Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Memorable KM advice from Lao Tsu

Inspired by Zen Motorcycles, I am reading Tao Te Ching for the first time. Paraphrasing chapters one and two, here is

Lao Tsu's guide to Knowledge Management:


The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Without desiring names, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring names, one can see manifestations.


Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fat people of the world, unite!

The New England Journal of Medicine reported last week that obesity spreads through social networks. After the initial wave of headlines, I checked it out and was really impressed by the research, done by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler.

One small (but to me significant) jewel of their research is the network movie they use to demonstrate their findings. See Judy Breck's post on SmartMobs for a link to the movie, which uses state-of-the-art network visualization algorithms to present complex data in an intuitive way. The authors used SoNIA to make the movie. (More on network movies here.)

Another gem accompanying this study is the editorial by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. He points out the multiple levels of networks at play, which include not just social networks but also biochemical networks. Compare Barabasi's diagram to Peter Gloor's multi-level analysis of business innovation (at right) and you can see why there is actual scientific substance behind work such as Verna Allee's which "uses principles of living systems theory to help companies evolve management thinking."

Publicity like this makes it all too easy to go overboard with network science, however. Breck's otherwise solid post concludes, "A key truth the article demonstrates is that social networking is not some oddball result of the emergence of the Internet. Networking principles are deeply imbedded [sic] into the physical and psychological venues, as well as the virtual." I feel rather confident that the authors of the study would be puzzled by Breck's statement; a scan of their paper shows that they are confident enough in the foundations of network principles to use them in their work without any need to get defensive about their analysis.

What strikes me most about the study is the off-hand comment at the very end of the movie. We naturally expect obesity and non-obesity to cluster, and they do; however, as the authors note, we also see that obesity takes over the core of the social network and non-obesity moves to the periphery: Is this significant? My hunch is yes, and that there are implications for our health in this core-periphery structure.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Social networks and organizations: Introduction

My book report on Social Networks and Organizations, by Kilduff and Tsai. Part One of a Series.

Introduction: Kilduff and Tsai see a big future for SNA, as long as its more zealous fans can get out of their own way.

They say, "The potential application of the social network approach to organizations is, in our view, enormous. The full spectrum of organizational phenomena that network thinking can illuminate extends across levels from micro to macro, and includes topics typically covered in fields such as organizational cognition, organizational behavior, organizational theory, and strategic management."

However, "The network paradigm is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success--invoked by practically every organizational researcher, included in almost every analysis, and yet strangely absent as a distinctive set of ideas."

Kilduff and Tsai do not flinch from drawing a line between successes and failures in SNA research to date. In particular, they comment that effective formation of networks clearly helps individuals; however, "the jury is still out as to whether social capital measured at the individual level does indeed have effects at the community level." In other words, SNA can help me get promoted faster, but does that help my company as a whole?

At the end of each chapter, Kilduff and Tsai recommend further reading. The references at the end of this chapter are a collection of all-round MVPs:

Baker, W.E. 2000. Achieving success through social capital, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. A practitioner-oriented guide.

Baker, W.E. and Faulkner, R.R. 2002. Interorganizational networks. In J.A.C. Baum (ed.), The Blackwell companion to organizations, pp. 520-40. Oxford: Blackwell. A survey of research.

Brass, D.J. 1995. A social network perspective on human resources management. In gerald R. Ferris (ed.), Research in personnel and human resources management, 13: 39-79. Greenwhich, CT: JAI Press. A guide to SNA for HR.

Krackhardt, D. and Brass, D.J. 1994. Intraorganizational networks: The micro side. In S. Wasserman and J. Galaskeiwicz (eds), Advances in social network analysis, pp. 207-29. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Survey of SNA research for leadership development and other work attitudes.

Powell, W.W. and Smith-Doerr, L. 1994. Networks and economic life. In N.J. Smelser and R. Swedberg (eds), The handbook of economic sociology, pp. 368-402. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Broad survey of research on topics such as power, communication networks, and networks of production.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Using SNA to enhance collective leadership

In July of 2006, the Leadership Learning Community (LLC) awarded a Community Seed Fund grant to explore the use of social network analysis (SNA) and assess its value to those who run, study, and fund leadership development programs.

Our experience using SNA in three communities led to three strikingly different results. The table below summarizes the results in each community along with important distinguishing traits of each community:

Primary result of SNA
Traits of community
Schuylkill Learning Community
Collective leadership: Community members improved their “big picture” awareness of who is working with whom how they can accomplish more together.
Funder-initiated community with formal membership, paid external facilitator and mandatory attendance at meetings.
North Carolina Community Solutions Network
Professional perspective: Community members learned to see their work outside the community in a new way. Community facilitator improved “big picture” awareness.
Self-organized community with paid internal facilitator, predominantly rural constituency
Bay Area LLC Learning Circle
Introduction to new topic: Community members expressed interest in learning more about SNA technology, methods, and applications.
Self-organized community with no formal facilitator, next door to Silicon Valley

In other words, communities under formal oversight gained a lot from seeing themselves through a network lens (instead of the usual "us" vs "the man" lens), while more self-energized communities found the network lens to be less transformational (but still academically interesting).

You can read our complete report here, where it lives with other Shared Knowledge and Resources provided by LLC.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Best SNA book ever

I just put down my new most favorite SNA book: Social Networks and Organizations, by Martin Kilduff and Wenpin Tsai.

What's so great about this book? Here are a few of my faves:
  • Cover. (See above, and note how well it goes with my favorite colors.)
  • Content. In the authors' words, "This book reflects our own view of what is important in social network research. Instead of providing just a review of existing research, we have opened up dialogue on a range of new approaches." Then they continue: "We think that debate and controversy are good for social science in that they encourage a more rapid development of theory and research."
  • Readability. As the authors soar over the highlights of social network theory, they trace a clear historical arc with a wry tone that adds up to an academic page-turner. Along the way, they indulge my weakness for polite but merciless deflation of all puffed-up hot-air-bags in sight. I couldn't put it down!
I like this book so much that I am going to devote a series of posts to it. Each post will focus on a chapter. The chapters include:
  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding social network research
  3. Is there social network theory?
  4. Bridging the gap between structuralist and individualist approaches
  5. Goal-directed and serendipitous network processes
  6. Towards a poststructuralist network approach
  7. Conclusion
As I write about each chapter, I will update the list above so that it links to the appropriate posts.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License and is copyrighted (c) 2007 by Connective Associates except where otherwise noted.