Friday, December 23, 2005

All I want for Christmas is a week off with my friends

Looking at my website recently, one friend of mine thought I had a new fascination with Tinker Toys. Actually, the artwork below (which has graced my right sidebar the last two weeks) is supposed to suggest a Christmas tree:For any of you out there doing last minute Christmas shopping, I recommend Magnetix as a fun way to unleash the inner network-builder of any kids (or kids at heart) that you know.

Connectedness is taking next week off for the holidays--catching our editorial breath from a busy 2005 and gearing up for a big 2006. Peace, love, joy, and blessings to all.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2005 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Economy of Prestige

Is it art? Or is it just plain old crap? Take a look at the preceding website and you will appreciate how difficult it can be to tell the difference. Then for a breathtakingly intellectual approach to this distinction, call Santa ASAP and ask for The Economy of Prestige. In this new book, Prof. James English of Harvard University takes a close look at the world of literary prizes: How does someone win the Nobel Prize of Literature, and what does that have to do with quality writing?

Louis Menand's review of The Economy of Prestige, published in this week's New Yorker magazine, sums up English's thesis as the delightfully counterintuitive notion that the main value of literary prizes is that they give us something to rail against. As long as critics rant annually about how hopelessly misguided awards committees are, and how they fail utterly in the task of appreciating true art, then we know that deep down, the prestige of art remains unchallenged. Therefore, English notes the increasing willingness of authors and critics to buy into the credibility of awards as the death knell of the awards themselves. After all, who will care about literary awards when we have reduced literary merit to something that can be measured by a committee?

That is thought-provoking stuff for those of us who create metrics for the human side of organizational performance.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2005 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Post-Katrina community network reweaving

Hurricane Katrina so obliterated New Orleans that it's no exaggeration to say the very future of the city remains in doubt. Thankfully, the rebuilding effort got a huge boost today when the White House announced funding an addition $1.5 billion in hurricane protection. (See the editorial "A down payment on New Orleans" in today's NT Times.)

Cleaning and rebuilding New Orleans physical infrastructure is just part of the recovery effort. Equally huge is the challenge of re-uniting and re-integrating the communities whose neighborhoods were demolished by Katrina.

A team that includes the minister of a 9th Ward church that was destroyed has asked me how social network analyis and other technologies might help them reach out to their far-flung former congregation. Here is the plan we sketched out to help them begin to reconnect with each other. We would:
  • Convene and support a team of local high-schoolers to lead this project
  • Consolidate in one list the names and contact information of the 50 or so people already re-connected to the church, as well as a working list of the estimated 100-200 missing.
  • Prepare a phone script that the church youth can use to collectively call congregants with known phone numbers, get their updated coordinates, and learn about any other connections congregants may have renewed with each other.
Church youth will then update us with the results of their phone calls, so that we can update the master list for their next round of calls. Social network information collected during the phone calls (who has renewed contact with whom) will help us identify congregants who can help lead this community reweaving as the process continues.

Is anyone else out there doing something similar? I think this is a great service my network-savvy readers can provide to meet a huge need. I would love to hear from anyone with ideas for improving this game plan to help the people of New Orleans reconnect with each other.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2005 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licensing

I noticed and liked the Creative Commons licensing over at MeshForum. I have reformatted Connectedness under the same "Attribution-ShareAlike" license. This license states more rigorously the very same "open source" terms I have long informally espoused here. In other words,

You are free:

  • to copy, distribute, and display material from Connectedness
  • to make derivative works based on Connectedness
  • to make commercial use of Connectedness

Under the following conditions:

  • Attribution. You must give credit to Connective Associates or
  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
  • For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.
  • Any of these conditions can be waived if you get written permission from Connective Associates.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2005 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Boston KM Forum Dec 15: Leveraging knowledge through collaboration

This just in from Lynda Moulton:
Just two more days to pre-register for the program this Thursday at Bentley College, the grand finale of 2005 meetings. We have a very strong panel of speakers and interesting exhibitors.

Please join us for this view of "Leveraging Knowledge through Collaboration." The speakers will share how they have made an impact through practical collaborative practices. Speakers: Eric Wilson, President, Brane space LLC; Kenneth Bruss, HDA Consulting, Changing the Way New Products are Developed Using Collaboration Tools to Improve ROI; Jean Tatalias, The MITRE Corporation, Connecting People and Supporting Collaboration; Bruce Hoppe, Connective Associates, Disruptive Collaborative Innovation; Jeffrey Govendo, the Innovative Edge, Achieving Real Collaboration through Co-invention (an interactive exercise).

When: December 15, 8:30am - 5pm
Where: Bentley Collage, the Adamian Center Commons
Cost: $40 (pre-registered), $50 (walk-in)
Details and Registration: More Details:

If I don't see you on Thursday, please have a safe, healthy and peaceful season of celebrations.


Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Monday, December 12, 2005

NY Times 5th annual year in ideas features networks

Networks did not officially make yesterday's NY Times Magazine list of big ideas. But perhaps that's because networks are too big to be listed with other ideas. Like a Hollywood superstar, networks now get credit before the rest of the story even starts:Interesting ideas of 2005 include
I love how their graphic design connects network visualization with astrology. What better way to convey the mythic story-telling power of dots and lines.

Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Yahoo Answers adds community to "Ask Jeeves"

Red Herring reports:
Yahoo launched a service called Answers on Thursday that invites people to ask questions, and then lets other visitors answer them. This isn’t explicit search—it’s Yahoo’s attempt at tapping into a community’s collective knowledge to dig out information.
Neat! Now think about combining Yahoo Answers with a bit of text analysis, CiteSeer technology, and perhaps a touch of eBay--next thing you know you'll have some serious answers to your questions.

Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How to build your network by Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap

Last week I analyzed the introductions underlying my professional network. Coincidentally, my colleague Steve Frigand sent me a nice follow up to this from the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review. Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap write about "How to build your network." They suggest that once you have analyzed who introduced you to each of your contacts, take a look at the grand total of how many times you personally introduced yourself (instead of being referred by a colleague). If you are introducing yourself more than 65% of the time, then chances are your network lacks diversity and is overly filled with people similar to you.

Something about this metric rubs me the wrong way. I participate in a wide variety of groups, and I like to volunteer for things like "hospitality" and "registration." I get to introduce myself to lots of people that way. Take a look at this detail of my business introduction network, and notice all the red nodes. Each of those is a different group I participate in where I have met business colleagues. Uzzi and Dunlap would suggest that even when I work the registration desk for one of these red nodes, I am subconsciously selecting people similar to me every time I exchange business cards. When I follow up and get introduced by my new colleagues to their colleagues, then Uzzi and Dunlap suggest I am more likely to free myself from my unstoppable urge to "homophilize."

Uzzi and Dunlap are probably right, but I wish they talked more about how networks grow from the groups we participate in. Instead, readers must turn to the somewhat more scholarly article, "Where do social relations come from?" which was published in the most recent issue of Social Networks. The author does a careful analysis of just how many relationships typically from from "circles" (group membership) versus "sociability" (introductions through others) and finds 59% arise through circles.

Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Living SNA bibliography by Jonathon Cummings

Jonathon Cummings, professor of management at Duke University, has assembed a nice academic bibliography on social network analysis, which includes a form at the bottom so that anyone can add new entries. He also maintains a comprehensive list of network visualization software.

I first encountered Jonathon through his paper (co-authored with Rob Cross) "Structural properties of work groups and their consequences for performance," which you can request from Cummings here. This research reveals a negative relationship between heirarchical team structure and performance in complex non-routine tasks, over 182 small work groups in a global service organization.

Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Benefits of name dropping: David Krackhardt, Valdis Krebs, Kate Ehrlich, Martin Kilduff, Steve Borgatti

A significant majority of hits on Connectedness come from Googlers. Thanks to Google Analytics, it's easy (and free) to summarize exactly what keywords brought them this way:
Within the subset of commonly used keywords above, notice how many are names of other people.

In my blogging practice, I have found writing about my fellow social networking enthusiasts to be beneficial on many levels. It's a good discipline to keep me informed on what's happening, and prevents me from reinventing the wheel. It's also a great way to build relationships with these esteemed colleagues, who are generally good at filtering out unwanted attention, but still appreciate concisely thought-out posts on their work. And, as the above graphic shows, name-dropping on Connectedness attracts hits. By comparison, notice how often people find Connectedness by Googling "Bruce Hoppe."

The problem with name-dropping is its superficiality. Or is that really a problem? The other day David Krackhardt gave me a call and we commiserated on this question. To get the gist of our conversation, I recommend you read Martin Kilduff and David Krackhardt's paper, "Bringing the individual back in: A structural analysis of the internal market for reputation in organizations." The abstract includes this provocative quote:
We found, as predicted, that being perceived to have a prominent friend in an organization boosted an individual's reputation as a good performer, but that actually having such a friend ... had no effect.
Of course, as long as people know you have a prominent friend, then actually having that prominent friend doesn't hurt either. That's why I still appreciate gestures like Steve Borgatti's link to Connectedness from his Managerial Network Analysis page:
Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Overhaul of open source licensing could have broad impact

Yesterday's NY Times had an article on how the "Overhaul of Linux License Could Have Broad Impact." This is the first time in 15 years that the General Public License, which regulates Linux and many other open source software programs, will be updated. The article states:

"The big boys, corporations and governments, have far more reason to be interested and concerned this time," said Eben Moglen, general counsel to the Free Software Foundation, which holds the license, commonly known as the G.P.L.

The process will also be closely watched for how the new G.P.L. will take account of software patents, which have exploded among proprietary software developers since 1991, the last time the license was revised.

One person who has watched the open source community especially closely is my colleague Bob Wolf at BCG. He published an outstanding analysis of how open source works in the July-August 2005 Harvard Business Review. Click on the title page at right to read it.

Bob and his coauthor Philip Evans compare Linux developers to the Toyota Production System and draw fascinating conclusions on what big business can learn from rebel hackers. Jack Vinson at Knowledge Jolt gave a good summary of these lessons back when the article was originally published. To Jack's comments I add that the HBR article does a nice job of distinguishing two kinds of trust: (1) Trust based on reputation, and (2) Trust based on reciprocity. Open source depends more on the first. I may not ever repay your favor directly (a requirement of reciprocity) but if I screw you then the word spreads so fast that my reputation across the entire community will be ruined. So for the sake of their reputations, group members all play nice, develop great trust for each other, and thereby enjoy very low "transaction costs" (e.g., fewer contracts).

