Wednesday, September 22, 2010

9 Indicators of Growing Networks

We continue to have countless conversations with funders and others who want to "grow" networks of collaborations and innovations. This is impossible until they have enough network literacy to understand what it means that a "network" actually "grows."

Here are 9 simple indicators of network growth, to this purpose. They become both indicators and strategies for the intentional growth of existing networks.

  1. People in the network gain broader and deeper awareness of the available assets in the network
  2. People in the network gain broader and deeper awareness of potential new collaborators and co-conspirators in the network
  3. People in the network spend more time introducing people to one another who are 2+ steps away from each other in the network
  4. People in the network spend more time introducing themselves to others who are 2+ steps away from them in the network
  5. People in the network discover more new opportunities to engage and combine their assets to create a future different from the past
  6. People in the network have more conversations together about their dreams and assets than their problems and deficiencies
  7. People in the network value change and differences as more valuable to the network's growth than similarities and protecting a status quo
  8. People in the network become "network weavers" who intentionally commit time and imagination to looking for new ways to connect unconnected people in the network
  9. People in the network together become more self-organizing, innovative, agile, inclusive, strengths-based, and dedicated to shared thrivancy

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Killing our Neighborhoods

I wonder if a Goldman Sachs executive would spend a night in the house above? After all, they do kind of "own" it.

The house, in the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, had a mortgage that was part of the Goldman Sachs synthetic CDO, ABACUS 2007-AC1. In 2008, the house was foreclosed upon, and still sits abandoned today.

At least the ivy devouring the south side of the building seems happy.

I am writing this in the Red Chimney restaurant, a social hub for the locals in Slavic Village. This place is probably the only thing that has not changed drastically in the last ten years in this neighborhood. It feels very comfortable -- old networks get rejuvenated here. Every community needs a gathering place, especially in times of trouble.

For an in-depth look at the players and financial flows involving this house , see Connecting the Dots of the Mortgage Meltdown.

Valdis recently helped CNBC with a documentary about Goldman Sachs and the recent mortgage crisis.

Friday, April 09, 2010

What is A Network Weaver?

A Network Weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and explicitly works to make them healthier (more inclusive, bridging divides). Network Weaversdo this by connecting people strategically where there's potential for mutual benefit, helping people identify their passions, and serving as a catalyst for self-organizing groups.

If you at at the NTEN conference, or want to think about what it means to be a conscious Network Weaver at any conference, check out the Google Doc we created to gather what we learn. We are particularly interested in learning what it means to witness others being Network Weavers. How can we notice and support people who are natural Network Weavers?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The possibilities of a networked commons

What if we invented an approach to democracy where voting was not a design element in the model. Voting continues to be the root cause of unchallenged excesses, bad decision making, special unethical interests, and leadership incompetence.

In most cases, voting is an excuse to avoid conversations that are information-based, inclusive, and innovative. There is no wisdom in crowds of weak networks. Managing assets in the commons can happen in strong networks of people as long as the commons are at the scale of networks where the degrees of connection are relatively close. In these networks, people come together to create commons they manage through conversations that matter. A very different world indeed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Overlapping Boards

We often think of our networks as belonging to us, or our group/team/family. We imagine they have an identifiable beginning and end. We want to draw borders to define "yours" and "mine." Yet, in reality we cannot. We really cannot define where my network stops and yours starts... no matter if you are a person, group, organization, or country. We are all intersected and our connections overlap with those of our network neighbors. Boundaries are fuzzy, at best.

Let's look at a simple example. Organizations, whether for-profit, or not-for-profit, usually have a Board of Directors. We can think of this Board as a network that belongs to the organization. All members are linked if they sit on an organization's board together. We might view the Boards of the top 50 U.S. companies like the diagram below -- individual clusters, each belonging to the parent company. The gray links show co-membership ties between the individuals.

Directors are not limited to the number of Boards they can be members of. Board members are limited to the number of Boards they sit on only by time, energy and invitation. Below is an example of a Board member who sits on the Board of two organizations. This may be Steve Jobs, who sits on the Board of Apple and Disney.

