Networks Thinking: Adapting for Complexity

These are the notes, slides and suggested further reading for the lecture I’m giving today at Warwick Business School as part of its Complexity, Management & Network Thinking business module entitled Networks Thinking: Adapting for Complexity.

Introduction

Networks became a focus for me about seven years ago, as I began to look at the effect that social networks and the web were having on the industries I was working in, marketing communications and media. The more I learned about networks, the more it seemed to me that they were incredibly important in re-thinking how our business worked – the business of attracting attention, essentially – and that they were important both as the cause and context of disruption we were experiencing (and would continue to experience for some years to come).

When it came to media and marketing, channels were being replaced (displaced, disrupted) by networks as the dominant model. The implications were profound for industries that had been built on building big channels, for big audiences with big advertisements and big budgets attached.

At iCrossing, the digital agency which gave me a home and let me develop a social media and content practice, we started re-designing the whole process of brand communications, from research through to measurement, with three principles

  1. Understand your networks
  2. Be useful to your networks
  3. Be present in your networks

It became clear very quickly, that once you started to adapt your customer communications to the new reality of networks, you started to look at the rest of the business very differently and that the impact of networks, the need to adapt to the age of networks, was going to be felt throughout the organisation. Networks were disrupting the existing media and communications models so much that soon politics, commerce, culture and society as a whole would begin to feel its effects.

NewImage

Networks are a model for managing complexity

Some of the topics and themes addressed in the talk include…

  • Embracing complexity
  • Scales from individual, to team, to division to team…
  • Understand networks (& then your networks)
  • Develop organisational and personal networks literacy
  • Networks thinking: design for networks
  • Beginning to lay down principles
  • As well as understanding… your networks… principles…
  • Presence first, process second: more important to be in play and prepared…

Sources cited

Recommended reading (some already cited as sources):

Recommended blogs

 

 

 

Advice for web start-ups

Partly for a project I’m working on and partly to have another try at using the lovely Storify curation platform, I’ve pulled together this collection of my favourite links and resources about web start-ups.

Let me know what you think – and if there’s anything that should be added…


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Image: Facebook’s old office in Palo Alto…

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.

Platform-ism

  • 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.

ZZ1A4C91A9.jpg


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.

Platform-ism

  • 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.

ZZ1A4C91A9.jpg


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.

Platform-ism

  • 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.

ZZ1A4C91A9.jpg


Uncertainty (and the certainty of Wikileaks coming to your organisation soon)

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The introduction to a blog post by Charlie Beckett about the US State Department’s dilemmas and dealings with the Wikileaks affair more or less articulates something I’ve been mulling recently: how can organisations respond to some of the more extreme effects of the web:

Authority hates uncertainty. Big business and government feel safest when life is predictable and stable. Change implies a risk that your grip on power will be weakened. And unexpected change is the worst kind of all. But if uncertainty is permanent, can systems adapt?

A state department official, speaking at Polis under Chatham House rules, described the impact of Wikileaks on the delicate art of diplomacy:

The State Department official told us that Wikileaks reveals the brittleness of the balance between necessary secrecy of government and the freedom of the press. He said, memorably, that WikiLeaks was like ‘a cartoon grand piano dropped down upon that arrangement’. A lot of noise and not a little chaos.

The post moves on to make some excellent points about networks and the implications of a networks world…

The Internet is more powerful at amplifying political forces because it connects personal, mass and economic communication networks to one connected communications system – the Internet. This makes these networks more powerful but also more complex, vulnerable and unstable. Whether its WikiLeaks or Wael Ghnomin on Facebook, The Internet is the Uncertainty Principle in Global Relations.

The disruptive effects of the web – the revealed complexity of networks, the speed things spread, that edge ideas move to the mainstream, the altered balances of knowledge and power between individuals and groups – are being seen first in international relations and politics, but it is coming to commercial life too (just ask Bank of America).

Wikileaks may be the prime agent of disruption at the US State Department right now, but it is a manifestation of bigger trend, or set of trends – transparency, web-enabled activist networks, distrust of politicians – rather than the whole story in and of itself. There are other organisations like WIkileaks, they just haven’t made the headlines yet. As for the tools to be able to do what Wikileaks has done – well they are available to anyone.

Privacy and private information – be it your own, or your organisations – is effectively at the mercy of anyone who cares to consider hacking it and making it available. Many people see a public interest case in shining a light on US diplomacy.

Many will see the same case for exposing the workings of large corporations. But how about smaller ones? How about NGOs? How about every single company and local government department? How about patient records? How about your own personal email, social network and bank accounts?

Well, there’s a whole other set of blog posts to be made about the forces that unleashed Wikileaks being taken to their logical conclusions, but what is to be done in preparation? The case studies that are discussed around crisis communications and social media for instance are the often told instances customer revolt and revolting employees. Maybe communicators should be stretching themselves a little and thinking through the implications of when Wikileaks comes to their town.

Immediately we cannot guarantee a secret, the issue becomes about how we do openness, how we do business. The Uncertainty Principle sounds ironically like an organising principle for communications, brand and indeed wider business strategy. Going back to Charlie Beckett’s post, we have to wean our organisations off of certainties if they are to adapt to the complexity of the modern world.

Cisco still all about the networks

Cisco is a company that I find very interesting indeed, as it has completely understood the importance of online networks not at just a technical level (its machines are what makes up much of what the internet is built on) but at a strategic business level.

That means much more than effusive but impractical “this changes everything” sentiment in the boardroom. Cisco, led by John Chambers’ born-again zeal for the potential of the hyper-connected world, has put its brains and brawn to work on building a networked company.

