Friday, June 20, 2008

Network Centrality: Size Does Matter

Today, the summer solstice, ranks with sunrises and full moons as one of the original inspirations to human time-telling and measurement. Here is a a classic New Yorker cartoon showing what that moment might have looked like.

We have come a long way since then. As recounted by author Dava Sobel, our ability to measure time with precision turned out to be the final critical breakthrough that enabled us to navigate across oceans, rather than simply drift and hope for a safe harbor to appear on the horizon. As the cartoon attests, however, we paid a high psychological price for this ticket to global connectedness. We measure time not just to travel over the horizon but also to worry about getting there soon enough.

So it is with network centrality. No matter what kind of network centrality catches your fancy, it can both empower you to navigate farther and more accurately across great "distances," and it can nag you with the question of how well you measure up.

One big difference between time and centrality is that unlike time, which rests on rhythms of nature (earth, moon, sun, cesium atoms, etc), centrality is a mathematical abstraction with a maddeningly circular non-grounding in reality. In other words, when it comes to centrality, "perception is reality." Martin Kilduff and David Krackhardt argue this much more rigorously in their Analysis of the Internal Market for Reputation in Organizations, which states: "We found that being perceived to have a prominent friend boosted reputation, but that actually having such a friend had no effect." The implications of this result for the practice of ONA consulting could not be more profound.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.

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