We now choose a different color for those Directors who sit on multiple Boards. We see how the Boards of the top US companies are actually interconnected in the diagram below. Blue nodes are Directors who sit on multiple Boards.

The blue nodes in the network above are conduits that move information, ideas, and knowledge between the clusters -- they are at the intersection, where two networks overlap. The blue nodes are well placed to be Network Weavers -- their opportunity to close triangles is great.

Contagion of ideas and practices between organizations often happen through flows via their Boards of Directors. We apply social network analysis [SNA] to this social graph and we see who may be key in this diffusion process. We apply a new SNA metric, called Awareness -- it measures potential awareness of a node to what is happening around it [directly and indirectly] based on it's pattern of connectivity. Those nodes with higher awareness are shown in a larger size in the diagram below.

It is usually beneficial to be connected to those who have a good view of what is going on. Information and knowledge is often shared [intentionally or unintentionally] with trusted others, close by. Information leaks and flows, but never too far. Board members who are connected to other highly-aware Board members, have a higher probability of finding out more -- but the range is limited. Even those who just sit on a single Board can increase advantage by being connected to multiple blue boundary spanners. This is reflected in the diagram below. Node size is derived from awareness of what is happening in the network. Some Boards have greater awareness of what is happening in their ecosystem.

This was a simple illustration. An actual network between the Board members will be denser, based on their possible multiple ties -- employment, memberships, and other current & past associations. The full multiplexity of the individuals was not known, nor shown. Yet, we see how even some knowledge of a social system increases our potential to target messages to influence that system. Of course, the better our data, the better our targeting. A telescope may be preferred, but even binoculars provide advantage over the naked eye. And binoculars that reveal what is usually invisible, are even more useful!

What Board overlaps can you utilize?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Network confidence

As networks grow, they grow in confidence. Confidence is the expectation of success and comes from thousands of small acts of success within and across networks.

These small acts include solving common problems and problems in common together and sharing learning, knowledge, opportunities, talents and resources together. Every instance of success adds to the network's collective self-confidence that incubates even more collaborations and successes, resulting in "virtuous spirals" of thrivancy and thrivability.

And of course, the narrative culture within networks accelerate and scale ripples of confidence throughout the network and beyond to other networks.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The 4 Developmental Stages of Networks

June, Valdis and I have seen countless networks grow over the past 30 years. It's interesting to see networks grow from weaker to stronger. They go through four stages in the process. Here is a model based on the phases of human development. When we bring people together in their networks, we see all four stages within various connections in the network.

Best of all, unlike human development where phases cannot be skipped, effective network development can involve immediate acceleration to an emerging and scaling network of adult connections.

People in the network feel dependent on formal leaders to make things happen in the network. Their whole life is structured around demands that parent leaders take care of all their needs. Their whole thrivancy is based on the trade of compliance for protection.

People in the network are interested in making things happen, but only things that require permissions and funding from the parental formal leaders. They are focused in this phase of getting more support from parent-leaders for the things they want to do. They live in continuous demand from a position of entitlement.

People in the network give up dependency on their parent-leaders, but still believe the "pie of resources" is still finite and so compete with peers to satisfy their needs. In this phase, people in the network believe that others' loss is the necessary cost of their gain.

People in the network take responsibility for their destinies and know that working together expands the pie in ways that allows everyone to thrive. They believe that people in the network can achieve more together than they ever could apart or in opposition.

Network weavers help people move into the adult phase more quickly and successfully, accelerating the possibilities of more strong networks.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Need Help with Network Weaver Handbook

As you may know, I've been working on a Network Weaver Handbook for some time now. I've got almost 100 pages of activities and stories that you will be able to use with your networks, and I think it will end up around 200 pages before I'm through.

But right now, I need your help!