I blogged about the Cisco approach two years ago in a post called “Command and Control is Dead”. As I said, that means things like:

  • Accepting that the social network sum of its people is smarter than its C-level team
  • Embracing complexity and uncertainty about where technology, business and the whole world are headed
  • Designing business processes and growing a culture that takes both of the previous two points as its context
  • Being able to work in upwards of 25 major initiatives at once, where previously two at most were possible

Anyway, do read that original post and watch the video of John Chambers at MIT for more information.

Two years on, Cisco hasn’t deviated from pursuing the vision it laid out there. I was really interested to read an account by Andrew Sharrock of another Chambers keynote, this time last week in London, talking about how Cisco was doing and where its strategy was taking it next.

It seems that Cisco’s vision has deepened with experience, and the concept of Networked Economy taking over from the Information Economy is being discussed.

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Adapting to the age of networks is an imperative not just for technology companies, but whole nation states, for most of the West, Chambers says. When we’re seeing R&D jobs leaving the UK for emerging markets, this view really rings true.

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I was also interested to see the slide on Cisco’s Vision, Strategy and Execution, which shows global councils (see my previous post) still at the heart of being able to move on several fronts at once, seemingly producing the effect of allowing a big company to be agile, freeing itself from 20th century structures and accessing the latent power of its own human networks.

if you’re interested in reading more about Cisco’s Global Council approach, Andrew’s post also links to another by Raph D’Amico, which includes a diagram showing how Cisco prioritises opportunities.

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The ROI of personal networks (especially LinkedIn)

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Image: An email from LinkedIn prompting me to tell my network what I’m up to…

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who told me that over the past year that had learned how to use LinkedIn and that they reckoned that they could directly attribute several hundred thousand pounds of profit to it. Not vaguely, not hypothetically – they knew exactly which items on their balance sheet were the result of doing things because of and through that social network tool.

They were a fiftysomething avowedly non-techie businessperson in a service industry and I found their account of their experience very useful, as it had the fresh perspective of someone outside of the connected world I most live in.

They were of course highly successful in their field already, and implicitly understood the importance of personal networks in business.

Their nightmare scenario in business was missing out on an opportunity because they weren’t in the right place at the right time, that they weren’t front of mind when someone in their sector was pulling together a short-list for a contract or similar. What Twitter was doing was helping them to increase both their presence and profile in their personal network and their ability to listen to the needs of their connections and contacts.

These were some of the points they related which stuck with me…

  • Paying attention to what is happening: They weren’t a compulsive checker of what was happening on their LinkedIn account, they used a weekly email update to see who was doing new things, connecting with someone else, saying interesting things or asking for help on status updates.

  • Light-touch presence: They update their status every now and again, but had grasped that in LinkedIn less can often be more. I agree with this, which is why I don’t connect Linkedin to Twitter. In Twitter I am much more chatty, and when the mood takes me update several times a day or even hour. In LinkedIn that’s not useful – I leave status updates there only when something significant has happened, or I am travelling somewhere that I think I might meet others from my network or I am looking for input on a particular project or issue. They also mentioned that changing their photograph or updating their profile details every few months was a useful way of keeping (sociologists would call that a phatic expression – the online equivalent of waving as you pass or saying “hi” briefly).
  • Being useful to their network: As well as answering obvious business opportunities, they stressed the importance of connecting others who would be useful to one another, when they spotted an opportunity. This connecting behaviour is a classic networking approach, and one that leaves everyone feeling positive toward one another. Often it can also result in direct or indirect commercial benefits for the connector.

LinkedIn is a productivity, networking super-charger: It’s not just about LinkedIn, of course – it is about understanding your personal networks and how to behave, to be useful in them. Tools like Linkedin accelerate and augment our ability to successfully work with our networks, in them, through them. But the real, underlying superskill as I’m calling it at the moment, is all about networks.

Customers in networks: slides and notes from ChangePlayBusinesss

ChangePlayBusiness was an unusual event, to say the least, living up to its promise to be an unconference. About 40 innovators and entrepreneurs gathered at the ICA to play a game about creating businesses, the playing of which included connecting with one another (there were a lot of interesting people) and meeting subject matter experts on everything from financing to marketing (which is where I came in).

My role was to deliver a “masterclass” on understanding and communicating with customers in a “changing economy”. I chose to interpret this as an opportunity to talk about businesses in the age of networks, in the age of complexity.

The slides are here for those (with the push/pull error reversed!) who attended the session:

And these are the links that I promised to post:

Bureaucracies defend themselves to death.

Media & incumbent business models: it's complicated...

Vested interests, protectionism, conservatism are the enemies of diversity, innovation and change.

This idea has been at the heart of liberalism since John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty. He used the example of China, a civilisation so advanced and sophisticated that it invented paper, printing and gunpowder centuries before Europeans ever got near them.

Then China got bureaucracy. Got complexity combined with central control. And it stopped. Nothing changed, the elite decided how the world would be and how it would be forever. It’s a kind of societal Amish effect.

Clay Shirky’s written a fascinating essay about all of this called The Collapse of Complex Business Models. I especially love this quote:

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it?s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

He uses examples of AT&T backing off from web hosting because of an obsession with up-time and reliability that didn’t fit the market. It’s what’s happening now with media companies that expect to be paid for their IP in the way they choose because the alternative does not compute for them.

It’s an interesting thought that the inability to see how things could get simpler might be what chokes an industry, a business. Does it jar with the Russell Ackoff call to ignore the “Keep It Simple Stupid” oversimplification that middle managers are so often englamoured by? I don’t think so – understanding complexity doesn’t mean you have to defend it.

Thanks @neilperkins for the point…