[En] Human and Social Networks (of networks and men)


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a piece I wrote in 2004 right after LinkedIn was launched and describing my experience with collaboration in the workplace

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[En] Human and Social Networks (of networks and men)

  1. 1. To contact Yann A Gourvennec: http://www.visionarymarketing.com/enfeedback.html OF NETWORKS AND MEN YANN A. GOURVENNEC INFORMAL NETWORKS AND POSTMODERN MANAGEMENT H T T P : / / V I S I O N A R Y M A R K E T I N G . C O M
  2. 2. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 2 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN CONTENTS I- Have networks become our post modern management’s necessary evil? ...........................4 II a_ Man designs the technology which changes man__________________________________7 II b- The house of leaves or the advent of hypertext literature___________________________9 II c- Elective tribes as a sociological driver___________________________________________9 II d- Enterprise informal networks ________________________________________________10 II e- These tools that make working in informal networks easier________________________12 II f- Collaborative work and informal networks _____________________________________13 II g- Online networking : the linkedin example and the foaf model______________________14 II h- The virtuous cycle of humans and technology ___________________________________16 II i-The end of authority as we knew it _____________________________________________16 III – The far side of informal networks..................................................................................18 III A- first Limitation : informal networks and the common interest ____________________18 III b- Second limitation: informal and formal networks _______________________________20 III c- Informal networks do not spring from top-down decisions________________________21 III d- Fourth limitation: informal networks know no boundaries _______________________22 III e Fifth limitation: informal networks can be hard to track__________________________23 III f- Sixth limitation: achievement reports _________________________________________24 IV- Of networks and Men........................................................................................................24
  4. 4. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 4 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN L i t t l e b y l i t t l e , i n f o r m a l n e t w o r k s a r e b e c o m i n g m a i n s t r e a m . U b i q u i t o u s I n t e r n e t a c c e s s i s a l s o m a k i n g n e t w o r k i n g m o r e i m p o r t a n t e v e r y d a y ( o r i s i t t h e o t h e r w a y r o u n d ? ) . S o m u c h s o t h a t h i e r a r c h i e s a r e t r y i n g t o m a k e t h e m o s t o f t h a t p o s t - m o d e r n s o c i a l p h e n o m e n o n . B e y o n d o u r e v e r i n c r e a s i n g f a s c i n a t i o n f o r i n f o r m a l n e t w o r k s , o n e m a y s t i l l r i g h t f u l l y w o n d e r w h e t h e r n e t w o r k i n g i s s o m e t h i n g n e w o r a f a d o r e v e n s o m e t h i n g w h i c h a l w a y s e x i s t e d a n d i s k e y t o h u m a n b e i n g s l i v i n g i n c o n g r e g a t i o n s « The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function » The Crack-up, Francis Scott Fitzgerald OF NETWORKS AND MEN INFORMAL NETWORKS AND POSTMODERN MANAGEMENT I- HAVE NETWORKS BECOME OUR POST MODERN MANAGEMENT’S NECESSARY EVIL? In 1995, under the direction of Henri Egéa, a group of consultants began to work on modernity1, post-modernity and other topics related to chaos and complexity. This fascinating work – based on Edgar Morin’s research and publications2 – was carried out at the very moment when our professional and personal lives were transformed by the formidable explosion of Internet3 usage and consequently, of the worldwide deployment of e-mail communications beyond the corporate Intranet. It took two years for Tim Berners Lee’s developments on the html language to stir passion in the United Kingdom. It took another year before the wave crossed the channel and hit conservative France but still, the change occurred very quickly and we could feel 1 Modernity is back on the agenda with Hypermodern Times (2004), by Sebastien Charles, Gilles Lipovetsky, Andrew Brown (Translator), (Amazon link click here) 2 Edgar Morin, introduction à la pensée complexe, EME, 1990. or Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future Edgar Morin (Amazon link click here) 3 I mean Web and not internetted networks in general.
