Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Social Networks and The Innovation Challenge

In researching network theories as applied to organizations, discourse, games, and identity, I've been pondering the power of the social network to dominate the other networks and asking myself, is this most effective way to run a company? It seems that the current position of the company in the cycles of event types determines the network that should be chosen for the most effective communications media. A company that is seeking stability relies on the social network. Why? Research indicates that the social network favors the oldest relationships as these have longer lifecycles and have settled into stable orbits. Social networks do provide a fast and efficient under the table messaging medium.

What about a company that has evolved in a sub-optimum mode for innovation and now needs to make rapid changes to kick start innovation efforts?

The social networks are deadly to this goal. The tendancy of the members to preserve status quo ostracizes any source of new ideas that threaten the social oligarchy unless that source reinforces the positions of the oligarchs.

Social networks are necessary and where one doesn't exist, human resources and management will create one. However, without the challenge of learning and adopting technologies appropriate to the environment BEFORE it emerges, these networks only preserve power and often at the expense of adaptation and flexible response. Smart executives know that if the social network is the only effective means of communication, the company is dead and just doesn't know it.

Schadenfreude as a concept has become a cliche, but it is the one really effective means to eliminate innovation. Humiliation drives out thought just as its close cousin, fear, kills it. White pigging is alive and well in the social networks of the companies dominated by the formerly successful innovators who cannot accept that just as pop artist must, they have to know when to get off the stage and let a fresh act take it. Even when we have fans, we may not be doing our business much good to keep on giving them the old hits.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Len,

This should help you understand innovation as it seems you are somewhat challenged with the concept.

http://randomfoo.net/oscon/2002/lessig/free.html

Tim

len said...

Thanks for the link, Tim. I listened to it. I can't agree more. My personal dilemma is like XML binary is for others: how can I argue against systems that return $141 million to the company in a single day plus cross-licensing.

The social network is undeniably effective as a negative feedback loop used to keep a system stable. But when innovation is required, such stability is the last thing one encourages. The Zen thing is to be ready to grab the stone as it drops, not to hold one's palm over the fountain.

The surprises are at the edge and our past can make us entirely clueless. Experience is not always informative. Releasing "The Tongue" was not something I would have done because my cultural history is that it would offend women. The big surprise was that I got exactly the opposite reaction in the main. Here is a quote from one reviewer who is a pretty smart and very independent lady:

"Well, aside from the fact that it's very catchy (a little challenging to have this song playing in one's brain while meeting with one's boss, for example), my main reaction was relief and gratitude to have -- AT LAST! -- a song for US. The airwaves are full of head references, but they ALL go the other way. Nasty as this devilishly clever song is, it's clearly full of respect -- and enthusiasm!"

So again, it seems to come down to 'Qui bono'. If we keep doing the same old thing, we are doing it because it works for us. If we are changing and evolving, there has to be evidence that something isn't working. I am learning the rules of predator and prey: the rules of collision avoidance and following (seeking behavior) select the direction of the herd; predator behavior gives the herd its shape (lateral avoidance).

It seems that we return to the basics of the web: network building with the understanding that as Long wrote, it is an ecology of games.

Anonymous said...

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