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.