I have loaded the Table of Contents in a google doc and hope you will click on the link to the page, then add comments, questions, edits, etc. Here are some questions:

1. Which part looks most interesting or exciting to you?

2. What is missing that you would like to see included?

3. What is included that you don't think is that important?

Thanks so much for working with me on this!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

How to Create a Sandbox for Learning

Beth Kanter and I met at a workshop for foundations last fall. She loved the concept of Network Weaving and we decided to spend some time figuring out the synergies between Network Weaving and social media. We decided to use a call line she had but Skype would work as well. Meanwhile, she set up a little exercise for us to do, which she described on a google doc she set up.


1. Create 3-5 slide powerpoint with photos that defines/explain network weaving and your key ah ha from session
2. Upload into SlideShare
3. Put in the Network Weavers Group
4. Comment on someone elses slides
5. Create a new deck based on feedback and/or remixing the other person's

I invited a friend. Good thing as Deborah was the only one who did the assignment! Beth then took us to and showed us how to search the Creative Commons (free to use) pictures there. She was sharing her desktop but letting us make decisions about what pictures to use. It was lots of fun! We noticed the power of slides with only a few words – the image was what had the power to help people get new concepts.

I went back and made a new deck, using yarn and knitting images to represent network weaving and feeling a great sense of accomplishment. We invited several addition friends to the next session, and it was great to meet some new people. We got on Slideshare again and Beth talked about how people loved puppies and babies and so we made a deck using images of kids. Beth always had us spend the last half hour reflecting on what we had done. This time we noted the importance of helping people make an emotional connection to concepts to help them better remember and apply them.

In the next few sessions, a major shift took place. Someone else helped set up the next time using At each meeting, we’d decide what we wanted to learn or talk about. Sometimes we explored new social media: Google Wave, web-based project management, etc Sometimes we had clinics, where one person asked for advice. Sometimes we spent most of the time deeply introducing ourselves to each other. But what ever we did, we laughed a lot, appreciated each other and reflected on what we had learned.

After Beth’s initial guidance, there was no designated leader, not even a coordinator: we all took responsibility for making sure the needed tasks got done, we all took notes together (which is possible on google docs), and we took turns facilitating as needed (watching the time, making sure we spent time on reflection). This kind of collaboration can work!

I encourage others to start a sandbox of your own. All you do is invite a few friends to a skype call and figure out what you want to learn or do together. Let me know how it works out!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Structural Folds and Innovation Dynamics

A recent article called Structural Folds: Generative Disruption in Overlapping Groups , by Balazs Vedres and David Stark is chock full of important research on innovation, collaboration and networks.

Vedres and Stark studied relationships among businesses in Hungary over the last 20 years. In contrast to Ron Burt’s concept of structural holes, they explore the concept of structural folds.

The concept of structural holes describes how individuals who span two different clusters or groups can become powerful by brokering the relationships and information flow across the clusters. Managers who span structural holes often move quickly up the corporate ladder.

Using the concept of structural folds, Vedres and Stark argue that moving ideas from one cluster or group to another is not enough to spawn innovation. Groups need to overlap. They need to recombine and do something together to generate innovation that leads to growth. However, this overlap is often disruptive, and can lead to disintegration of the groups.

The trick is to move to another level, looking at the whole set of groups as part of a larger network. Then you can see that the larger network has some stability over time – individuals or businesses continue to be part of this larger network, but are recombining with others in different configurations over time. This looks disruptive, but is actually the source of much creativity and growth. The larger network, meanwhile builds a culture of collaboration that encourages and supports even more collaboration.

These ideas are very compatible with our Smart Network model. A Smart Network has a core of overlapping clusters. Clusters could be different organizational types (such as entrepreneurs, non-profits and foundations), different geographies, different business sectors, etc. In most Smart Networks, people are recombining through self-organized, collaborative projects. Vedres and Stark remind us that it’s important that these projects contain at least several people who have worked together before, but that including new faces from different clusters is likely to increase the success and growth of the project.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Using the Opportunity Process to Catalyze Self-Organization

How do we get started with self-organization?

