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 | DesigningLife.com

7 comments:

Claire Reinelt said...

Thank you for the powerful simplicity of the four laws of networks you describe in your post. I thought about adding one more.

Network scaling = conversations x boundary spanning.

Networks scale when people in networks reach across divides (e.g., race, sector, issue, interest) and build bridges that enable them to exchange ideas, share resources, and collectively self-organize to influence fields and policies. Boundary-spanning begins with conversations to find connections. These connections form clusters that lead to stronger webs of relationships and eventually robustly link networks to other networks -- a fundamental prerequisite for scaling.

I'm curious what others think about this idea.

Jack said...

Beautiful Claire. No telling how many laws we'll discover. Thanks.

James Schmeling said...

Excellent post, shared with my online networks. It articulated how we focus on expanding our work and benefitting the work of others through new connections and collaborations.

There's something not quite captured by these which includes willingness to expend effort for repeated efforts at connecting with people who aren't quite ready to learn, but where the network effect would be worth the effort. Sometimes people aren't ready to learn something or see how it applies, and it may take three or four introductions, or follow-ups, until a light goes on.

I recently met with someone four times before I could connect with what they wanted to do. We knew we wanted to work together, but it tooks some time to understand the best points of connection.

Gerry said...

I hope it's okay that I copy this and post it on my blog. With credit of course.

I have been championing this aspect of the value of networks within the Human Services sphere where I serve. You have stated it eloquently.

I hope we all recognize though that the language of social networking we are now developing has always been a reality in local dynamics. If I think of government and community collaboration, non-profit boards, United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber led "Leadership" programs, and a wide variety of activity, I recognize that this has all been going on forever.

Kitty Wooley said...

I've found #4 to be wonderfully true over the past eight years. Thanks for articulating this phenomenon so clearly.

Anonymous said...

Another Gerry says:

The 4 Laws of Networks
“networks do not have "centers" or "boundaries" and act more like complex adaptive systems than orderly hierarchies.”

[THE REAL VALUE THEN?]

“Let's look at 4 laws of social networks, realizing that there may be galaxies more beyond these.” [Galaxies beyond – a “little” hyperbole].

1. Luck = consciousness x transparency

“The most curious and transparent people are also the luckiest in networks.”

[Transparency is a function of being willing to genuinely express our flaws. How many are doing this? Very few.

Conscious transparency may reveal how little real influence we have… Hmm.. that’s troubling.]

2. Innovation = learning x diverse connections
“The pragmatic reality is that innovation happens at the intersection of learning and cultivating diverse connections.”

[Innovation actually happens when people in bureaucracies figure out nothing is dramatic and nobody really gets credit, but with persistence good ideas do survive.]

“Networks literally become learning disabled if the connections become too homophilous [Dictionary.com has no meaning for this word, what’d I miss?] and without learning, no innovation is possible.” [WTF does this mean?]

3. Influence = credibility x location
Influence =$$$
Influence = access
Influence = media savvy
Influence = respect

“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.”

[This assumes anyone cares enough.. or is actually connected. I have met you (my internet network friends), and if you take this message seriously you’ll prove this point by allocating credibility to me.]

“… simply because it is a function of location and credibility.”

[It’s entirely a function of location. If someone in Washington was paying attention to me, it would matter. If I’m here it’s a function of the small number of people who care what I think. Blah-blah-blah]

4. Network growth = introductions x generosity

“Generosity is offering your gifts to others who value them, without the strings of reciprocity attached. “

[I offer you mine, now prove me wrong.]

“Generosity and introductions accelerate the growth the networks in amazingly unpredictable and wonderful ways.”

[I rely on that, but I am discouraged because my vast experience says it’s something different than this blog post espouses.]

“…truth, beauty, and power [such noble words words words]. Networks grow at the speed of introductions and acts of generosity among and between members of a network.”

[To some extent the first part of this post and this last part is simply self promotion without value which is meaningful to me. I’m open to something different. It seems I’ve become an optimistic fatalist. I’ll opt for kindness but I’m not expecting it in return. How’s this for genuine honest networking?

Gerry = sonomabuzz@gmail.com = transparency]

Gerry said...

You gotta be real (part 1)The 4 Laws of Networks
“networks do not have "centers" or "boundaries" and act more like complex adaptive systems than orderly hierarchies.”

[THE REAL VALUE THEN?]

“Let's look at 4 laws of social networks, realizing that there may be galaxies more beyond these.” [Galaxies beyond – a “little” hyperbole].

1. Luck = consciousness x transparency

“The most curious and transparent people are also the luckiest in networks.”

[Transparency is a function of being willing to genuinely express our flaws. How many are doing this? Very few.

Conscious transparency may reveal how little real influence we have… Hmm.. that’s troubling.]

2. Innovation = learning x diverse connections
“The pragmatic reality is that innovation happens at the intersection of learning and cultivating diverse connections.”

[Innovation actually happens when people in bureaucracies figure out nothing is dramatic and nobody really gets credit, but with persistence good ideas do survive.]

“Networks literally become learning disabled if the connections become too homophilous [Dictionary.com has no meaning for this word, what’d I miss?] and without learning, no innovation is possible.” [WTF does this mean?]