Thursday, June 30, 2005

Social Networks and the Hype Curve

Thanks to Lynda Moulton of Boston's KM Forum for posting the slides to Kate Ehrlich's recent talk on social network analysis. One of my favorite visuals from Kate's talk was a "Hype Curve" from the Gartner Group, which shows how new technologies initially grow too fast for their own good, crashing from a "Peak of Inflated Expectations" into a "Trough of Disillusionment" before stabilizing on a "Plateau of Productivity." Below you can see Gartner's 2004 estimation that SNA is only at the beginning of a wild ride:

This view of SNA coincides with the guarded optimism I've reported from scholars like Steve Borgatti. (And see here for recent comments on this topic.) One of my more ambitious goals in writing this blog is to help temper the initial burst of irrational SNA exuberance and help raise the ultimate plateau of SNA productivity. I'd say Kate's research is also in line with that measured approach, and I recommend her paper in progress (co-authored with Inga Carboni), "Inside Social Network Analysis," as a nice introduction.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Summer Social Network Camp

After far too long without a vacation, I splurged last week on one of my mini-fantasies: an all-inclusive Caribbean beach extravaganza. I spent seven days and six nights at Club Med, Turks & Caicos, where every leisure activity was at my disposal. I could grab a catamaran literally ten steps outside my room and ride the trade winds over a gloriously luminous ocean. Or I could lounge poolside and admire the savage tans of my vacationing cohorts while sipping unlimited drinks of every variety. Along the way I learned snorkeling, scuba diving, and trapeze flying (!), and I enjoyed such delicacies as stuffed quail and frogs legs, not to mention the subtle sweetness of fresh goat milk on my breakfast cereal.

Very nice, you may say, but doesn't Connectedness stick to business? What does my fantasy week have to do with social network analysis, organizational development, or community building?

Good question. And perhaps the answer is nothing. But as I was enjoying the last few sweets of my final dinner Monday, I couldn't help anticipating my imminent return to work by doing a workflow analysis of Club Med, Turks & Caicos. My analysis was inspired by the club's amazing staff of "Gentils Organiseurs" (G.O's)---beautiful young people who live rather like guests except that instead of relaxing they are always putting on daily activities, lessons, expeditions, and nightly shows for the benefit of the rest of us. It stuck me that in their diligent efforts to provide us with unending options of entertainment, the G.O's were also keeping us from the fun of entertaining ourselves. Personally, I would have loved a chance to organize some activity for the benefit of my fellow guests. With a little bit of network perspective, Club Med could help me have even more fun, and take a bit of grunt work off the shoulders of the G.O's. Does anyone know of adult camp/ resorts that already employ this philosophy? I'd love to hear.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Happy Birthday Connectedness!

One year ago Bill Ives told me I should try blogging. Thanks, Bill!

I've had a lot of fun writing since then. Just as Bill explained to me, this blog has been a wonderful personal filing cabinet, of great use to me even if nobody else reads it. But it does get more exciting when people do read it, which has been happening increasingly often of late. Below is the year in visits and page views. June is on pace to be our biggest month yet--if y'all can keep stopping by even while I'm off the Internet for the next week. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Organizational X-Ray"--an SNA metaphor that is all too apt?

Last week I visited the MIT office of David Hartzband, where we had a fascinating conversation around all sort of topics related to technology and organizations. Along the way David introduced me to CP Snow's "The Two Cultures" and the super pre-categorizing Internet search tool Clusty (not as visually slick as Grokker but more powerful). David has been CTO of several major technology firms and I found his awareness of the technical landscape really breathtaking.

At the end of our meeting, David challenged me with his impression that he sees SNA as a fascinating tool without clear business value. Moreover, amongst David's wide circle of contacts, SNA has polarized the ranks. Half of them love SNA and the other half are bitter about money wasted on opportunistic SNA consultants.

I told David how his perspective reminds me of Steve Borgatti, who months ago explained to me his concern that SNA will get burned by excessive buzz, as legions of inexpert entrepreneurs grab some quick SNA cash and leave the marketplace forever resentful that they ever heard of social networks.

We often use the "organizational x-ray" metaphor in this business, and I think now is a good time to remind ourselves that it took us decades to figure out what x-rays are good for, and not good for. Did anyone out there ever have their shoe size measured by a department store x-ray machine? These were common in the 40s and 50s before their hazards were well understood and they were outlawed. Word didn't get everywhere, however, and the last operational shoe-size x-ray wasn't mothballed until 1981.

Of course, the flip side of this is where would modern medicine be without x-rays? Many of us owe our lives (or limbs or teeth) to timely insights provided by responsible use of this remarkable technology.

So be wary of whiz-bang SNA shoe-size machines and let's focus on connecting this technology to places where it really helps.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Let's raise a flag to community building

Happy Flag Day everybody!

Yesterday I presented "Social Network Analysis: A Tool for Community Development" at the Center for Youth and Communities, which is part of the Heller School at Brandeis University. Thanks to Ginger Fitzhugh (whom I met at the Mass Bay OD Learning Group) for inviting me to speak in front of such an interested and interesting audience.

In my presentation I referred to a few key resources that I recommend to anyone interested in social networks and community development:

Start with the Barr Foundation's page of resources, which includes "Network Power for Philanthropy and Nonprofits," a high-level primer, along with two great case studies about Lawrence Community Works and The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks.

When you're ready to delve deeper, read "NGO Networks: Building Capacity in a Changing World," a truly brilliant study commissioned by USAID's Office of Private Voluntary Cooperation, which is stored in their extensive public database.

There are also some very practical materials relevant to inter-organizational collaboration published freely by NY Academy of Medicine's Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health.

If you'd like a copy of my presentation, just e-mail me and I'll send it to you.

[Ed: See also this closely related and more recent Living Bibliography for Leadership Network Development.]

