strongest of ‘bonding agents’. Religion would have to be a close second. A quick Google search uncovered this article:
Basically Collar found that looking at the Jewish Diaspora as a small world network provides a deeper insight into how religious innovations diffuse across large networks over time. She does identify that only strong ties can influence change, the weak ties can prepare communities for change via information sharing transmissions. Where weak ties do not exist, the communities become inward looking and parochial.
As we have discovered in other contexts, the more a community are connected by dense strong ties, the less likely that the community will be open to change. The religious denominations are strong tie networks. One does not find people who are both Muslims and Christians. There are however people who are happy to be open to the views of multiple religions, but these ‘weak tie’ people are not in a position to influence change. Perhaps it requires the religious leaders to look for points of commonality, rather than points of differences if we are to achieve a more peaceful co-existence between the religious denominations. Interestingly co-existence of religious denominations was the stated objective of the Jews for Temple Mount. Weak ties can still be useful for information dissemination between the denominations, but the denominations have to be open receptors. Our Jewish guide Effie may have had his prejudices, but to do his job well he had to become well informed about other religious denominations. Perhaps weak tie linkers educated like Effie could play an important role in brokering at least a tolerance of religious differences. Perhaps the network scientists can contribute something here.
Back to the Jewish Diaspora …. arguably the largest network of its type, network science definitely has a role to play in sustaining and improving its connectedness. We have already had discussions with the CEO of an Australian Diaspora network on this very topic.
Side Bar 11 – Selling Networks
The stall holders, donkey and horse taxi riders we saw in Petra are typical of what you see in any country or areas where people are struggling to earn a decent living. We see this in a lot of Asian, Middle Eastern and South American countries and even in the suburbs of well-developed cities. Beyond the clever pitches I am always stunned by how effective the “hidden network” is when you express just the slightest interest in something. It happened to me first in Bali over 30 years ago. I expressed an interest in a carved fisherman… which was not that common. However everywhere I went the vendors would see me coming and rustle around in their stock to pull out the ‘Fisherman”…their intelligence network was absolutely stunning. I also recall visiting a computer market many years ago, intent on building my own PC from parts. I had my list of “best of breed” parts, which no single stallholder had. However one entrepreneurial stallholder quickly ran around to the other stalls and picked up my parts (no formal transactions…they would settle up after) and then built my custom PC on the spot for me!
When I think about how “big business” goes about its work with expensive customer relationship management systems (CRMs); formal partnerships and agencies; sophisticated analytics; expensive advertising campaigns; you would have to think that there is something to be learnt from these small business networks, built on trust; but highly effective. I would love to map one of these networks but I suspect that their power is in the invisibility of it all. Our guide Riad comes from a large family and seems to be greeted by people everywhere he goes. I joke that he has many cousins. Marguerite’s Son told us that he himself has over 80 cousins just on the Jordanian side … what a start great start to a network!
Sidebar 12 – I find a personal connection with Yolie and Larry (new connections)
Yolie and Larry joined our organised tour of Jordan. In casual conversation I find out that Yolie managed the development of the NRMAs initial Expert system in the 1980s. Larry was also involved. I started the Expert Systems initiative in BHP in the mid 1980s so we would have attended the same Expert Systems conferences at UTS in Sydney. Our common connection was Professor Ross Quinlan, who was at UTS at the time and the convenor of those early conferences on Expert Systems. So bingo; from two people I had never met before it only took a few days to identify a common connection (without the help of Facebook or Linkedin!).
Final Side-Bar – Travel and Social Networking Closing Perspectives
I created this Social Networking Travel Log (SLOG) to bring a sightly different perspective to the traditional travel blogs by placing people and social connections above places in my reporting. For the most part this has worked, though the “the Organised Tour” parts of the trip did provide less opportunity for new social connections, which I guess is an observation in itself. I also wanted to link the experiences of the past 40 days of travel to a business context, in this case the “social business” context.
I should start with why I had wanted to write a blog like this in the first place. Some of you may be thinking “what has holiday travel got to do with business?” My response is that the words “Social” and “Business” were previously unconnected, but what about today with all the social media/networking tools? The line separating work and pleasure is getting muddier all the time.