One simple process (adapted from a Peter Block activity) I've used many times is the Opportunity Process. Here's the simple steps:

1. Have people put their interest or current passion or challenge on a 9 x 12 sheet of paper or PostIt. Have someone sort into Action Groups of 3-10 people.

2. Have each group identify opportunities in that area where something could really make a difference right now.

3. Generate ideas for small projects/small acts that could help the group explore that opportunity. Each act needs a champion.

4. Identify the gifts (skills and resources) that the project team already has to accomplish that act.

5. Figure out who and what else they need to make the project successful and then invite those individuals to join their project.

6. How will the project be managed? Use a project management worksheet or online project management site like TeamworkPM so everyone involved knows what they are to do. Have a volunteer be project coordinator.

7. Check in with and coach the project coordinators.

8. After the project is underway, identify “patterns of success.”

Economic growth indicators for networks

Networks can actually envision and measure their economic growth impacts on communities and regions and network spaces. Here are just a few indicators that can consider:
  1. Number of new college-degreed & non-degreed jobs created by current organizations in each sector
  2. Number of jobs created by new organizations in each sector
  3. Number of new organizations coming to locate here from outside in each sector
  4. Number of new organizations started from within the community in each sector
  5. Number of new product and service lines offered by community organizations in each sector
  6. Number of people in the community less or no longer dependent on public services and aid in each sector
  7. Number of businesses performing better in each sector
  8. Number of organizations with successful strategic processes in each sector
  9. Number of residents with increased housing value in each sector
  10. Number of students graduating to the next levels in each sector
  11. Number of students starting new businesses and organizations in each sector
  12. Number of employees re-skilled for new industries in each sector
  13. Number of consumer dollars shifted from non-local businesses to local businesses in each sector
  14. Number of businesses and organizations shifting to local suppliers in each sector
  15. Number of people whose health care, education, and energy costs have decreased in each sector
  16. Number of children with reading, writing, research, financial, and cultural literacies in each sector
  17. Number of older citizens living longer and with few costs of living in each sector
  18. Number of employers satisfied with the local pool of talent for open positions in each sector
  19. Number of organizations winning grants, awards, and funding for local projects and efforts in each sector
  20. Number of occupied commercial and retail spaces in each sector
  21. Number of employee owned businesses that spawn new businesses

Monday, March 01, 2010

New Directions for Funding - A Case Example

In Appalachian Ohio, a small group of non-profits worked with a regional/community foundation to set up an Innovation Fund called the Yellowroot Fund. This fund had less than $15,000 a year. It provided small seed grants ($500-3000) to small collaborative projects in the region. All projects had to include a mix of both entrepreneurs and support organizations (non-profits, tourism bureaus, local gov't, etc). The first year 15 projects were funded. Most were successful in small ways, but several were very dynamic and successful, and we helped them access larger dollars.

Innovation funds encourage people to work collaboratively -- but in small self-managed groups that have a high likelihood of success. Many of the projects linked people across counties. For example, the Mural Corridor Project developed a map showing a trail people could follow to see all of the 17 murals that had been painted on the sides of buildings in small towns throughout 5 counties. Because local businesses were part of the project group, the final map included locations of local businesses such as restaurants and bed & breakfasts – which increased traffic for these small enterprises.

The fund only lasted a few years, but by the time it ended many more people in the region knew how to self-organize: come up with a project idea, find others who are interested in working on that project, and make something happen. This fund helped people develop all of the skills described in Jack’s post, below. Local Network Weavers were involved in most of the projects and helped people become more aware of their networks and use them to access the resources they needed.

Now, even without those funds, hundreds of small projects are formed every year to develop new trails, festivals, brands, markets and other initiatives. Self-organizing has taken off, and it’s cascading throughout the region.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

NetworkWeaving on Twitter

I have created a Network Weaving List on Twitter. This is to follow those who focus on network weaving/building/organizing/mentoring/coaching/facilitating/etc. This list is not about network analysis nor network mapping.

Please see what is being tweeted and send me a DM to my @orgnet account if you would like to join.

