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.


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.


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.


Influence: It’s complicated


Image: Streams, emergence – insert your own wry analogy here…

I liked the idea that “Strength of community supersedes influence” laid out in a post by Geoff Livingston.

What the post is saying is that in many ways the community is more important than a singled-out influencer, and yet a lot of effort is expended trying to identify the influencers and then, er, influence them. And I agree with that – the networks are more important to understand, and usually less understood by everyone from media/marketing planners to policy makers.

There is influence in networks, multidirectional influence at that. It is just wrong to boil down influence to being all about influencers. There are people who are important, who can pass on a thought or idea or link to a whole lead of others, but it’s not a a predictable, simple, sustainable thing.

It makes me remember what Duncan Watts said about accidental influencers. Very often someone is made to look influential or are influential within a network because an idea, a thought has started with them.

You influence the networks you join, you are influenced by your networks, by the actions of people you know and don’t. And networks also have a mind of their own, the rule from Connected that chimes with what Geoff is saying.

Thinking about the idea of influencers in that context, it is almost as if networks choose their influencers. Or maybe that influencers are an emergent phenomenon in social networks.

SuperSkills at 3 Monkeys – some more thoughts and writing a second book


Early start today to talk about the SuperSkills idea, at 3 Monkeys Communications in Soho.

If you attended – thanks very much and here are the slides (which strictly speaking I should have posted beforehand). For more detailed notes about the detail of the talk, take a look at the post from TEDx last week.

Super skills at 3 monkeys

View more presentations from Antony Mayfield.

The main change from this presentation’s debut at TEDx Brighton last week was to add a little about the business or management context for thinking about SuperSkills. Moving on from some ways of describing this I’ve used in the past, I talked about analysing the impact of social web on a business across four areas, with the acronym LOOP:

  • Long term: What are the strategic implications of the web for the next 5 – 10 years. How will it affect the classic PEST elements (Political, Economic, Social and Technological) in the organisation’s environment.

  • Operational: Here and now in the next 12 months where can social/web tools support operations such as marketing, customer service, sales, research, product development, HR etc.

  • Organisation: How will different teams be able to work together on social web related projects? How will information and insights be communicated quickly around the company?
  • People: What are the issues that the social web raises for our people? The line between public and private is blurring,

The feedback from both this talk and the TEDx one has been very positive (please do let me know if you have any criticisms, constructive or otherwise) and I’m going to start developing some of the ideas in a book now. Watch this space for more new son that front.

The main things that people have been positive about (other than the Gotham font) are:

  • The idea of investing time in learning tools like Twitter, to develop literacy.
  • How effective the Pomodoro technique can be.
  • Thinking about social networks as productivity tools at work.
  • Developing different approaches to work habits and workflow.
  • The importance of always-on sharing

Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts on the subject – it ‘s really useful in working out how a book about this might work.

The ROI of personal networks (especially LinkedIn)


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.

Facebook planet


This image has been on my computer desktop and on my mind since I saw it in December. High time I shared it here, really.

It’s a data visualisation of 10 million pairs of friends on Facebook and where they live in relationship to one another, created by an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team. Read the original blog post in full – it is fascinating stuff.

As Ian Tait points out, what’s amazing is that there is no map underneath, and yet you can pick out the shapes of the continents.

Interesting too are the gaps – China, Brazil and Russia are underrepresented, perhaps due to the fact that other social networks are more prevalent in those territories (RenRen, Orkut and Vkontakte respectivelY).

Via Broadstuff. Reminded by Crackunit

Media in the age of networks: the decay/evolution of advertising models

The Association of Publishing Agencies first International Content Summit was a great event to attend, as a speaker and a delegate. As well as the many inspiring and useful speakers, it was the ambition and optimism of the industry there that was striking.

This is the contract publishing industry, the kinds of publishers that create the supermarket mag, the in-flight periodical, the car brand’s customer title. Largely due to this lack of reliance on advertisers (beyond the client) and cover-price revenue it was a different kind of publishing gathering to ones I’d seen before.

There was little of the web-denial, the over-obsession with iPad as a saviour for the industry, a way of porting old formats (and business models) into the age of the web. The sense I got was of opportunity, of openness to new ideas and possibilities.

