Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Strategic network-focused design

Interesting discussion recently with a health care organization about designing new programs. They liked the idea of different strategies for people at the cores and peripheries of specific ethnic market segments - such as here on the South Coast of the Great Lakes - with the Chinese, Hispanic, and Indian communities/networks.

For people at the cores of these communities, programs need to be designed with an eye to managing their traditions. For people at the peripheries, programs can be more "mainstreamed" in look, feel, and function design.

Monday, July 24, 2006

From a "quiet crisis"...

... to a very loud "You Suck!"


The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the last major paper in town, used to write about the "quiet crisis" in NE Ohio -- how the economy was fading, and no one was doing anything about it. Sunday, they took the gloves off. BAM! A right hook to formal Economic Development [fED] in Cleveland.

As usual the mainstream media, gets the story, but gets it late. The local grapevine was questioning the mission and performance of these ED organizations years ago. The whispering grew louder and has now been sufficiently amplified for the whole region to hear.

I am glad the mirror has been cleaned off to reflect more accurately.

All is not lost in Cleveland. Just like after a forest fire, new sprouts emerge and start a new ecosystem. Entrepreneurship is on the move in NE Ohio. From many boot-strapped home-based businesses to locally funded start-ups, the economy is still alive. But, no large companies [yet], to replace the auto, steel and rubber industries that have died, or move south to retire.

When we lived in Los Angeles, one of the things that amazed me was all of the entrepreneurial activity there. I worked for some very good corporations in LA [Toyota, TRW, and Disney] and everywhere I went my colleagues were either planning a start-up, or actually had one working in their garage [no basements there]. I started my software business in a garage in Redondo Beach, CA.

That activity is starting to appear here in Cleveland. The sprouts are peeking through. The fEDs don't see them yet -- and actually step on quite a few. But the roots are down and the young vegetation keeps growing. A new forest is growing in Cleveland!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

How Do We Track Networks of the Gift Economy?

One of the powerful dynamics of successful entrepreneurial networks is the use of complex reciprocity (or what anthropologists call a gift economy) to keep knowledge and resources circulating in a way that results in extraordinary economic value. The dynamic starts with network weavers sharing generously—providing important information about trends, markets, people and so forth. Entrepreneurs quickly translate this information into economic gain: they buy a piece of used equipment for much less than they had expected, they draw on the know-how of an experienced entrepreneur to develop superior products, or they gain entrĂ©e into a large grocery chain very quickly because someone shares the name of their key contact.

Next, staff encourage entrepreneurs to share generously among themselves, knowing that this behavior primes the pump of exchange and results in much more knowledge and resource sharing by others back to them. It is amazing how quickly the transition to this type of mutual sharing behavior occurs, even though entrepreneurs continue to compete fiercely with each other in many ways.

Network researchers, how do we measure this kind of complex flow? How do we track the shifts in values and behaviors that take place in a move to a gift economy? At what point does a phase shift take place, transforming the whole economic system?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The intriguing intersection between complexity and networks: killer hens or cooperative cluckers?

One of the most exciting frontiers of this decade is the place where Social Network Analysis and Complexity Science are cross fertilizing. That's where we Network Weaving bloggers love to hang out!

Valdis just sent an email pointing to the proceeddings from the 6th International Conference on Complexity. Check it out--especially David Sloan Wilson's conversation about group evolution. Turns out that if you only breed the most productive chicken, you end up with a henhouse of agressive killers. You have much better success if you select all the hens in the most productive henhouse to breed. In this case, you're selecting for the cooperative skills of the entire group. Believe me, undergirding this kind of cooperation is a Smart Network!

If you are interested in the intersection of complexity and networks, you might want to consider joining the Plexus Institute -- only $100 a year to stay in touch with the latest research and practice in the field. An action group is organizing a series of events during the coming year to encourage the continued exploration of networks and complexity. If you are interested in becoming involved, just let us know!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How Accidental Conversations Create a Car Full of Zucchini

One of the critical characteristics of Smart Networks is that they have expanding, very productive peripheries. If we look at where we’ve gotten some of the breakthrough ideas in our lives, we’d see that our peripheries are often linked into our core networks from what Jack calls accidental conversations.

At a National Business Incubation Association luncheon many years ago, I sat down next to an "older blonde with poofy hair" . Although I made some stupid assumptions, thinking the conversation would be of no value, I had a delightful accidental conversation. She shared with me a remarkable innovation she had been developing—a Kitchen Incubator, a licensed processing facility where entrepreneurs can rent the use of equipment to make their products. At ACEnet, we had been struggling for a way to help low-income farmers add value to their produce. Light bulbs started flashing — this is a way to help hundreds of farmers become food entrepreneurs!

ACEnet grabbed this idea, developed their own unique adaptation, made their Kitchen Incubator a huge success, and then shared their success with other low-income communities. The result: over 100 Kitchen Incubators around the country, helping thousands of low-income individuals start food processing businesses.

We would love to hear stories from you. Tell the rest of us about an accidental conversation you had that not only expanded your periphery but led to a breakthrough innovation. What is it that enables us to sort through the dozens of accidental conversations we might have every week and discover the seed that will sprout into a prolific zucchini bush, with its seemingly unending bounty of squash?

Why do people in Appalachia lock their cars?
To keep their neighbors from filling them with excess zucchini!