The three authors of this blog are all active on Twitter: June, Jack, and Valdis

Come join us as we weave conversations and networks!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Funding in a Networked World

As the funding landscape shifts at the rate of the economy, many funders are rethinking, if not reinventing, the way they approach their missions and success metrics.

There continues to be a whole genre of problems and issues in every market and community that persist specifically because of the fragmentation and competition among funder grantees. Many funders are realizing that systemic issues cannot be impacted by any amount of fragmented or competitive efforts.

This is not to say that there isn't value in the kind of fragmented and competitive efforts supported by funder RFP and award contests. Much good has come from these over the past decades, but there is a glass ceiling of impact and outcomes that can only be broken through with new kinds of collaborations between and among providers.

More funders are intrigued with the possibility that new levels of outcomes and capacity building will come from new kinds of collaborations.

Thanks to innovative applications from the social network sciences, we now have the tools and principles to build provider networks where collaborations can replace the constraints of fragmented and competitive efforts. In collaboration networks, providers discover what they can do together that they could never do apart, alone, or in opposition to one another.

In strong networks, network members naturally and dynamically align and collaborate in self-organizing ways. They are constantly organizing and reorganizing the assets in the network in new ways to include new members in new efforts. They share responsibility for a commonly-defined future in ways they would never do even with all manners of institutional to-down injunctions and incentives.

Building collaboration networks requires a new set of competencies for both grantees and their funders. On the grantee side of the equation, new collaborations require skill sets like:

  1. How to develop network awareness, influence, and access

  2. How to network weave new kinds of affiliations

  3. How to create vision alignments with other providers and suppliers in the network

  4. How to combine assets in projects to deliver higher level sets of outcomes

  5. How to build the organizational and leadership capacity for collaborative proposals and projects

  6. How to unleash the power of stories beyond statistics for new outcome metrics

On the funder side, new skill sets include:

  1. How to move from a deficiency to strengths and assets based understanding of provider networks

  2. How to weave networks capable of self-organizing new kinds of collaborative proposals & projects

  3. How to frame the new metrics and vision that will inspire new collaborative possibilities

  4. How to evaluate collaborative proposals for collaborative success potentials

  5. How to help build the kind of leadership and board cultures capable of new kinds of collaborations

  6. How to redefine accountability from siloed to collaborative models

As funders and grantees develop these capacities, these networks become stronger, meaning more innovative, pragmatic, visionary, proactive, and agile. As providers learn to share opportunities and resources, they become far more efficient and effective together than they could ever be alone.

Until we build strong provider and supplier networks, funders have no choice but to continue the practice of funding contests, at the expense of systemic impact and grantee-initiated innovations. It is simply amazing what happens when grantees are expected and invited to think together outside the box of standard RFP's and awards. It is even more amazing when they combine rather than protect their assets in service of larger visions of collaborative possibilities. Until funders and grantees develop network and collaboration competencies, they have no choice but to continue old models in hope of new outcomes.

Luckily, none of this takes as much courage as commitment and sense of pragmatism about moving in steps toward a future different from the past. As we see the funding and grantee space transform, we will continue to see their markets and communities transform at the same rate and scope.

from 2010 Jack Ricchiuto

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dynamic & Static Affiliations

In every network, people cluster by affiliations. These are affiliations based on shared transactions, ideologies, interests, adversaries, demographics, and histories.

And there are two basic types of affiliations, dynamic and static. In static affiliations, people cluster with an intention to protect the membership and characteristics of their affiliation. Sociology sometimes refers to these as "strong cliques" where people feel a relatively strong/sticky sense of loyalty to one another and the basis for their affiliations.

In dynamic affiliations, people cluster with an intention to grow and evolve their cluster's membership and characteristics. They are more loyal to the kind of inclusion and diversity that allows the cluster to emerge as a self-organizing, adaptive ecology of connections.