As I said in the notes to my talk, the marketing and media sectors are wide open for new approaches, new business models Everything is up for grabs, from content formats to how advertising is sold.

On that last point, I was really impressed by the analysis of the decay of the traditional advertising model presented by William Owen of Made by Many (one of the most interesting firms in this new space). His slides are below, but I recommend taking a look at his blog post which walks through his arguments.

William was set the brief by the APA of answering the following question: “is the traditional [advertising] model dead?”.

His response was to begin with a sensible “no”. Obviously the media buying-centred model of advertising is alive and kicking multi-million pound behinds. But it is decaying, and evolving.

Walking us through possible stages of the advertising model’s evolution (or decay, depending on your point of view), William took us through mass, fragmented, earned media models and arrived at this networked model (I nearly stood and cheered at that point, but this was an English conference so resisted):


The networked media model. This diagram is really a crude approximation of something much more complex: communities of customers becoming value producers in their own right, creating content, making recommendations, providing thousands of small services to each other. There’s an opportunity for brands to harness that power by adding services to products and creating communities of interest around social objects.

And of course there are also opportunities for still-powerful media channel brands in television and print to build direct relationships with advertisers and sponsors, using technology creatively to build applications that add co-branded services to content and facilitate direct transactions. This removes their reliance on ad networks and ups their margins.

He’s got it dead on, I think. That’s not to say I won’t be continuing to mull this presentation over for some time to come to challenge and build on the ideas, but for now I simply applaud…

William ended by quoting Russell Davies:

Experience Design will become the master discipline for businesses that want to be good at selling stuff.

That actually sounds obvious to a lot of us in this space, but it is worth repeating, rolling around the brain, and repeating again. That is experience design, not media buying, that will be at the core of the selling part of the media/marketing complex in years to come. Those experiences will be conceived in, of and through networks.

Embrace complexity to find simplicity

If you really want to understand networks, complexity is the place to go. Once you understand a little, you see complex adaptive systems everywhere, from traffic to the weather, and especially – if you are in my line of work – when you look at human social networks.

So, people who really understand how complexity works, as it were, are really worth listening to. Eric Beinhocker, who applied complexity theory to economics in his book The Origin of Wealth, gave me my first taste of it and I have been hooked ever since.

Ecologists are, naturally, enough steeped in complexity theory, as their field is all about the intricate relationships between environments and the many organisms that inhabit them.

So this TED talk, by ecologist Eric Berlow, is a three-minute eye opener about one simple lesson he has learned. You have to be able to see the complexity around any given issue in order to   

In his words we have to “embrace complexity” rather than trying to oversimplify problems we are examining. Look hard enough at a complex system and the simple patterns and answers will begin to emerge.

If you see a complex system, be excited rather than afraid, says Berlow. It means that you will be able to find a better answer quicker.

Embrace complexity is a phrase i’ve used myself before, beginning with the Brands in Networks e-book I wrote at iCrossing in 2008. It’s a hard thing for brands and organisations to accept, but refusing to oversimplify the challenges they face, particularly in online networks, can be a virtue rather than a cause of confusion.



Massively un-orchestrated


The last seven days have been a proud period for Twitter in the UK.

First up, the power of networks blew apart an arguably unconstitutional and malignant “super-injunction” that prevented a newspaper reporting on Parliament.

Next, a community of interest formed around a grim, homophobic column in the Daily Mail about a pop star who had recently died. Within hours advertisers had withdrawn their spots from the web page, the paper had to issue a statement and in the following days more complaints were made to the Press Complaints Commission than in the previous five years put together.

As Jan Moir – the columnist who maligned and snarked the  pop star – and the Daily Mail recomposed themselves this week some predictable phrases emerged about liberal “echo chambers” and an “orchestrated campaign” on the internet.

Both phrases are problematic, but the latter caught my attention most. Both the Trafigura injunction and Jan Moir column incidents were anything but orchestrated.

Let’s take a look at the kind of orchestrated she was thinking about…

The classic tactic of the American New Right and their Christian fundamentalist fellow travelers around the world from the 1980s onward was the phone tree. Networks were organised through churches and religious/political publications so that if something appeared on a TV show that was offensive to their morality they phoned the TV station to complain and, say, five other activists who may not have been watching the show (or perhaps were watching it and hadn’t realised that they should have been offended). Those activists would then call the station and then five other members of the tree.