I am an avid traveller and have been fortunate to be able to travel for both work and pleasure, I do however have some friends and relatives that don’t really share this interest (they are in the minority). They appear to have a comfort zone that they are unwilling to move beyond. Even when they do travel, they do not return with the same delight from the experiences as those of us that love to travel. In the workplace we see many people like this. They have found their comfort zone, where they can perform competently, if not necessarily with distinction. They tend not to change jobs or roles too much. In some way we could see them as the “keepers of the status quo”; the signposts of the culture and “how we do things here”. As I said these people tend to be a minority. I have many friends who in their early lives had not been able to afford to travel extensively, but once they start, they just can’t get enough. These are people who may initially appear like the ‘stay at home’ types but once given the opportunity, their minds are broadened and it can change their whole perspective on life.
I was fortunate in by early career to have a Research Director who came to us after a distinguished academic career across Europe and the USA. He immediately identified how insular we were in Australia (largely due to distance and this was pre-Internet days); and he went about changing this by facilitating greater overseas travel amongst his research staff, even if this meant foregoing the standard business class for overseas travel for economy class travel. We weren’t complaining! In essence this Research Director became the broker for new work experiences and perspectives for a generation of researchers, and I for one am eternally grateful. My Research Director was a ‘Catalyst’ for change. In many business situations staff may find themselves drawn into the status quo. It’s convenient and comfortable. Sometimes it takes a broker, in the form of a catalyst, to awaken the explorer in us. Others seek out these experiences, without the need for such a catalyst. In a travelling context I’ve always admired those that were able to travel the world on a shoestring. They will no doubt be taking risks that many of us are not comfortable with. But their reward is the life experiences that many of us will never have. Of course not all experiences are positive, but even the bad ones are memorable and ones we can learn from.
I believe that the majority of people are open to broadening their minds and moving out of their comfort zones to take on new experiences. Sometimes it just takes that catalyst to make it happen. I’m also convinced that those that travel bring a greater appreciation for cultural differences when they return to the workplace. All workplaces create the opportunity for conflict. We strive for conformity and consensus through building strong bonds but as the saying goes “It’s often the ties that bind us that also blind us”. As network scientists we will often preach the need for balancing cohesion and diversity. I think from this trip, particularly the middle eastern part, I have learnt a better way of expressing this…and that is “tolerance”. By this I mean that we need to respect that there will be strong communities that we will not always share a common view with. We can waste a lot of time trying to achieve a common view, a consensus if you like. The challenge of the “social business” will be to thrive without the discipline of top down control. From what I have experienced in the middle East, the vast majority of the people we met were looking for an amiable co-existence, not a domination of one over the other (which the media would have us believe). It is even too much to expect that such disparate groups will ever trust each other. But what they can do is develop a level of tolerance for their neighbours that at least mean that they can still live a productive life. For the social business there will also be inevitable differences that will need to be addressed through peer level negotiation and not destructive conflicts.
Effie our Israeli guide mentioned it several times. While we could see where his allegiances lay we could also see he was trying hard not to be overly judgemental on the other faiths. Effie also made the early comment (in jest) that the problems in the Middle East could be resolved by getting rid of CNN and similar press agencies that like reporting on only the extremist positions, that inevitably result in a drop in the Tourist trade (which is happening now). It certainly was our experience that the general public are much more tolerant in their views than what we would have believed before we came here. This is where I believe that social media has a part to play in balancing the views of the traditional reporting agencies. The Internet facilities we have seen in Israel and Jordan are as good, if not better than we would see in Australia. Lets just hope that tolerance for freedom of speech could be the same or better. We can translate this situation to a business context as well. How many of you have experienced work cultures that reward “towing the party line and labelling the outspoken as dangerous?” I have met many mid level and senior executives that have felt politically constrained in speaking their own minds, in the name of conformity and consensus. Tolerance is about making your views known but being able to live with opposing views if the situation calls for it.