Bob and I both attended a talk this week by Professor Markus Mobius on "Measuring Trust in Social Networks Through a Microfinance Field Experiment." It's a more academic take on the same issues Bob discussed in his HBR article. You can hear the whole talk (podcast style) at Prof. David Lazer's new Complexity and Social Networks Blog.

Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Organizational network analysis utility

[Ed note: Originally written in 2005, this post was updated June 2009 so that the featured spreadsheet utility is freely downloadable here. Previously the spreadsheet was distributed via email.]

Organizational network analysis provides intuitively compelling pictures of how work really happens, giving us a handle on slippery intangibles that drive the future success of an enterprise.

Although this kind of intuitive analytical power has very wide appeal, its usefulness is limited right now by the unwieldy software tools currently available.

Deep down, making good simple network pictures is inherently complicated, but using network visualization software doesn't have to be. Progress is being made every day. See the newly updated list of SNA software in the right sidebar for some great examples. (And please let me know if I'm missing something.)

Even with the simplest of these tools, my non-technical clients often get hung up right away with the basic task of getting the data in. We power-users can easily forget how hard it was to build our first network, until we see someone else learning for the first time.

Here's an Excel spreadsheet utility my clients and I find helpful. I now make it freely available, in the hopes that more people will enjoy the benefits of seeing the big picture of the network perspective.

The spreadsheet includes three worksheets. One worksheet is the actual survey, which can be modified to suit the specific project. It automatically incorporates the names of the survey population into a drop-down list.
After distributing the survey via email, collected responses can be pasted in any order into a "compiled survey" worksheet:

Then an "automatrix" worksheet converts the compiled results into square matrices that can easily be pasted into available network analysis tools. The matrix calculator makes it easy to manage who opts in or out of the survey, and it provides access to multiple relationships.

If you'd like a copy of the spreadsheet, which includes a copy of a great California Computer case study (permission granted by David Krackhardt), you can download it here.

Copyright (c) 2005-2009 Connective Associates, except where otherwise noted.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The "Steinway" of networking strategies

I consolidated my rolodex last weekend in anticipation of sending holiday cards. As I was double-checking contact information, I reflected on how I originally met each person in my life. Did I meet them randomly, as part of a group, or perhaps through a specific introduction?

Looking at the big picture of these relationships can be enlightening. Here you see part of my business introduction network, mapped with NetDraw. My favorite part of the network is the long chain that begins with a random encounter with Kathy Kram (a professor of organizational behavior, whose son competed in a piano competition I organized) and leads ultimately to Steve Borgatti, guru of social network algorithms.

The origin of this notable chain is actually not all that random. In my own networking practice, I draw continually on lessons learned from my piano-selling former colleagues. Steinway reps, who think nothing of massaging several hundred separate leads through a two-year sales cycle, are some of the smoothest and most persistent networkers around. How do they do it? It takes a special breed. But it also helps to be anal about tracking contact information, including especially the date and context of each communication, and a specific reminder of when next to follow up. When each introduction takes two months (about average in my example chain above), tracking these data religiously is essential to good networking.

For a helpful complement to my Steinway ethnography, visit the website of networking guru Diane Darling, including "How to work a room."

Except where otherwise noted, Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More social network pictures of government scandal in the NY Times

As much as I appreciate when the NY Times publishes a network map, I wish they weren't going downhill in quality. Today's paper features this fairly uninteresting example:
See also last month's view of government scandal and this view of emails at Enron.

Except where otherwise noted, Copyright (c) 2005 Connective Associates.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Measuring all-time greatest hits with Google Analytics

Google released its web analytics as a free service about a week ago. I registered as soon as I heard about it, and already I have learned a lot of useful information that I never found through my previous web monitor, SiteMeter. Thanks to Google Analytics I have a clearer sense than ever of which pages of Connectedness draw the most hits.

Most hit-on pages of Connectedness:
Compare the above list with these most highly ranked pages of Connectedness and you will see a few worthy additions:

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Making blogs more usable with page ranking and clustering

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Dennis Smith (notable team/project guru) sent me this handy list: "Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes." Two of them really got me--"the calendar is the only navigation" and "classic hits are buried."

The answer to the navigation question would seem to be categories, a feature that users like myself have long coveted. But after giving it some more thought this week, I decided to let go of my category-craving as just another vestigial attachment to the old-school org-chart mentality.

Having let go of categories, I now embrace the Google-ness of and simultaneously tackle the "classic hits" question. Those of you who subscribe to my blog may want to stop by the actual website and see the navigational features I have added to the right sidebar. Foremost is an "All-time greatest hits" link, which turns Google onto Connectedness and shows the highest-ranked pages on the site. In addition, I have selected a few notable keywords and provided links to scan my most popular postings on human capital, innovation, and visualization, among other topics.

It was only by necessity that I provided specific keywords to seed this new and dynamically ordered table of contents. I would much prefer to turn the entire task over to a clustering engine like Clusty or Grokker. Unfortunately, those tools cluster over multiple URLs and so don't help anyone navigate the interconnected web of postings filed away here. Maybe someday soon.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Our networks are privileged information

I recently did a social network analysis for a membership association as part of a presentation on "professional vs. personal networking." (E-mail me for a copy of the slides.) Afterwards, the coordinator of the group commented how quite of few of the most talented networkers in the room were precisely those who did not return their surveys. Whether personal or professional, relationships are privileged information, and responsible social network analysts must respect those who choose not to divulge. For an in-depth discussion of SNA ethics, see Borgatti and Molina's "Toward ethical guidelines for network research in organizations."

