“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ― Herman Melville
Everything is connected. Everything is part of a network.
This is becoming more and more apparent in the reality of modern life. In humankind’s past one could easily live out their entire existence without any knowledge of the outside world or their connection to it. Beliefs, values and ideals could be happily formed without any external influence. My actions didn’t impact on anyone – and what “they” did never reached my valley or shores. My world was those people and ideas around me.
But this is no longer reality.
On every level of our modern existence – from our social connections, to the political stability of our countries and finally the very health of the natural system that keeps us alive – we know that we are all part of a living breathing network.
What I do impacts you – and what you do impacts me.
There is no longer any other reality and no way of ignoring the impact of the networks we exist within.
So what does this mean for us and more specifically for how we run organisations?
Introducing Network Analysis
Network Analysis – or Social Network Analysis (SNA) and Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) – is the science of mapping the relationships, interactions and dependencies between the “nodes” in a system or network.
The science is applied in a huge array of disciplines from mathematics to engineering to biology.
It answers complex questions about how a network actually works to DO something.
How does electricity move through a complex national power grid? How does a contagious virus move through a human population? How does a trend ripple through a community? What happens to information as it gets relayed through a specific collection of people?
Not only is network analysis offering unique solutions to problems it is also challenging us to see the world completely differently. At a philosophical level it is forcing us to “see” the world how it is REALLY structured – as opposed to how we THINK it is structured.
Mathematicians and physicists have been playing in this space for much longer than the social sciences. The emergence of deeply “universal” principles like Chaos Theory has shown that one small change in one small part of a system can have cataclysmic consequences on another part of the system. We now know that earthquakes, heart attacks, stockmarket crashes and large scale power failures can be triggered by the cascading impact of incredibly small and seemingly inconsequential events.
Psychology and the social sciences has taken a little while longer to catch up with this notion.
While “sociograms” may have been mapped in the 1930’s, Stanley Milgram is often seen as the founder of social network analysis due to his famous “Small World” research in 1967. Milgram is credited with the concept of “Six degrees of separation” due to his famous hypothesis that there is on average only six connection steps between any two people in any human community.
The notion of “six degrees of separation” between one person and any other on the planet took hold in the social consciousness and it has stuck to this day.
Despite the ingenuity and creativity of the research social network analysis (SNA) remained somewhat dormant until the birth of the internet. Difficulty in identifying and gathering network data were the main reasons for this. This of course changed dramatically with the onset of the internet. Suddenly there was a real, live, highly observable and infinitely measurable network that could be studied from the comfort of the lab.
How is network analysis applied in the real world?
We are now able to research and visualise rich networks of connections between individuals in any group, community, or collective.
Immediately we can start to intuit what this means for understanding organisations and what is really happening inside them.
A common sentiment from executives and managers is that it is impossible to actually see why something succeeds or fails. This may be a communication, a project, a new initiative or day to day operations.
- What if we could see how strongly groups within a project are connected and communicating?
- What if we could see where there are information, decision making or process bottlenecks?
- What if we could see the hidden talent that people go to within our organisation?
- And what if we could actually see who REALLY holds power within our organisation – who shapes culture, has true influence or who enables or blocks change?
Contact Us for more information on Networked360TM and how it can be applied to unlock the latent potential of your organisation.