  5. 5. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 5 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN that something big was going on before our very eyes4. As part of that group of consultants, my personal research was entitled ‘Visionary Marketing’. In my eponymous brochure (http://visionarymarketing.com) I described the evolution of human organisations based on Joël de Rosnay’s Macroscope5. Structural changes Top-Down Bottom-up Web Figure 1: 3 stages of the evolution of human organisations in de Rosnay’s macroscope (1976) and Gourvennec’s Visionary Marketing (1995) To me, this brief analysis of the world around us wasn’t revolutionary at all. Many a sociologist, thinker, philosopher6 had already come to the same conclusion. Yet, one day I was suddenly summoned to pay our Marcom director a visit and God knows he did find this diagram revolutionary. When I came into his office, he shook the brochure before my eyes and got into a state: “why is it that you are wreaking havoc within this organisation? Are you calling for people to rebel against the hierarchy?” The document in question had nothing to do with the generation of social unrest of course, be it in that organisation or any other organisation or even Society at large. It seemed to me that I was making it plain that working in informal networks was now obvious to all but reading it probably came as a shock to the man who was talking to me. I even wonder now, with hindsight, if he did not find the reading more appalling than the thing in itself. Is conscience harder to face than reality? In fact, it did not take me long before I could demonstrate my man that I did not mean wrong at all: All our engineers, all our salespeople, 4 Visions of heaven and hell, channel 4, 1995. ( http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/cs/Stephen_Bostock/Internet/vidhandh.htm nad http://perso.wanadoo.fr/visionarymarketing/files/visionsofheavenandhell.zip) 5 The Macroscope: A New World Scientific System by Joel de Rosnay (Amazon link click here) 6 De Rosnay, Nick Land, Paul Vivilio, to name a few.
  6. 6. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 6 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN managers, technical people were indeed working in, with and through informal networks. Each time they embarked on a project, they evaluated their colleagues on the basis of a win-win relationship and they did choose to work with whoever they pleased and how. All that was only natural, and the hierarchy had nothing to do with it. No matter what the old organisation chart was saying, it had no impact at all on anything real. This episode took place in 1995. Since then, I had drawn my own conclusions about this. I thought I was much better off keeping all my comments about complexity to myself. This is why I decided to create a private Internet website, build a worldwide network made of thousands of readers7 and go on working unabated on my favourite subjects in a more subtle fashion. I then let sleeping dogs lie and all was well until I received a phone call from somebody I knew in another (very) large organisation. This time, his request was both very tale-telling and very weird. He wasn’t calling to tell me off for trying to wreak havoc within the organisation. In fact it was just the other way round, i.e. he wanted me to help him foster the creation of internal networks under the surveillance of this organisation’s management. His idea was, in a manner of speaking, to order people around and ask them to build their informal networks, not because they needed it or wanted it, but because some high-ranking manager somewhere out there decided it was a cool thing to do. So much for spontaneity I should say. However paved with good intentions, this attempt at creating ‘obligatory spontaneous’ informal networks triggered a few thoughts and I thought I had to write something about it. Why were informal networks suddenly so fascinating? Were all these sociological factors, so many writers had described in the early 1990’s now taken for granted? Didn’t people (which people?) believe that informal networks were some sort of universal mechanism which was meant to solve problems that hierarchical organisations failed to tackle? Was it not a sign that certain CXO’s could no longer handle the situation and thought that their power status was at risk? It could indeed mean that those who had failed to fight informal networks were trying to ‘manage’ them in order to better control them. This would also indicate (if only we could verify 7 Statistics for this website are certified by Weborama and are publicly available at (French menus only) http://www.weborama.fr/top/societe/economie-finance/suite1.shtml when you click the following icon Figure 2: 10 years later, a weird request. Obligatory networks
