How to apply understandings from social network science in organizations has pre-occupied me since hearing Patti Anklam explain “energy“ in networks (at Andy Snider‘s Advanced Thinkers Summit 2003). Hence the promise of social network thought leaders Rob Cross, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler all speaking at the Activate Networks Summit (May 8) demanded a trip to Boston. The day of deep diving into evolving “big data” driven social network analytics exceeded expectations. Here’s what I took away.
1. Computing Power & Big Data Techniques are Transforming Network Science
Social network science has come a long way from 1930’s hand drawn Moreno sociograms to pioneering PC based tools developed in the 1980’s (UCINET and Inflow) and those that followed.
Recent publications, for example by:
a. Sinan Aral and colleagues, and
b. Marshall Van Alstyne’s revisit of Granovetter’s classic “Strength of Weak Ties” article (1973) by introducing “time” as a factor and investigating email data
and Summit presentation by Stephen Lyons, Activate Network’s VP Engineering, explaining their Big Data approach to network analysis (using Hadoop), make clear both the need for, and possibility in, large scale network analysis.
2. SNA In Business: The Gap Between Promise and Adoption
As first Summit speaker, Rob Cross shared his learning from applying Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) inside 300 companies. Benchmarked against the Fortune 500 and knowing the challenge of bringing new ways of thinking into organizations, no doubt 300 companies is a feat. But how many corporations today are routinely using network analysis to focus on building the highest value relationships and solving business challenges?
Other ONA practitioners and consulting companies also sell network analysis and Activate Networks is planning to scale as a business tool. Still it's Victoria Axelrod’s and my experience that fundamental mindshifts are needed to embrace network thinking by individuals and implement in organizations on a broader scale.
3. Focus on Structure
A theme across Summit presentations was close attention to network “structures”. Nicholas Christakis’s closing keynote highlighted “structure” showing a graphic of the atomic arrangements of diamonds and graphite. Both are carbon, but diamond is the hardest mineral known to man and graphite one of the softest.
This is not the Christakis image, but makes clear why "structure" in networks is getting attention, especially when the goal is to replicate what's working in networks for determinedly producing change:
Understanding network structures that deliver results, and how you drive connections to evolve those desired structures, was also a theme in presentations by Tom Valente, Peter Gloor and Trapper Markelz, Head of Product at MeYouHealth.
Having made the case in articles and presentations that network thinking is fundamental to operating 21st Century Organizations, I brought a favorably biased lens to the Activate Networks Summit. Still I left even more persuaded that with growing computer power for connectedness and Big Data analysis expertise, businesses who fail to understand their organizations as network ecosystems, and operate with a network mindset, are on paths to becoming carbon dust rather than diamonds.
~ Jenny Ambrozek