In stark contrast to those secretive networkers, many other seemingly judicious people become blatant exhibitionists in their online personas. Wendy McClure's essay "Mysteries of the Amazon," which appeared a week ago in the NY Times, is a highly entertaining confessional about the awkwardness that results when secrets meant for e-strangers fall into the wrong hands (in her case, because she is a digital snoop on her friends).

In regular life, we have developed sophisticated strategies for when to share which parts of our life stories. The online version of this is far from being worked out, but impressive progress is being made. For a look at the leading edge, see the Eclipse Higgins Project, led by Paul Trevithick of Parity Communications.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

New Yorker cartoon on bridging structural holes

I couldn't resist scanning this from The New Yorker of November 21, 2005, page 75.

For a more serious look at tapping diversity for the benefit of your business, see this overview I wrote a while back about Ron Burt's seminal work: "Structural Holes and Collaborative Innovation."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Expertise from Google rankings and CiteSeer

Not long ago I wrote about how browser add-ons like Outfoxed combine Google rankings with personal factors. Let me clarify my own thoughts and point out that Google rankings are really not so distinct from personal factors. That's because each time someone adds a link from one website to another, that is effectively a personal recommendation, which gets automatically incorporated into Google's rankings.

The implications of this are huge. See "Just Googling it is striking fear into the hearts of companies," an article from the NY Times of Nov 6, 2005, which aptly describes how Google and its ilk are "delivering results that are more and more like the advice of a trusted expert." Or, as Professor David B. Yoffie at Harvard Business School says in the same article, "Google is the realization of everything we thought the Internet was going to be but wasn't until Google."

For an example of how Google-rankings (or something similar) are providing trusted expert advice directly relevant to my readership, check out CiteSeer. This website of computer science publications tracks citations from one paper to another, giving it remarkable insight into the degree of relatedness and relative significance of the nearly one million papers in its archives.

That means that average people are much less dependant than they used to be on the real experts of the world to find just the information they're looking for. For example, anyone with an Internet connection can go to CiteSeer, look up what's been published about "social networks," and then automatically zoom in on the most influential "hub" publications that introduce major sub-topics--whatever those sub-topics may be. See my new "Technically Speaking" link at right to do just that. You can also ask CiteSeer to list publications according to how "hot" they are--specifically how many times are they expected to be cited by other papers this year, based on past trends. To try that yourself, just click on the link, "Tech II: What's Hot," which is also included in the right sidebar.

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Human capital" in NY Times Op-Ed by David Brooks

Notable more for its prominent placement than the actual content, a column by David Brooks proclaims the importance of human capital to America's international competitiveness.

Brooks breaks human capital into five underlying components, which he defines as
  • Cultural capital: the habits, assumptions, emotional dispositions and linguistic capacities we uncon­sciously pick up from families, neigh­bors and ethnic groups - usually by age 3.
  • Social capital: the knowl­edge of how to behave in groups and within institutions.
  • Moral capital: the ability to be trustworthy.
  • Cognitive capital: This can mean pure, inherited brainpower. But important cognitive skills are not measured by IQ tests and are not fixed.
  • Aspirational capital: the fire-in-the-belly ambition to achieve.
Brooks' first three components and their definitions seem a bit arbitrary to me, but I do appreciate his sense of urgency. Brooks particularly laments the growing gap between our understanding and use of human capital:
"Over the past quarter-century, researchers have done a lot of work trying to understand the different parts of human capital. Their work has been almost completely ignored by policy makers, who continue to treat human capital as just skills and knowledge. The result? A series expensive policy failures."
For more on human capital on these pages, see my recent post on maximizing the return on your human capital investment, as researched by Watson Wyatt.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

IEEE Internet Computing: special Networked issue

The last time someone called me "Hopper" was third grade, until now. See last month's IEEE Internet Computing special Networked issue, which features the article "Social Networks and Social Networking" by Elizabeth F. Churchill and Christine A. Halverson. It looks like a good article, modulo a typo or two.

Thanks to Rajmohan Rajaraman for the tip!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

CAPTCHAs and googling (the pros and cons of smart machines)

Many thanks to Dave Koelle of Charles River Analytics for alerting me to the new "CAPTCHA" feature on For those of you unfamiliar with the term (as I was a couple days ago), CAPTCHA stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." And let me add that a "Turing test" is simply a way to tell computers and humans apart solely based on their behavior, not their body chemistry.

If you surf the net at all, you have probably already passed many CAPTCHAs by reading distorted text (as on the right) and re-typing it. Humans can read "gpidhr" easily but computers, including spam-bots, cannot. Hence I can re-open comments on Connectedness to everybody, provided you can make it past the CAPTCHA.

The really interesting thing about CAPTCHAs is that the boundary between human behavior and computer algorithm is in fact less of a boundary than it is an arms race. See the CAPTCHA project at Carnegie Mellon for one side of this arms race, and read this post by a certified spam-botter for a glimpse at the other side.