  7. 7. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 7 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN this assumption) that our 1995 Marcom Director’s reaction was the result of the growing uneasiness of middle managers who have to impose a vision in front of employees who claim more freedom of speech and mainly more freedom to act as they see fit because they own the knowledge and know-how which bestows more power on them than middle managers thought in the first place. Here are some of the questions that I wished to address in this article, and even answer if I can.II- Ubiquitous networks II A_ MAN DESIGNS THE TECHNOLOGY WHICH CHANGES MAN Do technical innovations have an impact on social behaviour, or is it the other way round? Probably both at the same time. When Vannevar Bush8 wrote his trail-blazing article on dynamic associations in 1945, he created the concept of hypertext and eventually, he paved the way for Berners Lee’s invention of the world-wide web as we know it. Bush’s idea was not about the creation of yet another technological gizmo, it was about knowledge and how to access information differently. It was about how to access greater portions of knowledge, faster and how to improve our understanding through better access to knowledge bases. At the end of the day, what hypertext made possible is the development of information networks, which matches the ever-increasing requirement of humans to learn more, to know more and know better in a world where the surfeit of information sources is obvious. This very surfeit of information is what drove Vannevar Bush to write “As we may think”. But the desire of humans to access more information in a better way is not limited to Internet usage. TV channel-switching and the five-minute maximum attention span are taught to our kids from a very early age through TV programmes and computer games9 (often designed like hypertext documents with secret passages and hidden links to other parts of the game) (see Figure 3). 8 Read Guy Teasdale’s history of hypertext at http://www.ebsi.umontreal.ca/cursus/volinoi/teasdale.html#5. Bush’s original text was entitled: “As we may think”. 9 Probably a natural tendency but reinforced by TV programs and computer games designers.
  8. 8. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 8 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN Hypertext information structureClassic information structure (reference books, dictionaries,…) Volume Chapter Chapter Section Section Paragraph Paragraph Article Article Starting point Figure 3: Information networks as a result of hypertext implementation. Hypertext is an enabler for a different kind of access to knowledge. A marketing researcher recently told me too that he was in the process of reconsidering the way that he was writing his books: ‘People no longer want to read books from page 1 to page 250. What today’s readers want is books to which they can refer when they want to, and which they can start reading from any page’. It is because of this change in behaviour, because people want to access information in that way that those in charge of delivering and packaging contents have resorted to these new tools. Conversely, it is also because people are getting increasingly familiar with that sort of information lay-out, namely through search-engines, that they are looking more and more for other information sources than Internet-based ones to be structured in that way too. The classic hierarchical structure for information presentation is less natural but certainly more consistent with traditional school teaching. But it is also appearing less and less attractive to users and readers who managed to get used to the new way of presenting and collecting information over time. As a result, the apparent chaos generated by hypertext is something that most users and readers have gotten used to, and even have grown to like a lot.
  9. 9. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 9 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN II B- THE HOUSE OF LEAVES OR THE ADVENT OF HYPERTEXT LITERATURE Figure 4: The House of Leaves is a postmodern ‘hypertext’ novel with a zest. Amongst the world’s most recent experiments on the extension of the hypertext concept to literature, Mark Z. Danielewski’s best selling novel The House of Leaves ranks very high indeed10. In this novel, Danielewski does not tell a proper story or at least not in a linear, traditional way. Originally he did not even sign the book with his narration behind two pseudo and somewhat unlikely writers: Zampano and Johnny Truant. Instead, the Canadian author designed a very complex labyrinthine novel, which seems to aim at losing the reader, at least in appearance. This book is a living example of what we exposed earlier on but at the same time, it is also a good example of the limitations of the hypertext concept which after all is not very well suited to paper-based novels. II C- ELECTIVE TRIBES AS A SOCIOLOGICAL DRIVER Another unmistakable sign that ‘networking’ is part of our everyday lives is the generalisation of ‘elective tribes’ as French sociologist Michel Maffesoli11 chose to call them. Although the understanding of nuances between tribes used to be a matter for specialists, accounts of such youth groups characteristics is now known to tall, either through the popular press (see a French example as an appendix to this article12) or even through our very kids or their friends: Is there a 10 The House of Leaves is a story told by two pseudo narrators (Zampano and Johnny Truant). Cp http://www.themodernword.com/borges/borges_infl_danielewski.html and http://www.houseofleaves.com/forums/index.php for an explanation and critique of this book. Refer to http://sonyalynne.net/essay/cressay.htm for an essay on experimental postmodern literature by Sonya Hagler (2003). 11 This phenomenon is more recent in south European countries but it may sound like ‘déjà-vu’ to our north European readers, mainly in the UK. Cp. The Time of Tribes: Decline of Individualism in Mass Society (Theory, Culture & Society S.) by Michel Maffesoli, Rob Shields (Introduction), Don Smith (Translator) [Amazon link click here] 12 Cp Femme actuelle n° 1037 du 09 au 15 août 2004 p41: « à quelle tribu appartient-il ?
