The Power of Networks in a Complex (Business) World

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the SpringOne of the things that I am continuing to find rather fascinating and intriguing altogether is how, time and time again, even now in 2013, I still keep bumping, every so often, into various different people who keep questioning the validity and (business) value of checking vanity pages, as they usually call them, when referring to social networking profiles from knowledge workers / practitioners. To them, social networking is just a complete waste of time. A passing fad. A wonderful opportunity to goof off at work and get away with it. It’s that activity you would do whenever you would have some free, idle time in between workflows. And that’s about it. And since they are all incredibly busy and hectic processing 4 to 5 hours of email they just can’t seem to go beyond their own eyes. In reality, little do they know that, after all, whether we like it or not, that knowledge is hyperconnected and that everything around us is a network, a giant network, that’s been with us for millions of years interconnected through one of the most amazing networks of species: Bacteria.

Excuse me? What did you just write above, you said? Bacteria? Did I just read right that we, networks of species, are connected by bacteria with one another throughout our very own history, from way back at the beginning of time? Yes, indeed, I wrote that. Apparently, it’s been documented and confirmed how 90% of our bodies are made of bacteria, just like pretty much any other creature in this world. The remarkable thing from that discovery is not necessarily the realisation that we, human beings, at the top of chain of the so-called evolution, are just made up of bacteria. The amazing thing is that all of that bacteria is interconnected and therefore we are all connected. No matter what. Whether we like it or not, that’s who we are and it’s a fascinating journey to realise how the new specialisation of today’s complex world seems to be that we need to know a little bit of everything in order to make sense of the environment, the context and the connections we are surrounded by.  

Goodness! Truly mind-blowing, don’t you think? Well, those are some of the main conclusions, amongst many others, that you would be able to get exposed to, if you decide to spend about 11 minutes watching the absolutely stunning and rather inspiring RSA Animate video clip on The Power of Networks by Manuel Lima. It is definitely a must-watch video, not only from the perspective of getting a glimpse of the hyperconnected, networked, complex world we live in, but also from the point of view of trying to help us understand our (distant) past, to live and experience the present in order to understand the future (we are heading to). 

It’s one of those video clips that would not leave you indifferent. Quite the opposite. Lately, it’s one of my favourite weapons, whenever I bump into those skeptics, those critics or those laggards who keep saying that (social) networks are just a complete waste of time, resources, energy and attention. You see? They have got work to do. And yet they are missing a brave new world out there that social technologies are, finally, helping unleash some of its true potential in helping us understand how network thinking goes well beyond a business context. It’s what we are, it’s who we are, what we will become and what we have been all along: 

A complex network of interactions, relationships, contexts, systems and what not that we need to start learning how to manage them to make some sense out of it as we progress further into that Open Business world where we are, finally, starting to come to terms with what my good friend Esko Kilpi brilliantly wrote about at “Social Business and Complexity” not long ago and which I am going to take the liberty of quoting over here as well: 

We are the result of our interaction. We are our relations

To then finish off with a short note on the impact of social technologies in today’s complex, more interconnected world than ever: 

“The new social technologies have the potential to influence connectivity and interaction as much as the sciences of complexity are going to influence our thinking. The task today is to understand what both social business and complexity mean. The next management paradigm is going to be based on those two, at the same time

Oh, boy, I just can’t wait for that one to unleash and disrupt for good, and rather massively, the way we have been doing business for decades. And you? 

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Worth while sharing it along?

4 Comments »

  • Marie-Louise Collard says:

    Very interesting post Louis and a fascinating video with great animations! Thanks very much for sharing.
    I was glad to see out Ancient Greek philosophers put in their proper context as part of our early understanding of the universal structure even if our modern world is not able to accommodate its inherent complexities in the same way ☺
    You highlight the “ complex network of interactions, relationships, contexts, systems “ brilliantly and the video does a wonderful job of explaining how we have arrived at the point we have of interconnectedness.
    The trouble with bacteria is that it is part of a delicate human ecosystem and when the balance becomes compromised it can work against us to make us very ill – Much like our own interactions I suppose!! ☺
    But the analogy with science is always close to my thinking and I value that.

    As an optimist generally I like to think that those who tell me that “open business is a waste of time” don’t actually mean it! What they mean is that they don’t know how to use it effectively and as an unknown quantity it is easier to make that claim rather than admit they may not have the know how or the courage to launch themselves in to it. It can be a frightening thought and a daunting place to be – and I don’t exempt myself!
    Everything takes time – even growing a bacteria culture!
    Thanks

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  • Jay Cross says:

    I love this, Luis. The video is transformative. The bacteria example is a mind-blower. This is why we have to improve learning on the system level.

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  • Anne Marie says:

    Hi Luis

    I think this is a real belter of a post! Thank you.

    “In reality, little do they know that, after all, whether we like it or not, that knowledge is hyperconnected and that everything around us is a network, a giant network, that’s been with us for millions of years interconnected through one of the most amazing networks of species: Bacteria.”

    I am eagerly waiting for this book to come out later this year:

    http://suethomasnet.wordpress.com/technobiophilia/

    Bacteria is another metaphor to add to the metaphors that Sue identifies as part of the ‘language of the internet’ – clouds, rivers, streams, viruses, and bugs.

    Hope you are good end enjoying the summer.

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  • Jon Husband says:

    The task today is to understand what both social business and complexity mean. The next management paradigm is going to be based on those two, at the same time“

    We can learn a lot about that emerging mgt paradigm by thinking about how the core principles of OD (organizational development) operate in, and on, a complex system.

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