Sunday, September 25, 2011

Building the Business Case for Influence Networks

Stories like those from the Arab Spring featuring Egypt's remarkable transformation points to the unprecedented shifts in the landscape of influence. These are stories of grassroots networks imploding old power structures made irrelevant by their isolation. The lessons here are that when self-organizing networks get stronger, old autocratic power structures weaken because, as the data suggests, they only have power to the degree they keep networks divided.

Influence networks were the incubators of Civil Rights, the Berlin Wall, Ireland, South Africa, and Egypt. Each is a story of small scale core groups of connected people with a compelling message and indefatigable passion grew influence in networks that transformed the landscape of power and possibility.

When we build and connect influence networks, people become more aligned and less easily weakened by division. The impossible becomes possible when people are connected in their dreams and gifts, connections and actions.

The social network sciences have become a rich and amazing source of data based validation and hope for social networks. We can intentionally and strategically grow them. And to the degree that we don't have formal power and cannot buy relationships to formal power, we grow our influence at the rate we grow our networks. In the new world of networks, influence can be grown more sustainably than it can be purchased.

The business case for growing influence networks using the principles of the social network sciences is clear and compelling. The principles work whether we are striving to influence choices, habits, votes, opinions, proposals, or adapting to change.

Start with the fact that people are influenced by people with whom they have resonance and trust. Resonance is feeling like we have something in common. Resonance builds through the sharing of stories that connect us. Trust is having a relationship of reciprocity with someone.

Contrary to media and marketing deceptions, people aren't influenced by spam media, the seduction of ads, hype, charts and spreadsheets, or the allure of popular opinion. They "catch" the perspectives of people like them and people they like. They're influenced through their connections. People buy and believe what their resonant and trust significant others buy and believe. It's been this way for a very long time and the legacy of this dynamic appears to have a bright future.

In every network, everyone has some quality of influence on other people. Influence potential is a function of three variables: visibility, credibility, and currencies.

Visibility is how many other influencers someone knows and how many know them. Credibility is how well someone is known for being resonant and trustworthy in what they say and do. Currencies are the kinds of value someone has to offer others in the network. Value includes tangibles and intangibles like data, knowledge, expertise, questions, talents, access to resources, positional power, followers, allies, and incentives.

Some people only have influence with their small circle of people. Some people have wider influence across different parts of the network. Some people have influence that spans across multiple networks.

There are several basic ways we can build and grow influence networks. It starts with being clear on what we want people to know, feel, and do as the result of our influence. It's identifying who in the network has strong influence through visibility, credibility, and currencies. Then it's identifying which of these people have the highest receptivity.

Influence receptivity is relative openness to learning or considering more than what one already has concluded. Someone is receptive when their mind isn't yet fully made up. The scope of our influence in a network is equal to the scope of people who haven't made up their minds relative to what we want to influence.

Assessing receptivity can happen indirectly through talking to others who know the thinking of those we want to influence. It can also happen directly by asking those we want go influence whether they are still considering things in any way. If they still have unanswered questions, optimism for further options, or doubts about current dominant opinions, they are receptive to influence.

We can help lower visibility people with good credibility and currencies become more visible. We can introduce them to more people, help them expand their virtual presence, get them more engaged in the network's collaborations.

We can connect people with higher influence potential with other people with higher influence potential. We can do this through quality introductions and collaborations.

We can help people become more engaged as connectors, connecting people of higher influence potentials. This means helping them learn how to notice opportunities, make quality introductions, and help people identify collaboration possibilities.

Helping people increase their visibility, connectivity, and engagement is usually easier than help them increase the personal givens of credibility and currencies.

When we help people become more visible, connected, and connectors, influence networks grow. No amount of threats or infusions of resources in networks can ever substitute for these strategies. No amount of top-down power brokering or power wielding can substitute for these strategies.

When we use the principles of the social network sciences, we build influence in networks, we can scale and accelerate our learning and the possibilities of alignment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Navigating Influence Networks

Our understanding of influence in communities and organizations is undergoing radical shifts thanks to the emergent wisdom from the social network sciences. We are also now seeing unprecedented shifts in influence landscapes on all levels around the world.

The two key players in any scope of influence are the deciders and the influencers. Deciders are people who have the final vote or say over ultimate actions. Their power can be assumed, assigned, appointed, or appropriated in elections. In the case of civic elections, everyone with a vote and voice can be both a decider and influencer.

Influencers are those who deciders listen to by choice or obligation. Influencers have the power to shape and challenge what deciders know, feel, and do. In influence networks, influencers also influence other actual and potential influencers. We can think of any decision as emerging from influence networks.

Every decision has its own influence network. Some people are participants in multiple and ongoing influence networks as a function of their interests, passions, and formal and informal positions within networks. Their voice dampens, challenges, strengthens, and amplifies other voices in the network.

There are always people in influence networks who may talk or write a lot but have little actual influence within the network. Their lack of influence is a function of their having inadequate visibility, credibility, network awareness or currencies of influence.

The currencies of influence that give influencers their power include data, expertise, questions, resources, positional power, influential followers and allies, brand influence, bribes and threats.

These currencies only have power to the degree that an influencer has sufficient visibility and credibility. The more visibility and credibility influencers have, the more power they have to shape what deciders know, feel, and do.

The actual power that influencers have over deciders and other influencers in any context depends on several principles.

* Not all influence currencies have equal weight with each different decider
* Influencers only have power with deciders while they are in the process of forming their conclusions for decisions
* Influencers have a different scope of power depending on each influence context
* Not all deciders are influencers
* Strong bonds can both isolate and accelerate the scope and speed of influence in networks
* The potential to grow one's scope of influence is equal to the scope of undecided and receptive members in the networks one has visibility and credibility
* The more collaborative and connected within and across networks influencers are, the more collective power they have
* If we know who a decider's direct and indirect influencers are, we can have some insight into what they might know, feel and do
* If a decider's most direct influencers are still in the process of forming their conclusions in a decision process, the decider's indirect influencers can have more power over the decider's opinions than their direct influencers will

There many actionable implications to these principles.

If you want to have more influence with any deciders, find out which are still forming their conclusions and interact with them and those who directly and indirectly influence them.

If you want to increase the potential power of your influence, so whatever you can to increase your influence network visibility, credibility, network awareness and influence currencies.

Find out which exact currencies have the most power with deciders and influencers given the contexts of specific decisions and networks you're navigating. Don't assume the same currencies work across different contexts.

If you want to support those who share your perspectives or positions, collaborate with them to create more shared and scaled visibility, credibility, network awareness and influence currencies.

Spend more time amplifying your messages and contributions than trying to dampen those you oppose or question.

The better you know your influence networks, the more easily you will effectively add influence that realizes your passions and engages your strengths.

Seek to identify and influence receptive macro-influencers, people who have greater than average influence across key sectors of networks.

Create more connectors in networks who can connect receptive potential influencers with strong visibility, strong credibility, strong currencies influencers.