Which side of the arms race are you on? I guess most of us want to feel better than computers and protect ourselves from spam and so root for the home team. But hold that thought while you read this article, "Just Googling It Is Striking Fear Into Companies," from today's NY Times. The Internet now makes it so easy to find the best price, even Wal-Mart is nervous. Makes you want to cheer for the forces of the digital age, doesn't it?

As I reported here earlier, researchers are augmenting Google with social network methods, resulting in systems like "Outfoxed" that combine Google-rankings with personal factors-- like what do my trusted friends and colleagues have to say about my web query? That combination will be more than enough to keep the CAPTCHA crew working overtime for as long as they want to defend the ever-blurring boundary between human expertise and machine intelligence.

Weekend edition: silkscreen prints by C. Barbour

The first piece of art I bought after I moved to Boston was a poster-sized silkscreen print, buried under a pile of seconds at Carol Barbour's booth at a Lexington arts and crafts fair. Ten dollars later I was the proud owner of the print, and ten years later it still hangs in a place of honor in my home. Occasionally I still see Carol at art fairs around the area. Last Christmas I bought a few cards from her, including the one below, which evokes in me everything I love about what I do:
I bought five of these and just mailed my last copy to a dear friend a couple weeks ago. I scanned it before putting it in the mail.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

VisualComplexity by Manuel Lima

I spent some time today catching up on my favorite blogs (such as elearnspace, MeshForum, and Centrality). Almost all of them had recent links to visualcomplexity, a wonderful site by Manuel Lima, noted by Valdis Krebs on SOCNET. For those of us interested in visualizing networks, Manuel's compilation (a true labor of love) is a must-see. I have added it to my right hand column as well.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Scary stories

Happy Halloween, everybody! On the ultimate day of scary stories, I am reminded that even the best network map is not worth much without a good narrative to back it up.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Here's another addition to my right hand column: Meshforum. My colleagues Shannon Clark, Jack Vinson, and Scott Allen in Chicago are connecting network-thinking from a wide array of business and academic perspectives.

Their mission statement says:

Networks form the basis of everything, from how your body works to who you know, from how power is distributed to how the store on the corner is kept stocked. Networks are in the news, from the elections to anti-terrorism, to investigations of financial markets and the Blackout in the US.

Whether you are an academic, a business leader, or a politician, understanding Networks is a requirement for success in the 21st century. Recent research has shown similarities in the shape, structure, and growth of networks across many fields.

MeshForum will bring together experts and leaders from many fields for two days of Connecting Networks. In a single, highly participatory track, panels of experts and select speakers will cover topics from summarizing current academic research to techniques for navigating and activating networks in specific industries.

Exchanging knowledge and different views and perspectives will be the order of the day.

To be held May 2nd and 3rd in Chicago with an opening reception on May 1st. MeshForum will have a maximum size of 300 attendees.

If you are interested in attending, presenting at, or sponsoring MeshForum, please contact Shannon Clark.

To be kept informed about what is happening with MeshForum, keep checking our website, or sign up for our MeshForum Updates mailing list at YahooGroups.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Technology, sociology, and networks

Behind the scenes at Connectedness, I have been talking to more computer scientists and fewer sociologists, relative to previous months. I hope to be able to say more soon, but in the meantime I am happy to share a couple nifty resources I have picked up along the way, thanks to Jon Kleinberg. You can find both of them as new additions to the right hand column of Connectedness:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Networks maps of government scandal

Check out this graphic from Sunday's NY Times, about seamy goings-on in Washington:
Wow! There is a lot of information on the page (maybe too much).

The widely recognized master of these kinds of network-storytelling pictures was Mark Lombardi (1951-2000), who elevated these diagrams to an art form. See here for some selections of Lombardi's work, like this one:
You can also read a critical overview of Lombardi's life and work here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The diabolical dyadic cabal

Ever on the lookout for handy word combinations, Connectedness shares this inspiration:

A high-ranked aide to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell has told the NY Times that Bush policy is run by a diabolical dyadic cabal.

The aide, Lawrence Wilkerson, suggested that the dysfunction within the administration was so grave that "if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence."

"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues," he said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Jon Kleinberg on information networks

I caught up today with Jon Kleinberg, professor of computer science at Cornell and recent winner of a MacArthur Fellowship for his research in networks and network navigation. Jon is, to put it mildly, well connected to what's happening at the intersection of computer science and sociology. Those of you with a technical bent will appreciate Jon's online notes for his class "The Structure of Information Networks." Other than the 1945 Atlantic Monthly article, "As We May Think," by V. Bush, Jon's syllabus is pretty heavy-duty. It also includes a neat list of "Other courses with overlapping content," drawn from universities around the world. These courses include many that are purely technical, as well as a few with significant sociological content, such as these:

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The persistent power of the go-to guy

Yesterday's New York Times had a great piece on Tom DeLay, who maintains his unofficial status as the "go-to guy" in Congress despite being removed from his official post as Majority Leader. Could you imagine if we actually had a network map of Congress? If you'd like to stoke those fires of imagination, check out Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Networked Governance, led by David Lazer. I don't think any maps of Congressional deal-making are immediately forthcoming, but Lazer and his team are doing other interesting things in the space of social networks and government.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Mapping new worlds for competitive advantage

Columbus Day is one of America's more controversial holidays. Some celebrate it as the discovery of the New World. Others deride it as a commemoration of white male hegemony. Either way, those who get the day off from work probably take it, while the rest of us grumble at having to spend a holiday at our desks.