When it comes to growing networks, one strategy is to grow more dynamic clusters of collaborations and transactions. Another strategy is to expand weak static affiliations that may not be as attached to their clusters' status quo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The 4 Laws of Networks

The more we understand about networks, the more amazed we become at their immense and inscrutable power and elegance, starting with the fact that networks do not have "centers" or "boundaries" and act more like complex adaptive systems than orderly hierarchies.

Getting things done in networks barely resembles the rules of getting things done when the whole is divided into power, knowledge, and responsibility haves and have-nots. Best and worst of all, networks do not "play by the rules" because they are intrinsically too fluid and self-organizing for that. And because of that, they tend to be far more incubatorial than traditionally designed organizations and social structures when it comes to innovation and resiliency.

So are they simply random fields of chaos? Hardly. The more we intentionally grow networks, the more we discover very clear laws at work. Let's look at 4 laws of social networks, realizing that there may be galaxies more beyond these.

1. Luck = consciousness x transparency

The premise of my second book in 2002, "Accidental Conversations" is that "the best things in life happen unplanned." It continues to be amazing that when people hear that, they respond far less with outrage or defiance, but with juicy story after story about how the best things - and people - in their lives emerged in unplanned and unpredictable ways. The grace of serendipity is one of the most powerful and accessible currencies in networks and, as luck would have it, it happens at the intersection of (network) consciousness and being transparent about one's gifts and passions. A few books later, in "Conscious Becoming" I suggest that to be "conscious" is to be "curious." The most curious and transparent people are also the luckiest in networks.

2. Innovation = learning x diverse connections
I disagree with the argument that innovation is the child of desperation. I wish it was so, because if it was, we would be on a planet devoid of incredible amounts of preventable child deaths, failed economies, and the rest of what would otherwise be tragedies that could be prevented by innovations of all kinds. The pragmatic reality is that innovation happens at the intersection of learning and cultivating diverse connections. When you have diverse connections in a network, learning almost cannot not happen. Networks literally become learning disabled if the connections become too homophilous and without learning, no innovation is possible.

3. Influence = credibility x location
If your passion is to create a future different from the past, you value influence and influence happens at the intersection of credibility and location in the network. Get to know the people in a network who know lots of other people and cultivate credibility with them, and you have natural and authentic influence. Your voice can soften and you can put your spam weapons down because you will organically influence open spaces within your network simply because it is a function of location and credibility.

4. Network growth = introductions x generosity
Some networks grow into thrivability with far fewer resources than resource-rich networks. It is because people in these thriving networks make more introductions of people who don't know each other and practice more acts of generosity. Good introductions are an art form anyone can quickly learn and master. Generosity is offering your gifts to others who value them, without the strings of reciprocity attached. Generosity and introductions accelerate the growth the networks in amazingly unpredictable and wonderful ways.

These 4 laws continue to inform and inspire the work June, Valdis and I do with communities and networks and people continue to be amazed at their truth, beauty, and power. Networks grow at the speed of introductions and acts of generosity among and between members of a network.

Jack Ricchiuto |

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Non-Profit Boards as Thriving Networks

Why is that we've arrived at the place where so many of people consider the term "dysfunctional non-profit board" as a redundancy? Especially when so many non-profits are struggling to survive and their communities value them more than ever. From a group design perspective, board dysfunction is both an unnecessary and talent-wasteful practice to continue.

One of the most common indicators of really poor board design is when boards "look forward to the new board president,” incorrectly thinking that a change in leadership could possibly compensate for poor board design.

Following the design principle that "things always perform the way they're designed to perform,” the only way for a board to perform better is to better design the structure and functionality of the board. Then, when a board is better designed, a new good leader will more easily and successfully contribute great value to the board's capacity and performance.

So, we need to radically rethink the design of boards. We need to end the practice of boards as committees more interested in rules than resilience, and more obsessed with structure than engagement.

We need to start thinking of boards as thriving aspiration, asset, and action networked boards.