As TV stations (and elected politicians, media watchdogs) tended to extrapolate public opinion from the number of letters or calls they got (one letter equals, says, 100 angry viewers) this tactic was used to disproportionately represent the opinions of what Nixon called “the moral majority”.

That’s not to give a value judgement, to say that they were better or more pure as spontaneous, mass network campaigns. It’s just that online networks like the ones that were using Twitter, don’t need to be “massively orchestrated” or premeditated.

As hours pass, I would argue that orchestration emerges in these situations. Petitions are created, hashtags get ordered, sites and tools emerge to help people take action or spread the word.

For more: There is an excellent discussion on this subject between Emily Bell and Stephen Brook on this week’s Media Guardian podcast.

Influence, shminfluence: You get the networks you deserve


“It’s all about the networks.”

We say it, I say it, a lot. But I’m not sure that we’re really appreciating what that means.

In a way, Gladwell did us a disservice with the Tipping Point. It over-simplified networks, when the most important thing you need to understand about networks, especially human, social networks, is just how very, very complex they are.

And of course, the Tipping Point, or perhaps more the endless retelling of the Tipping Point by marketers, gave us, or bolstered further, the cult of the influentials.

Find them, these gatekeepers to the herd, the idea went, persuade them of the merits of your cause, or pay them to pretend, and the masses will adjust their perceptions accordingly and success will be yours.

I think you may be better off thinking about models, strategies, tactics for success communicating, influencing people in networks by looking at evolutionary models, complexity theory, than hunting the ever-elusive influencer.

And they did exist. And you find them. What are you going to do? Buy them?

As for the people you sometimes see in Twitter and elsewhere proclaiming themselves to be influencers by dint of a spammy follower count. It’s like in the blogging days of yore, when someone pronounced to be, or alluded affinity with, the A-listers, I lost interest in them.

If you say you’re cool you not. Sort of thing.

My thoughts keep returning to a quote I heard via Brian Morrisey: “You get the network you deserve.”

For more coherence on this subject, check out this collection of thoughts and links on networks and influence at Data Mining.

New models for network business: Crowds/Tribes/Teams…

Image: Wanna Play Revolution? Some fine graffiti behind Brighton station
Image: Wanna Play Revolution? Some fine graffiti behind Brighton station...

Networks change everything they touch. New models for business will emerge as we begin to understand their potential.

Recently I’ve seen a potential model for loose networks of individuals to be applied to real-world challenges.

Let me tell you about it…

The SOMESSO conference in London on Friday was a deep draft of insights on how the age of networks is beginning to transform business.

I arrived after lunch, just in time to catch a double-blast of Lee Bryant and Umair Haque. Both had intensely engaging and compelling arguments to make – Lee about throwing off the 20th’s century organisation’s legacies and Umair about how the Obama campaign gives us a view on how 21st century organsations can succeed. More on those later, mostly likely – they were taking mee deeper into ideas I’ve been following them develop on their respective blogs.

There was something very new to me though, in Lloyd Davis’s presentation based loosley around the themes and stories of being a “social artist” and the work of art that is the Tuttle Club.

Social Media Club’s been running in London for a while now, and new nodes are springing up in various locales. And now Lloyd a hundred or so Tuttlers are trying out a new approac to appying their distributed talents, experiences and knowledge to real-world problems.

The formula is simple: Crowds / Tribes / Teams. (Its so elegant and compelling that I recalled it immediately afterwards without referring to notes, and have had the phrase/structure bouncing round my head all weekend.)

Read Lloyd’s post at the Tuttle Club blog for more on this, but here’s the nub as it is applied to a consulting process:

We begin by meeting you as a Crowd of highly experienced, highly creative and highly competent people. As we engage with your business, we work with you to create a series of Tribes – groups formed around your specific business issues, made up of those most engaged by them, and with experience most relevant to them. Finally, each Tribe becomes a Team, committed to delivering clearly defined solutions to specific, carefully considered issues.

This model is no in play, apparently. I can’t wait to hear about their adventures…