This kind of controversy often happens when people see one thing from different points of view--a difference that maps are very good at revealing. For example, at right is a typical map of the world from 1492. Love him or hate him, we can credit Columbus for sailing into the unknown with little more to guide him than the courage of his convictions. We can also thank Columbus and his contemporaries for helping us see the world's geography more for what it is, and less as a projection of our own philosophy.

Of course, no matter how hard we try to be objective in our map-making, we will always be skewing things one way or another. The Mercator Projection is a classic example of objective mapmaking that in fact severely distorts surface area. At the opposite extreme, consider the politically neutral logo of the United Nations, which has dubious navigational value. Which of these is the right map? The answer is-- it depends on what you want to use it for.

Today's leaders rely no less on vision and courage than Columbus did, but they also have much better maps to guide them; and those who possess superior maps have a decided advantage over their competitors. For a rigorous analysis of this advantage, a good place to start reading is the work of David Krackhardt. His notion of cognitive social structures deflates our unrealistic hope of finding the one true social map, and replaces it with a multiplicity of perspectives. Not all perspectives are created equal, however. Especially when it comes to perceptions of advice-giving, those with more accurate organizational maps are predominantly those with more power and influence.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Conflict: something we can all agree on

During a rare candid moment, someone once told me his approach to business was (1) make lots of money, and (2) don't get bogged down in consensus-building. As much as I appreciated his honesty, I didn't realize just how newsworthy his perspective would be. Flip through a stack of recent business magazines and you will see
I'm glad we're all agreed on that! As a worthy appendix to this slew of confrontation-mongering, add "Your Alliances Are Too Stable," by David Ernst and James Bamford, in the June 2005 HBR.

I'd like to be clear that I do like these headlines, and even some of the articles. I mention them here both because networks are so relevant to mergers and acquisitions, and because networks are popularly (and erroneously) viewed as synonymous with harmonious collaboration. Anyway, the intense feeling of business strategy deja vu reminds me of The Onion's version of what would happen if Cosmopolitan published a compendium: "812,683 ways to please your man."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Blog comments and blog spam

Over the past few weeks Connectedness has been increasingly hit with blog spam. I am already running short on time to maintain this blog, and can't get Blogger to reliably email me comments, so it's hopeless for me to try to stay on top of this.

As a result, I have declared martial law on blog comments. After all, what good are comments when 90% of them are complete garbage? From now on (or until someone reveals a better solution to me) only members of Connectedness can post comments. Would you like to join the ranks of Connectedness and post comments? Let me know.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Jon Kleinberg, networker extraordinaire, wins MacArthur "genius" grant

Congratulations to Cornellian Jon Kleinberg, who recently was awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius award" given annually to 20-30 of the most brilliant and creative individuals in the US.

Jon was specifically recognized by the MacArthur Foundation for his contributions to network theory, explaining basic principles of navigability in both social "small world" networks and the World Wide Web.

I feel quite lucky to have rubbed shoulders with Jon. We were both studying with Eva Tardos in 1993, when I was getting my PhD research going and he was a precocious senior, both of us in the computer science department. Jon then got his PhD at MIT and is now a professor back at Cornell, where he just published a major textbook on algorithms, again with Eva.

It's very gratifying to see Jon getting such recognition. In a field where the merely smart labor through complexity, Jon's genius shines with a striking simplicity that makes the rest of us wonder, "How come I never thought of that?"

It's also very exciting to see the study of networks get this kind of attention. Could the MacArthur Foundation be riding the SNA hype curve, or are we really making some breakthroughs here? I think the latter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Maximizing the return on your human capital investment, from Watson Wyatt

Although some people disdain HR as a soft-headed haven for "people" persons, truly high performing companies know that HR is a key ingredient of profitability. But what's the ROI?

Since 1998 Watson Wyatt has set out to document the expected ROI on the full spectrum of HR functions. This year marks the release of their third report (following 1998 and 2002). The key theme from 2002's report was how superior HR today corresponds strongly to growth in shareholder value tomorrow. The 2005 report continues in that vein but with more specific commentary on exactly which HR practices generate the most ROI. Take a guess which of these HR functions tops the ROI list:
  • Communication
  • Benefits
  • Recruiting
  • Employee Development
Ready for the answer? Recruiting headlines the 2005 Watson Wyatt report as the most powerful differentiator of shareholder returns--specifically, time to fill. Companies that average two weeks to fill a position outperform those that take seven weeks by almost 50 percent in "total return to shareholders" (the change in a company's share price over three years, plus dividends, as a percent change from its opening value).

Excellence in training, by comparison, boosts return to shareholders about 20 percent. And as reported here earlier, some kinds of training actually produce negative returns.

Watson Wyatt's emphasis on time-to-fill in general, and employee referrals in particular, is especially good news for services like Jobster, which aim to connect those looking to hire to the world of vetted candidates. My colleague Mal Watlington has been watching this space for some time and you can learn a lot about it by starting here and then browsing this. See also Mal's commentary on Watson Wyatt's 2005 report.