In a networked board architecture, the board would be comprised of a thriving network of aspiration, assets, and actions, organized by a core team. The core team is a network-elected group of 6-8 people, with continuity-friendly terms, that sustains the legal and fiscal responsibilities of a 501.c organization.

The primary work of the core team is to grow the capacity, impact, and agility of the board’s network.

The network would include key organizational stakeholders, community entrepreneurs and experts committed to the organization's success, interested community members, volunteers, and even funders, investors, and other non-profit partners. As with any healthy network, anyone can join the network and leave the network at any time.

The work of the core team is to continuously invite people, groups, and organizations into the board’s network who would be able and willing to contribute value to the thrivability of the organization in the currencies of tangible and intangible assets.

These assets include ideas, talent, resources, funds, and connections. Not only would the core team invite people into the network, everyone in the network is expected to invite other people and assets into the network.

As an aspiration network, the network would continuously inspire the core team, organization, and the network with long and short term vision. As an asset network, the network would engage and grow the kinds of assets that could help realize these aspirations. As an action network, the network would engage people in projects that would add value to the success and thrivancy of the organization.

The core team of the board grows and weaves the network, so that it is an ever-evolving network of compelling vision, rich with diverse assets, and engaged in new ways to grow the organization and the network. This replaces the structure of “board committees” that manage to exclude resources and engagement outside the board and to spend more trying to get to consensus than to incubate rich ecologies of diverse projects.

The purpose of the board's core team and network is to complement the organization's assets. Where the organization needs financial, legal, strategic, marketing, fundraising, or volunteer assets, it now has a core team and the network to engage the network's assets. This eliminates the capacity constraints of the board. How would you like to be a non-profit with a board whose asset constraints are not an issue?

Compared to traditionally designed boards, networked boards are incredibly more inclusive, agile, and innovative. A networked board increase the chances that non-profits will become more collaborative, resource-wise, and strategic than ever before.

Of course this approach will only be embraced by only the most strategic and visionary non-profit boards. Once more of them engage and prove the model, it will hopefully become the norm, and we will see more non-profits thrive as community investment organizations.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Rethinking Competition in a Local Living Networked Economy

As more communities move toward a vision of local living networked economies, the whole conversation about the nature and value of competition comes into question.

The invitation for local living networked economies emerges from commitment to the profoundly provocative and transformational question: What can we do together that we can't do alone?

Competition is one form of network connection on a continuum of possible connections. On the other side of the continuum is collaboration and in between are co-opetition, niching, and complementarity connections.

In competition, we’re committed to the eat-or-be-eaten demise of other market providers. In co-opetition, we team up with a competitor on a project or offering that serves us mutually, agreeing to compete on everything else. In niching, we serve or create a market segment that is under-served or under-satisfied. In complementarity, we provide other providers with value that helps them, succeed and grow. In collaboration, we’re committed to sharing market share with other providers and team up with them regularly for mutual growth of our respective businesses, the local market footprint, and growing non-local markets and business.

In a community where there is a thriving bicycle market, any combination of these five connections can occur among the bicycle shops in business there. The character of this dynamic market ecology of providers has endless possibilities.

Shop A is committed to a competitive connection with some or all of the other shops, doing everything it can to weaken or eliminate them from the market. Shop B is committed to growing new niches in the bicycle market, through the innovation of alternative energy powered products.

Shop C used to be a full-service shop but has recently strategically committed to being the prime supplier of tires for any of the other shops who agree to their sourcing. Shop D openly competes with shops A and E, and at the same time is committed to selective co-opetition with them in the shared reduction of health care costs with shared plans and joint marketing efforts to grow the local footprint of the adult market, since only 20% of this market ride bicycles on a regular basis.

Shops E and B have recently collaborated on a very successful regional bicycle marathon event partnering with local arts and culture organizations for the event. Shops B and C team up to share professional services, and use the cost savings to collaborate on price reductions and savings for their respective customers.

Each of these 5 fundamental market provider connections has potential value to create a provider network for the community that gives the community products and services that are increasingly: convenient, affordable, locally-relevant, market-diversity responsive, quality service, innovative, adaptable, proactive, and promotive of a local living economy.

