Business in Networks: Internet World Kongress, Munich – notes and links

These are the notes and slides for my talk at Internet World Kongress & Fachmesse, given today in Munich. I believe a livestream of the talk is available on the website and there may also be an archive with slides.

This talk is about how business is being disrupted by the web and the things we can do to adapt successfully, both at the organisational and personal level.

It combines some of the elements from two talks I gave earlier in the year: the web Super Skills I discussed at TEDx Brighton and the ideas about disruption, change management and Glasnost moments I talked about at CityCamp Brighton.

Here are the key points and relevant links:

Digital marketing at the edge of business transformation

  • We’re having some fun here, but just a bit. So obviously, I am talking to a room of digital marketers, so the idea of being at the leading edge is attractive, so is the idea that they have the stuff that is required to be the leaders of their wider organsiations.
  • The point is that they are closest in some ways to the web’s disruption of business. They have the tools and the need to adapt fastest, so the insights they gain may be what business as whole needs.

Business as usual to revolution as usual

  • The context is that we are living and will be living in a time of constant change, of permanent revolution.
  • Marc Andreesen explain this particularly well – as I’ve mentioned before. The web is pure software, we can keep reinventing it.

The Everywhere Web

  • Buzzwords are the hamster wheel of digital media and thinking clearly. We spend a lot of energy getting nowhere.
  • Two or three years ago, after a talks about Twitter people were asking what’s the next big thing after Twitter?
  • Better to udnerstand the big trends and call them what they are. I think about the social web, the data deluge and the everywhere web as the big meta trends.

Networks Thinking

  • We need to level up our thinking to deal with complexity. A friend of mine studying creativity at Goldsmiths introduced me to “threshold concepts”. they are ideas you really have to grasp before you can understand a whole lot of other things.
  • Networks are one of these, perhaps the most important for our age. We think we understand networks, but we really don’t a lot of the time.
  • When you are a German learning English you realise there are “false friends”, (“falsche Freunde“) words which sound or look the same in both languages but mean different things, e.g. “Gift” in German means “poison” rather than a present.
  • We don’t grasp how magnificently, terrifyingly complex networks are. We like to draw pictures of them and then think we’ve captured their meaning, when they are more like the weather – always changing, hyper-complex. Predictable if you are smart and have a huge amount of data and training, but only to a point and only some of the time. (There’s mileage in that weather forecasting analogy – I’d like to come up with it.


  • One of the traps we fall into when we are thinking about networks is “platform-ism”.
  • We see Facebook as a proxy for the web, as a our new TV channel, we see Likes or Fans or Followers on Twitter as the gauge of our success without taking the time to understand our networks.

Accidental influencers

  • Another mistake we make is to think that influence is something fairly straightforward in networks.
  • To be sure there is a celebrity effect – when someone with a huge amount of followers on Twitter plugs a charity or website it gets a lot of traffic (sometimes). But influence is not as predictable or as straightforward as we think.
  • We fall prey to what psychologists call “narrative bias” – we think we see how things work, think it is obvious after the facts. Duncan Watts’s new book will deal with this subject in some detail.
  • Duncan Watts coined the lovely phrase “accidental influencers” to describe how unpredictable influence in networks can be…
  • Talking about networks with some mathematicians last week one remarked that place, location in a network might be the thing that best predicts influence, rather than popularity.

References / further reading

And as I mentioned, for more on Superskills see my notes from my TEDx presentation and for more on Glasnost moments and LOOP take a look at the notes from my City Camp presentation

Lastly, my book Me and My Web Shadow is available from your local Amazon (in Germany it is here) and other good retailers (well ones with large inventories) :)

If you saw the talk at Internet World Kongress or on the livestream and have any questions or feedback please do let me know.


3 responses to “Business in Networks: Internet World Kongress, Munich – notes and links”

  1. Realy Great Presentation. Nice Slides.

  2. Antony Mayfield Avatar
    Antony Mayfield

    Thanks, Ulrich – really appreciate the feedback.

  3. Some really nice thinking. I particularly like the last thought from the Mathematicians. Proximity feels right.

    I went to a TechHub where Silver Oliver was talking about his semantic work at the BBC. He reorganised the BBC’s coverage of the World Cup (which they’re using as a blueprint for the Olympics, the BBC’s Wildlife area and is now tackling News and current affairs.)

    Listening to him there’s also something very interesting in how niche networks (breaking stories) ebb & flow around larger issues (becoming events in history and categorized) when real-time subject matter is the focus. Proximity, Context and Influence seem like the ‘magic triangle’.

    You could relate proximity, context & influence to breaking news, ongoing updates & opinion pieces – not sure whether the metaphor works for everything…it might actually work in the opposite direction from some things e.g. a gig(?) which would likely create anticipation and create a more memorable event?

    From a news perspective the most important immediate source is someone who’s there e.g. a Twitter source. Once the story has broken Proximity to that initial source becomes valuable; finally those with influence, presumably because of their opinion weigh in after the event…But could there be others?

    You may have tempted me to start blogging again ;o)

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