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.

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