The community has the opposite of these when the provider network ecology is dominated by competitive connections.

The competitive connection is the simple commitment to weaken or eliminate other providers in a community's market. If the provider network is weak, meaning it lacks a healthy mix of the other 4 kinds of market connections, dominance will occur and providers - and their local suppliers, employees, investors, and customers - will all lose as the cost of one dominant monopolistic supplier's gain. This can happen as well when two suppliers team up their resources and position to triangulate the rest of the market into failure.

The market loses everything in a monopoly of providers: choice, affordability, convenience, quality service, incentive for innovation, and the rest.

Creating thriving ecologies of market provider networks means engaging our assets with a commitment to foster, nurture, and reward a healthy mix of provider connections in any local community market. This is the job of network weavers, regardless of whether they act independently, as grass-roots organizers, as members of institutions, or as market provider members.

This approach is not only pragmatic, it is also possible, and begins with two simple steps: introducing the language of the competition-collaboration continuum and inviting people into new conversations that make them more possible.

Monday, January 18, 2010


From Wikipedia:

Swarm describes a behaviour of an aggregate of animals of similar size and body orientation, often moving en masse in the same direction. "Swarming" is a general term that can be applied to any animal that swarms. The term can be applied to insects, birds, fish, various microorganisms such as bacteria, and people. The term applies particularly to insects. "Flocking" is the term usually used for swarming behaviour in birds, while "shoaling" or "schooling" refers to swarming behaviour in fish.

Swarm is the social confluence of similarity. On a human level, it happens when we pay attention to the myths that connect us. That's why, as I suggest in The Stories That Connect Us, it matters what stories we share. Our choice of stories create either the fermentations of swarms or fragmentations of isolation.

Only certain kinds of stories have the power to provoke swarms. Think about what those could be, propagate them, and watch a swarm emerge!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

What kind of network?

Jack, Valdis and I had a wonderful lively discussion about networks and innovation diffusion a few weeks ago and I’d like to capture some of what we talked about here.

First, we continue to try to clarify the different kinds of networks. We three often use the term networks in the social network analysis sense of sets of relationships and the patterns they generate. However, most people use networks to describe intentional networks -- networks that have some awareness of the set of relationships and incorporate that awareness into their strategies. But there are considerable differences in the nature of that intentionality.

Jack came up with a nice way to represent some of those differences, see the chart above.

Some networks actually look like and function like organizations, or an organization of organizations. These tend to be intentionally focused on a particular goal or purpose, i.e. a housing network committed to increasing housing units available to low-income residents. Such networks are often structured like organizations in that they have membership and rules about how decisions are made. They tend to spend considerable time arriving at consensus and developing plans of action. These networks have had considerable success working on specific initiatives, such as advocating a specific piece of legislation but are often expensive to maintain over long periods of time.

This is in contrast to networks that are self-organized. In self-organized networks, the organizations or individuals may never all meet in one room and don’t decide on anything as a group. They move forward when individuals identify others with similar or overlapping interests and do something together. Generally, many small joint actions are generated and fewer large actions. The many groups involved in Regional Flavor initiatives are an example of self-organized networks. Meet-ups is another example.

Another quality of networks is their ideological stance. For some networks a specific ideology shapes the boundaries of the network, determining who is in and who is out. Such networks can generate tremendous energy (for example, the Right to Life network or some environmental networks). However, their homogeneity can sometimes limit their reach and innovativeness.

Networks that are driven by pragmatism and experimentation tend to shun specific ideologies. Individuals and organizations in such networks are looking for solutions to intractable problems that require massive innovation; or, they are trying to figure out new ways of organizing economic activity. Such networks tend to have many opportunities that encourage people to move out of silos and meet people different than them. They encourage lots of reflection about what has worked and what hasn’t. Scrum software development teams and hospital networks working to eliminate MRSA are an example of this type of network.

Where would your networks fit on this chart? Is this chart useful?