The Boston Chapter of the Association for Strategic Planning hosted Patti Anklam this Tuesday for a discussion of her book, Net Work , and the idea of networks in organizations.
The basic structure of the discussion was that Patti described the history and findings within her book, but it veered off into several areas that were equally interesting. The basic principles of Net Work are that human relationships are about networks, and that if it is a network it can be drawn. And with the drawing, you can make sense of it. This comment led to an ah-hah to me: Visualization leads to insights. This is obvious, but it's so important to remember that looking at familiar information in new ways can show you things you may not have seen before.
Given the tenor of the group, the discussion morphed into topics of designing networks around specific organizational designs - i.e. strategic views of network designs. (Actually, this question comes up in most discussions of social networks and social network analysis.) Anyone who knows about the topic knows there is no good answer to this question. Some networks topologies are valuable for certain types of activities, so there is some claim that one could guide their organization one direction or another. Patti had an interesting comment along these lines. It's not so important which network you have today, but it is useful to do comparisons within your business (or larger network). For example, what does the network look like for the high sales group vs. the low sales group? What does the network look like for the three research centers? How does that relate to the differences in their outcomes?
There were two interesting quotes toward the end of the discussion. Patti brought up something from Ron Burt that goes, "every day, your network is at risk of changing." The wording seems quite odd to me, but the idea is that we are constantly meeting and interacting with new people who can change other interactions within your network.
And then there was a related quote from someone else who claimed it's an old Jewish saying, "Whenever two people meet, two universes meet." This, of course, the genesis of those "risky" changes to your network.