Monday, June 13, 2005

Enronic: a new email-based network visualization tool

Those of you who took my advice two weeks ago and are trying to load two years of Enron's email into TeCFlow may also want to take a look at Enronic, specially created for that very purpose by Jeffrey Heer, a CS PhD student at UC Berkley. Enronic was recently featured on boingboing. For additional background reading you can also see the recent proceedings of last week's Email archive visualization workshop at the University of Maryland.

I haven't put the pieces of Enronic together myself yet but the publicity looks pretty hot.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Dan Brass on social networks' impact on HR

Thanks to Kate Ehrlich for introducing me to the research of Dan Brass, J. Hennings Hilliard Chair in Innovation Management at the University of Kentucky. Dan has done impressive work studying how social networks affect human resource management. I corresponded briefly with Dan and he graciously allowed me to share this article of his: "A Social Network Perspective on Human Resource Management," from Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 1995, vol. 13, pp. 39-79.

Reading the first couple pages of this article is rather like opening a time capsule. The social network perspective had not made it very far out of academia in 1995. You can imagine Dan's audience talking on huge clunky cell phones and wondering what all the fuss is about grunge rock, at the same time Dan is explaining how social networks bring measurement of relationships into a field (HR) focused on competencies of individuals. Thanks to the vision and work of Dan and others, we have come a long way since then.

Dan nicely categorizes the impact of social networks on HR. Starting with most basic fundamentals and proceeding to more complex effects, he orders them
  • Attitude similarity
  • Job satisfaction
  • Power and politics
  • Recruitment
  • Selection
  • Socialization
  • Training
  • Performance
  • Career development
  • Turnover
  • Conflict
Dan also shared with me a more up-to-date bibliography, organized in the same categories as above.

For more on HR and SNA, see this previous post.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Collaborative Partnerships in Healthcare

I can feel a healthcare thread coming on. To my previous post on Health Information Liquidity, add this link to the Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health, or CACSH.

CACSH includes all kinds of free online resources, including this thougthful Partnership Self-Assessment Tool. Though not oriented specifically towards a network model, this tool could clearly be adapted very productively in that direction. See ongoing work in Client Connectivity at the Network Roundtable to see more of what I mean.

I especially like this list of benefits and drawbacks of collaboration, adapted from the CACSH model by Keith Provan et al:

Benefits of collaboration (in healthcare):
  • Enhanced ability to serve my clients
  • Enhanced ability to serve the community
  • Acquisition of new knowledge or skills
  • Acquisition of additional funding
  • Increased utilization of organization’s services
  • Development of new, valuable relationships
  • Heightened public profile of organization
  • Enhanced influence in the community
  • Increased ability to shift resources

Drawbacks of collaboration (in healthcare):
  • Diversion of time and resources
  • Loss of control or autonomy
  • Strained relations within organization
  • Frustration in dealing with partners
  • Insufficient credit given to organization

Provan, a leading researcher in healthcare networks, included this list in a recently published study of inter-organizational community building, co-authored by L. Nakama, M. Veazie, N. Teufel-Shone, and C. Huddleston: "Building Community Capacity Around Chronic Disease Services Through a Collaborative Interorganizational Network" in Health Education & Behavior.

Over the course of a year, study participants were generally much more enthusiastic about benefits of collaboration than concerned about drawbacks. As the study played out, participants found their ability to serve clients and community particularly enhanced, compared to other anticipated benefits.

On the downside, participants reported less trust of their partners after a year of closer collaboration. I guess you could call that the onset of reality and end of the honeymoon.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Weekend Web Weaving

I was channel surfing on my car radio yesterday when I caught this silly Internet song on WGBH, our local NPR station. I had stumbled onto Ellen Kushner's weekly program Sound & Spirit. This installment was an exploration of weaving and its significance across world cultures. Weaving isn't really my thing, but I just happened to catch the moment when Kushner explained how the connection between weaving and the web is much more than metaphorical. It all starts around minute 17 of this complete recording of the show.

If you're curious to know more about how the computer under your fingertips owes its logic to the shirt on your back, be sure to look up Charles Babbage, the genius whose "Analytical Engine" revolutionized both weaving and computing, though in the latter case only after several generations.

This story brought up some old memories for me. Babbage was a key figure in a famous installment of James Burke's 1980s show Connections, which ranks right up there with Carl Sagan's Cosmos in my pantheon of formative TV. (The similarity in program names chosen by Burke and myself is no accident.)

What I never knew about Babbage was his relationship to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of England. Kushner touched on this in her program and shared a lovely musical rendition of Tennyson's epic poem "The Lady of Shalott." It's the story of a beautiful woman who is a fantastically talented weaver. She is cursed to live high in a castle tower, where she can only observe the world as it is reflected in a mirror by her window. Finally she can stand the isolation no longer... and you'll have to read the poem to find out what happens.

Were the Lady of Shalott with us today, would she be a web-surfing blogger?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Kate Ehrlich Speaks on Collaboration and Social Network Analysis

The Boston KM Forum hosts monthly discussions on knowledge management. The conversations often delve into tools and technology that don't interest me much, so I miss more meetings than I attend, but it is a good forum for Boston-area KM professionals to keep on their radar.

This month features a couple interesting events. One I will be sure to attend is a presentation by Kate Ehrlich on June 16. Kate works in IBM's Collaborative User Experience Group, and fittingly enough will speak about "Collaboration revealed through social network analysis."

Kate last graced the pages of Connectedness after she and I spoke about maximizing influence through a social network (which generated this followup on finding key players in a network).

When I most recently met with Kate, we talked about more basic challenges, like educating people about what SNA is good for. Kate is contributing to that cause through her ongoing research and publishing, including her leadership of the the innovation project at the Network Roundtable.