For another perspective on talent management, see this report by Robin Athey of Deloitte. I will say more about this in a future post.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"Networks" are hot but "social" is not

Last week I met Dennis Smith to learn about Team Project Acculitics. Dennis has not only a great sense of what it takes to make a project successful but also a very nuts-and-bolts way of delivering that. I was especially struck by Dennis' negative experiences with the word "social," which invariably puts his clients' defenses on alert. Perhaps that's partly why Patti Anklam has been advocating organizational network analysis instead of social network analysis?

Dennis also shared with me his love of writing. I was so inspired that I decided to kick off my own newsletter, which some of you have already received. It's a monthly executive summary of what you find here, in email form. Dare I subject my blog readers to yet another email? Alas, yes. I decided to cast a wide net and so added pretty much all of my reciprocated "network" network to the distribution list. If I missed your email, then please do subscribe using this link or the one on my sidebar. And if I added you to the distribution list and you don't want Connectedness email, please accept my apologies and take advantage of the unsubscribe button.

Coincidentally, Dennis responded to my inaugural newsletter with a perceptive comment. My post "Pros and Cons of Open Source" is really about self-organizing teams and not open source. Good point. Perhaps I should demote Malcolm Gladwell a half-notch on my guru hierarchy for writing it that way; and I will be more keen on noticing the distinction from now on. Thanks, Dennis.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Real-Time SNA at the Trainers' Roundtable

Last Friday I presented to the Trainers' Roundtable. My friend Michele Simos was very kind to share the action shot at right, in which I am talking about David Krackhardt's seminal case study.

If you're interested in HR, facilitating, and training, and live in the Boston area, I highly recommend the Trainers' Roundtable to you. It's a very sharp group.

The highlight of the meeting for me (and I think for the audience too) was a real-time social network analysis. We went through the entire process, from goal-setting and survey design, to data collection, analysis, and discussion, all "in the room." The only paper we used was a flipchart at the front, and I administered the survey verbally while typing UCINET coordinates into my laptop. With twenty people attending, we had more than enough to make the network perspective very enlightening, but not so many to get bogged down in data collection. We found a not-surprising cluster of leadership at the center, as well as a very intriguing boundary-spanner.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

To network or not to network

Steve Borgatti calls it "connecting to heterogeneous others." My Unitarian Universalist friends call it "celebrating diversity." Either way, we are talking about the benefits of learning from different kinds of people. Certainly that's an unmitigated good thing, right?

Not exactly. Sometimes we prefer to have social closure, which brings with it some reassurance of well-defined security. From the outside, however, social closure can easily appear outright close-minded.

These are the issues raised by the cover article from the latest issue of UU World: "Who's Afraid of Freedom and Tolerance?" Author Doug Muder discusses the different worldviews of the Christian Right and liberal Left by contrasting their attitudes towards closure and bridging.

As a relative lefty myself, I can easily sympathize with Muder's fondness for religious bridging. Perhaps you can too, dear reader. So let's take this question a couple steps farther and see if we approach the limits of our networking comfort zones.

Step one: consider Jeffrey Toobin's recent profile of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the September 12, 2005 New Yorker magazine. Toobin explains, "Kennedy has a passion for foreign cultures and ideas, and, as a justice, he has turned it into a principle of jurisprudence. Over the past two years, he has become a leading proponent of one of the most cosmopolitan, and controversial, trends in constitutional law: using foreign and international law as an aid to interpreting the United States Constitution. Kennedy's embrace of foreign law may be among the most significant developments on the Court in recent years-the single biggest factor behind his evolution from a reliable conservative into the likely successor to Sandra Day O'Connor as the Court's swing vote." For the polar opposite point of view, see Antonin Scalia.

Are you still well within your networking comfort zone? Then come with Drake Bennett on step two, his story "Robo Justice" in last Sunday's Boston Globe. Computer scientists have already created an artificial intelligence system to estimate divorve settlements, and that is only the beginning of the rapidly emerging field of computing justice.

How would you feel standing before a judge as he fed your parameters into his laptop and awaited the results?

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Give and Take of Tit For Tat

Network analysis sheds light on the structure of an organization but tends to reduce individual relationships to "yes" or "no" decisions. What happens when the answer is "it depends"? The analytical among us must turn to other branches of mathematics for some measure of reason.

Game theory in particular has a lot to say about the give and take of everyday relationships. This branch of mathematics may owe most of its fame to Russell Crowe's performance as John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind." Since John Nash's heyday of the 1950s, game theory has also been put to good use by evolutionary biologists, who have shown how touching acts of seeming altruism (such as caring for a sick sibling) in fact occur precisely to the degree that they produce maximal genetic survival of the allegedly altruistic organism. See Richard Dawkins for utterly fascinating reading about this.

Lately I have been thinking about another question of game theory: what is the optimal way to build a trusting and mutually profitable relationship with a colleague? Give away too much too soon and you will be taken advantage of. Never give at all and you will probably receive nothing in return. Here's a classic result showing how a surprisingly simple strategy produces almost unbeatable results over the long haul. The strategy is called "Tit For Tat" and boils down to this: Assume the best and start by giving a little. Then the next time you see the same colleague again, simply return the same dose of "give" or "take" that he extended your way in your last encounter.


