Sunday, December 31, 2006

In the New Year, I resolve to...

weave better networks... for myself and others.

But, be careful whose advice you follow! Here are two contrasting pieces of advice emanating from Chicago.

First, Betsy Hart of the Chicago Sun Times relates her experience...

It used to make me crazy when people would invite my then-husband and me over to dinner, only to discover that another couple we'd never met had been included because the hosts thought we would ''just love these folks.''

Whether we did or not, we'd have to spend the whole night making small talk and asking, ''So, how old are your kids?'' I was at a stage in life where I didn't want to learn how old someone's kids were. I just wanted to relax with people I already knew.

Just being with people you know is easy and safe -- no effort, nor risk required. But it gets you a dull network -- everyone knows everyone else, everyone agrees with everyone else, and everyone hears what is going on at the same time. This is OK for friendship networks, but not good for business networks, nor for those of us who like a little variety in our friends and opportunities in our networks.

Ron Burt, Professor of Sociology and Strategy at the University of Chicago, is one of the top experts on social capital in the world. His advice is different. He suggests we focus on those who are different, rather than on those we are already connected to.

They have broader access to information because of their diverse contacts. That means they are more often aware of new opportunities, and aware earlier than their peers.

Below is a diagram from Ron's work that shows the difference in the two types of networks. James has chosen the easy redundant strategy, while Robert has chosen the more difficult diverse contacts strategy. As Ron goes on to explain in this short article [PDF], it is Robert who has the advantage because of his network structure. Robert weaves a better network from the same starting point as James -- he is a network entrepreneur.

Enjoy a productive New Year in your entrepreneurial network!

UPDATE: Here is an excellent article on building business networks from the Harvard Business Review [PDF]. Though this article focuses on corporate managers, the advice is useful for those working in the not-for-profit sector and for community builders. Take note of their advice on the network change required when moving from being a manager to being a leader.

Notice how the HBR avice in building a strategic network meshes with Burt's advice on building a diverse network.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Connections, Cognition and Ca$h

Good things are happening in the Cuyahoga Valley.

People and organizations are connecting, and money is pouring in. Connections, Cognition, and Cash, the necessary base for a good Innovation Soup, are being cooked in a pot that has been empty too long.

A standing room only crowd [eager for good news?] was at the press conference where the Third Frontier investments in the area were announced. My first alma mater, Cleveland State University, partnered with 32 others for their winning grant on sensor systems -- weave that network! Other Cuyahoga Valley winners included the University of Akron, Swagelok, GrafTech, Kent Displays, Cleveland Clinic [20 collaborators!], Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals.

I am working with Currere and the Cuyahoga Valley Initiaive to map the networks of collaborative activity in the valley. After doing this type of work all around the world, it is nice to be working in my own backyard! If you work in the Cuyahoga Valley, or collaborate with those that do, please fill out our network survey.

Ask any chef, and s/he will tell you that a good soup needs a good base. An economic chef will tell you that the prime ingredients for a good economic soup includes connecting smart people and giving them funds and freedom to develop their ideas -- and then letting the mixture self-organize under the right conditions.

Mmmm... good!

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Today I attended a conference on digital media at the Cleveland Institute of Art -- affectionately called "CIA" on the North Shore. A great group of people showed up.

But I could not "get" the title of the conference -- defrag??? It is something I used to do to my Windows computers when they would slow down after several months of use. So I looked up "defrag" on the web...

A process whereby parts of data files on all segments of a computer hard disk are taken from their fragmented state (with parts of files spread all over the disk), and grouped together in complete-file segments. This makes it quicker for applications to find the files they need and frees up disk space, making the computer run more efficiently.

Key phrases: "parts spread all over", "grouped together", "make it quicker to find", "run more efficiently"

Oh, I get it now... "defrag" is the geek's way of saying "networkweaving". Defragging and networkweaving accomplish the same goal -- they take a complex distribution of information and knowledge and re-organize it for more efficient processing. Of course in defragging human systems we are not just looking for efficiency alone, but also discovery, innovation and growth.

Maybe our new elevator spiel should be: "We defrag organizations and communities". What do you think?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The power of the network

Riffing of our Plexus Institute conference call yesterday: when we want to create a broader set of connections around any project we have on our plate, we need to help people get clear on our goals, short and long term. The clearer they are on our goals, the easier it is to connect us to people and resources we cannot predict or anticipate.

This is the power of knowing and knitting any network: access to resources we cannot predict or anticipate.