From a generational perspective I see the Gen Xs and Gen Ys as much more avid travellers than my own baby boomer generation, largely driven by the greater opportunities and affordability that now exists. In the Middle East, the cultural traditions are being challenged in the same way that previous generations have done, but perhaps at a faster pace? I reflect on Riad’s comments about his own children. He is about the same age as me. His marriage was arranged and he is looking to have at least a strong say in his children’s marriages, but he sees that he will be fighting an uphill battle, which I think he grudgingly accepts. Armed with more open, global experiences; and with it broader minds and cultural tolerances, I look forward to this generation driving the Socialisation of Business practices into the future.
It may sound like I’m suggesting that the Middle Eastern cultures are starting to modernise along the lines that we are familiar in the Western world; and that this is a good thing. With respect to women in the workplace I think this is true. Riad had mentioned that he was not supportive of the more extreme Muslim treatment of women in the workplace. I recall when teaching a knowledge management course to students who were mainly from the Middle East and being informed by some of the women in the class that they were not even permitted to be in the same meetings as men, let alone share knowledge with them! On the other hand I think we can learn a lot from those cultures that value trust relationships as I wrote about in the Side bar “Selling Networks”. Riad joked that one of the main products from small villages in Jordan are children. He has seven of his own and comes from a family of twelve, so he has many cousins. I too come from such a culture and have a large extended family. Family networks start as trusted networks by default and of course some will degrade to different degrees. In the Middle East, as in China and other parts of Asia business is still conducted through such networks. It can move surprisingly quickly, as I have indicated earlier. Western world business practices, in the absence of such networks, have tried to substitute with formal legal mechanisms. While these mechanisms are a necessary evil when it comes to scaling up an enterprise, we should always be mindful that “trust will trump contract” any day.
I figured that there were a couple of other key concepts that it would be great to include, and therefore created another drawing (trying to replicate Dave’s hand-drawn style!). Dave’s drawing is also included in this very short presentation.
Essentially Quinn’s argument was that the vast majority of jobs in the developed world (around 80%) are now service oriented and that competitive advantage now comes from having ‘best in class’ competencies. His inverted hierarchy emphasises the need for line management to “support”, rather than “direct” front line staff in services organisations. Since its publication in the 1980s there has been a plethora of supporting voices from all quarters. The Deloitte’s led study “The Big Shift”; and book on “The Power of Pull”; the MIT management think tank on “Leaders Everywhere”; Steve Denning’s book “Radical Leadership”; plus numerous HBR and McKinsey articles all imploring the same message, get rid of the bureaucracy, flatten the organisation, and empower the front line staff. Easier said than done?
Try as we might the management hierarchy, with its military heritage adopted by industry in the last century, has been a hard one to shake. Over a decade and a half of Social Network Analysis (SNA) studies has highlighted to us just how embedded this model is within organisations, though clearly the degree of hierarchical compliance does vary significantly across industries. A network model of a well functioning hierarchy will show cohesive networks at the executive level. The cohesive groups will then fragment as you move down through the levels of the organisation chart. At the base of the chart you will see shop floor level teams only connected through higher levels in the hierarchy.
Of course in an industrial age, where the workforce was largely engaged in manufacturing or producing widgets, this form of work organisation has stood the test of time in terms of efficiency and low cost production. The situation changes when those passive widgets become active and opinion fuelled customers! As aware as we are how can we enact change to the inverted hierarchy?
Barriers to Change
Rather than going straight to solution mode it is worth reflecting first on the nature of the barriers that we are faced with:
Your organisational remuneration systems are likely to be strongly biased to the levels in the hierarchy, hence there is a vested interest for those at the top to maintain the status quo.
Those part-way up the hierarchy have developed long term strategies as to how they can climb that hierarchy and have little interest in disrupting the status quo.
Those at the base of the hierarchy have learnt that to progress up the hierarchy one must first learn to do what your line manager boss wants, hence reinforcing the hierarchy.
For many nationalities the management hierarchy is embedded in their cultures. Asian cultures in particular have ‘respect for your elders’ and ‘respect for your leaders’ built in, even if sometimes that respect is not implicit, it is usually explicit.