Doing research for this article, I discovered that the "Tit For Tat" strategy referenced above has finally been defeated after a 20-year reign. The new strategy requires a team of competitors to collude: most of the teammates sacrifice their own well-being so that a handful of team leaders win it all. Sounds just like the winning strategy at the Tour de France.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Improving business productivity and leadership with a network perspective

Shameless self-promotional plug:

I am running a day-long workshop, "Improving Your Business With Social Network Analysis," Friday October 21, 2005, in downtown Boston.

The workshop will equip managers and consultants with the skills necessary to improve both productivity of core business units and leadership development with social network analysis (SNA). Social network analysis is a powerful visual and mathematical technique that can be used to create a picture of an organization or group and build a better understanding of how it really works. Participants will learn the benefits of seeing business from a network perspective and how to realize those benefits using UCINET, the world's leading SNA software. No previous SNA experience of any kind is required, but familiarity with Microsoft Excel is assumed.

Class begins with an introduction to accelerating business results with a network perspective. The bulk of the class will continue with a detailed business case study. As students explore the case study, they will learn by discussion and extensive hands-on exercises how to work with network data, analyze it, and create compelling pictures that show how to improve workflow, leadership development, and talent management.

Register now to receive the earlybird discount and guarantee yourself a spot in the class.

The Social-Network Toolkit by Patti Anklam

Cheers to my colleague Patti Anklam, whose book The Social-Network Toolkit was recently published by the Ark Group.
I am a sucker for good graphic design and really like the cover of this book, although I get the impression that no one at Ark Group has ever played the planar graph game. Let this cover stand as another example that network layout is a decidedly subjective exercise in visual storytelling.

Moving beyond the cover, we discover Patti's exceptionally thoughtful perspective on organizational performance, which she views through the combined lenses of social network analysis and knowledge management. Lots of people see business-SNA and KM as related, but few people see them with the refined eye that Patti has. Here is a map from her introduction, outlining relationships of the key concepts to be covered by the rest of the book:
The book includes chapters on "Why networks matter" and "Applying networking practices to knowledge problems in the business." The latter chapter tantalizes the reader with short SNA case studies, which collectively deliver a good overview of the relevance of SNA to business.

You can find out more here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

From the Archives: Krackhardt's "Informal Networks"

How can we contain the AIDS epidemic in Africa? How do new ideas take hold in an organization? Social network analysts frame both of these questions in terms of diffusion. And as experts in the field, social network analysts might be expected to practice optimal strategies in combatting STDs and spreading good ideas fast. But we are human too (thank god). So perhaps it is not surprising that I can still impress my colleagues as an innovator by sharing an article published twelve years ago in the Harvard Business Review.

The ancient scroll to which I refer is "Informal Networks: The Company Behind the Chart" by David Krackhardt and Jeffrey Hansen. The article features a case study of David Leers, CEO of a California computer firm:
When rivalries flare among his four divisions, Leers decides to bring key leaders from each division together into a strategic task force. His initial choice of leaders turns out to be off the mark, but a careful look at information, advice, and trust networks in the company helps him see how to resolve the situation.

As I mentioned, several colleagues of mine have been positively blown away by this article. So the big question is, how can an HBR article from 1993 still strike people as "the next big thing"? I went straight to the source and asked David Krackhardt that very question. Here's what he had to say:

"I think that one of the reasons is that there are a lot more software packages that support analyzing these networks in ways that were not possible before. Up until fairly recently, all of us in the field were also programmers, having to write our own code to do the analysis (and and visual renderings). Coupled with the high profile interest that physicists have taken in the area, and you have lots more exposure. And some of this work is also tapping into large scale networks, like the WWW or email connections, which in some ways is much easier data to collect and write about."

Speaking of software packages for SNA, I put David's HBR case study into Steve Borgatti's NetDraw and came up with this image of the advice network:
Each division is a different color. The size of the node corresponds to the influence that individual has over the advice network. Then, since the trust network also plays a key role in this case study, I represented influence over the trust network by scaling the size of the node labels (i.e., trusted individuals literally have big names). Near the middle of the network, you can see a big yellow node illegibly labelled "Calder" because Calder is so professionally competent and at the same time personally abrasive. Not necessarily good leadership material.

Unlike 1993, the problem with SNA today is preventing information overload. There are so many networks we can collect data on, and so many gee-whiz tools to display them, that it's important to keep focused on the big picture.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

September is time for class

What better time than September 1st to add an "Upcoming Events" section to the right-hand column of my blog. Topping the (admittedly short) list is my September 16th presentation with Rob Greenly at the Trainers' Roundtable, entitled "Social Network Analysis: Applications for HR and Training."

I'm really looking forward to this event with Rob, whose experience as VP of Learning and Organization Development at Boston Scientific will keep our presentation firmly grounded in business fundamentals.

Here's our promotional blurb:

Social Network Analysis:
Applications for HR and Training

Participants will learn about Social Network Analysis (SNA), a tool for producing an actual "picture" of informal relationships in an organization, including communication flow, personal support and advice networks. The presentation will show how SNA can help human resource and training professionals to
  • Identify and leverage critical roles and talent hidden in an organization
  • Take a lead in improving productivity of core business units.
The presentation will include a brief introduction, a practical case study, experiential learning, small group discussion of applications on-the-job, and an overview of how to identify and leverage informal organizational networks.

RSVPs are required by September 13, 2005. See the Trainers' Roundtable for more information, and email to register.