I’ve recently been nerding out with people who love networks.  It’s been great – to share similar struggles, exchange some tools, and understanding how our work is similar and dissimilar.   Here’s an organized brain dump that encapsulates some of what I’ve come across both to synthesize themes as well as a way to outline some useful resources.

I want to acknowledge and appreciate that I strongly feel these ideas are a synthesis of what I’ve heard, not only my own: they come the intersections of several minds thinking together.

Common sentiments

  • Tensions!  There are several tensions that arise when focusing on networks – like:
    • organization <–> network
    • breadth <–> depth
    • specificity <–> generalizability
    • near term challenges + opportunities <–> long term goals and vision
    • moving from competition to complementary strengths
    • we don’t know where we’re going <–> emergence/innovation
  • Networks bring organizational “drama” to the forefront quickly
    • Organizations struggle for funding; they have disagreements over who is doing it “right” and who’s not; you know the drama — network mapping brings those kinds of questions to the forefront quickly, in possibly a jarring way
  • Overwhelm and capacity
    • A good networker should meet a lot of people.  A great networker will be able to, at the same time, build connections within their network so they aren’t the hub for all information and communication.  However, I’m pretty sure that’s a superpower that very few people have mastered.  In that case, overwhelm is often frequent.
    • One network weaver offered a reminder to reorient to what we need to do rather than constantly pushing the boundaries of what we can do in an unhealthy way (though there is surely a related space for pushing our understandings of what we think limits us)
  • Importance of creating a shared understanding of context and work
    • I find the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant useful.  (According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, this story originated in India and has spread throughout religions widely.)

    Blind men and the elephant

  • Usefulness of metaphor in understanding complexity
    • Space between two people as the dark matter in a network (or database!)
    • Duality (see below)
  • This work isn’t new, but the tools, level of intentionality, and inclusion of iterative process is
  • There are some connections to collective impact – would love to see this explored more deeply
  • Wanting to have openness and humility,  and also have certainty
    • Confusion around language – not necessary
    • What are our common understandings? Need to own knowledge
  • Early failure detection may not be possible without systems thinking.
    • I recently went to a talk by Angela Davis + Jon Kabat Zinn.  He mentioned “there were warning signs” of 9/11 and stressed the we should have seen it coming.
    • However, it’s hard to see these warning signs as connected a) when different groups aren’t not communicating, b) and without systems-level pattern recognition
  • Failure and success are loaded words, don’t assume an easy definition
  • Depending on the context, it might be hard to communicate value of networks, relationship building (takes a lot of time!)
  • Visualization is both helpful and problematic … like a lot of other things

The value of networking +  network mapping

  • Helps build/recover sense of community; reminds us of inherent connection
  • A map can become more useful once a destination is more defined
  • Meta-data helps see usefulness in network mapping (understanding more about the individuals involved can help us see why we’re interested in relationships)

Skillsets of network weavers

  • Builds off this SSIR article, the Dawn of System Leadership
  • Hold discomfort: with tensions, with struggle
  • Rather than saying “no” (which is also a useful skill) we can learn to say “talk to X person” instead
  • “Strategic vulnerability:” vulnerability is useful in building trust, we could learn to do so in order to build trust when we want to.  Rather than dumping our emotions on people, we can choose to share appropriately so we can get closer incrementally.
  • Be able to hone in on the value added for this work and communicate that effectively – why is it important?

Useful tools and resources

  • Habits of a systems thinker card deck (link to PDF; link to purchase)
  • Core Strengths: Norma Wong – I don’t have a good source for this, do you?
  • Creative Confidence (IDEO book and TED talk; their toolkit)
  • Dan Milstein: Risk, Information, Time and Money (talk on YouTube from the Lean Startup Conference) — startups work under extreme uncertainty
  • Book: Connected to Change the World (Review by Beth Kanter; PDF of the introduction)
  • Leadership and Networks: New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World (Oct 2012)  (PDF; info)

New ideas that emerged

  • The concept of duality: of being two things at once.
    • Our brains like simplicity and to be able to fit things into boxes.  It’s how we process information – otherwise we’d be overloaded.  A common response to several of the tensions mentioned above is to want to resolve the dissonance to one or the other.  However, an alternative perspective is to how things actually can be two opposing things at once.  (One metaphor I hold for this is thinking about light as a particle and a wave, but that’s awfully nerdy.)  Do you have any good examples of this?
  • Creating a glossary of common terms to build out a more shared understanding of this work.  Here’s one related example (link to PDF), called Keywords: Building a Language of Systems Change
  • “Why are networks useful for organizing?” would be a great topic for a publication.  Kumu recently shared a presentation on the usefulness of social network analysis, but an even simpler version would be helpful too.
  • Network weaving 101 – an infographic that includes tips, best practices, mindsets, behaviors, tools, tech, etc.
  • I should build out and release my collaborative tools flowchart.

Well if you’ve made it this far down the page and/or have found any of this useful, I’d love to talk to you.  Do consider reaching out and connecting — let’s nerd out together!

2 comments on “Reflections from talking to people who love networks

  • I love that you continue to blog what you’re learning as you’re learning, Ari! One quick thought on your statement, “A good networker should meet a lot of people.” I don’t agree with that. Find people who share your values, who stimulate you, and around whom you feel alive. Own your own story and interests when you interact with people. Develop relationships that are authentic and meaningful.

    When it comes to connectedness, what matters most is quality, not quantity.

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