Even office or workplace designs reinforce the hierarchy. The default design is to co-locate those according to the organization chart. Though some forward thinking organisations are now challenging this by looking to engineer innovation and developing serendipitous connectionsthrough judicious physical space design.
– Too much is required by too few people on top — change is belated, infrequent, convulsive, i.e. by the time the top realises that a change is needed, it’s too late.
– Instead of continuing to ask more and more of the top leaders, we should move responsibility and expertise downwards.
– We already realise that value is created by the associates (note: most don’t call them employees any longer), e.g. by interacting with clients, we talk about co-creation with clients.
– One of the next important steps, after 360-feedback, is 360-compensation that gets rid of the rigid, hierarchical structure of compensation, but attributes compensation more fairly to where it is created.
– Choosing environments that increase our likelihood of encountering people who share our passions; becoming and staying visible to the people who matter most.
– Influencing their endeavors so they amplify our own work.
– Discovering and interacting with the right people at the right time (timeliness).
– Making the most of every serendipitous encounter (relevance).
Along the same lines MIT professor Thomas J Allen, the inventor of the ‘Allen Curve’ which articulates the level of drop off in communications with spatial separation, with co-author Gunter Henn, find that levels of physical co-location predicts the level of electronic communication. In their book the Organization and Architecture of Innovation, they make the compelling point that non-collocated teams that share an organizational membership will suffer some loss of intra-departmental communication, but this would be more than offset by increased inter-departmental communication with co-located members of other departments, which would be virtually non-existent without that co-location. The increasing availability of electronic communication facilities has no or little effect on this. So their suggestions could be summarised as:
– For staff involved in tasks requiring complex communications, co-location is essential.
– For staff tasked with coordinating others, co-location is not critical
– Where organizations are looking to build a diversity of interactions (like the base of the service pyramid) the tradeoff between intra-departmental vs inter-departmental communication, in deciding on who sits near who, is well worthwhile.
Orchestrating Change through Networks
For our part we believe that the value that SNA can add is the ability to provide specificity to these general recommendations. By providing targeted areas for action, the effects are likely to be felt in the shorter term, providing a stronger catalyst for change. For example, in addressing Denning’s recommendations, SNA can provide a baseline as to how the current organisation is working. What are the current levels of bureaucracy? Is it uniform or are some areas more bureaucratic than others? Which areas are likely to be engaging in innovative co-creation activities with clients? Is this happening at the service interface or at higher levels in the hierarchy? How are customers being engaged at each level of the hierarchy? How is client intelligence being vertically integrated up and down the hierarchy?
The above map is filtered to show predominantly reciprocated relationships to accentuate the relationship patterns. One can see how the management layers are closely clustered with a selection of clients. At another level we can see many associate-client disconnected clusters. The opportunity exists for the management to facilitate peer connections between these disconnected clusters to achieve a broader base of client connection, without the need to introduce bureaucratic overheads.
In addressing Gary Hamel’s suggestions, SNA can assess how much appreciation the management layers have on the value being generated at the client interfaces. We regularly find that in hierarchical organisations dependency nominations rarely point downwards i.e. managers tend not to acknowledge their dependency on their own staff, but will freely nominate ‘up and out’. In the Hamel scenario we would see many more reciprocated nominations. SNA is often compared with 360 deg reviews. When asked a question like “who helps you most in getting your job done well”?” Those staff nominated the most would qualify for higher remunerations according to Hamel. SNA can identify these ‘most valued’ staff precisely.
In terms of efficiency we had already indicated that the dependency relationships invariably point upward, rather than the other way. As Hamel indicates, this causes a logjam at the top, with many organisations paralysed while waiting for management responses. Many of the executives we work with have despaired at what they see as their staff’s inability to be accountable and to resolve peer level issues amongst themselves, rather than relying on the line management to make a call on any little dispute. We shouldn’t be surprised as hierarchies are designed this way. Unfortunately with growing interdependence between job roles the call on managers to adjudicate disputes is growing with it. What we need to see and encourage is natural ‘leaders without authority’. These are the influencers and ‘can do’ staff who can influence others through their powers of persuasion, rather than through the power of position. They are able to successfully negotiate outcomes through co-operation and collaboration. We have found that the ‘key players’ identified by the SNA are, more often than not, these types of people.
