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.