In the above map we have identified those that are not part of the line management, yet have attracted several peer dependency nominations, which are often reciprocated (red lines).
In the “Power of Pull” much is made of being able to quickly identify the people you should be collaborating with, independent of a formal structure. An ‘industrial era’ response to these needs would be to build a skills or ‘yellow pages’ directory where everyone’s skills and experiences could be catalogued and freely searched. These efforts have largely been miserable failures. For several organisations we have been able to fill this gap by using the key players identified in the SNA as connection brokers. Rather than building expensive directories that become out of date before they are published, the SNA identified brokers who are organised to respond to people search enquires, by doing what they do naturally. And that is to provide qualified referrals, meaning that the right connections are being made in the fastest possible time.
The “Power of Pull” also identifies the importance of serendipitous connections or relevance. In SNA terminology these are called ‘weak ties’, made famous by Mark Granovetter’s “Strength of Weak Ties” theory. Granovetter’s research identified that someone looking for a new job is much more likely to be successful by working through people that they might only know peripherally, rather than working through their closest connections. The logic is that your weak tie network provides a far broader search potential than your close ties, whose connections you are likely to be already connected to. SNA can explore your ‘weak tie’ network, identifying those that are best positioned to broker connections to the largest number of relevant connections.
The above map identified only those connections that were nominated as ‘minor’ and therefore representing this organisation’s ‘weak tie’ network. The nodes were sized by a ‘betweenness’ metric, which identifies those best positioned to broker connections between diverse groups. Interestingly the most dominant grouping (coloured ‘grey) were viewed as somewhat peripheral in comparison to the core groups. Our advice to the management was to make them aware of the potential role these ‘brokers’ could play in triggering breakthrough innovation.
Finally lets address the Thomas Allen’s research and the powerful influence physical proximity has on connectivity and collaboration. This topic is addressed in more detail in Workplace Space and Connectedness, but for this article we highlight how SNA can overlay physical location attributes onto the social network analysis maps to identify just how powerful this impact might be in any given workplace. To ‘engineer serendipity’ we basically need to change where people sit. In doing this however, we don’t want to destroy existing teams. Using SNA we can clearly identify those teams showing the strongest density of internal connections. It is these teams that are mostly susceptible to the negative aspects of group think and therefore would benefit most from a more diverse suite of connections. They are also the teams least likely to be damaged by physical separation, as the existing trust links will ensure continued collaboration, independent of physical location.
The above map identifies the connectivity patterns across physical work areas (identified by a Floor/Area code). In this case we can see the organisation has allocated the physical space according to the organisational structure (as per the colour of the circles). The connectivity patterns identify the ‘traffic pattern’ of connectivity across the physical space. The cohesiveness of the existing teams can also be seen, providing a choice for those teams that could be physically separated for ‘engineered serendipity’ purposes.
There are many arguments for inverting the management hierarchy in order to thrive in today’s economy. It is however, easier said than done, with many structural mechanisms working to reinforce rather than dismantle it.
We have identified a number of ways SNA can facilitate this challenging task:
Identifying how clients are actually being engaged with at all levels of the organisation. Visually identifying where bureaucratic processes are impacting performance.
Identifying who the ‘key players’ in the organisation are, being those identified through 360 degree nominations. Rewards and acknowledgement of these key players can change behaviours.
Identifying the ‘leaders without authority’. These are the people at the bottom of the hierarchy who through their powers of influence and persuasion can lead the way from the bottom.
Use the identified key players as connection brokers. In this way ensuring that the right connections can be made at the right time, without the overhead of bureaucratic systems.
Build the reach across the organisation through identified brokers in the ‘weak tie’ network, as a more effective alternative to relying on the formal hierarchy.
Identify the most cohesive teams as those who would benefit most from an injection of diverse connections through co-location. They would also suffer least from not being physically co-located.