  10. 10. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 10 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN family which did not give birth to at least one or two Goths for instance, not mentioning all the variations on the theme. But everyday representations of networking do no end here. Taken to the extreme, networking can also turn itself into spontaneous, short-lived tribal events like flashmobs for instance13. The aim of flashmobs is none other than add spice to our dreary lives14. One may be rightfully impressed with the social motives that entice so many people to gather in weird places, in a weird attire and for no apparent reason other than having fun and meeting people. I think that this is not exactly in sync with the well-spread analysis of an individualised society where it’s everyone for himself and where there would be no more room for socialising. I would rather stress the post-modern significance of individuation15 – as opposed to individualisation – as a process for citizens to develop their individual personality through their partaking in groups such as elective tribes and flashmobs. II D- ENTERPRISE INFORMAL NETWORKS The business world is not alien to these dramatic sociological changes either, as JF David16 points out: “[…]When the business environment is fraught with complexity, enterprises tend to change their behaviour and try and adapt to this new environment. Instead of the traditional top- down approach, organisations tend to favour experiments and field trials; as a result, it may happen that certain minority stakeholders are promoted at the forefront and their approaches may become mainstream”. 13 Flashmobs are seemingly spontaneous gatherings in one or several places for the sake of having fun (http://flashmobs.com). 14 See http://flashmobs.com. their actual catchphrase is ‘Breathing life and vibrance into the dull corners of modern life’. 15 Individuation (source JUNG LEXICON of psychoanalysis: ‘A process of psychological differentiation, having for its goal the development of individual personality’. http://www.compilerpress.atfreeweb.com. 16 Informal Networks by Jean François David [Réseaux informels, 2002 in http://visionarymarketing.com/fwelcom.html]
  11. 11. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 11 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN This dynamic and reciprocal influence between technology17 and social behaviour is the main reason for the amazing development (First at home, then in the office) of a flurry of collaborative tools. One should also be aware that new technology adoption always takes place in the consumer market nowadays before the business market replicates these changing behaviours18. This is also a very significant sign of the times. 17 I have already pointed out in ‘ICTMARKETING’ that the choice of terminology was significant (Technology vs technique and a consonance with mythology). Cp http://visionarymarketing.com/articles/ictmktg/ictmktg0.html. 18 Cp. Visionarymarketing ICT marketing dossier, Ibid. Stable Frozen Foreseeable Top-down Chaoic & Transient Réseau reconfigurable dynamiquement imprévisible Organic growth Business Environment Network Typology Figure 5: our ever-changing world as seen by JF David
  12. 12. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 12 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN II E- THESE TOOLS THAT MAKE WORKING IN INFORMAL NETWORKS EASIER If we agree that as hypertext and the Internet developed, networking practices increased (as was shown earlier on), I must stress however that they are only a starting point. E- mail was obviously the number one driver, which made it possible to lift the barriers against communication within the organisation itself to begin with, because it meant that it was no longer necessary to go through the hierarchy for two similar levels in the organisation to talk to one another. That was a very big change which did a lot for lifting hindrances to communication. It also forced middle management to change its way of working and mostly change the way that they were behaving with their staff. Middle managers’ power shifted from authority to suggestion followed by control. The second barrier that was lifted by the introduction of e-mail was that of inter-enteprise communications. Indeed that was a major change in the way that one was doing business. Enterprises were within easy reach of their clients and vice versa, suppliers and partners could easily communicate with their clients too. Whoever was in the organisation, however high in the hierarchy could also engage in conversations with clients, suppliers or partners alike. Once again, it meant that interfacing with the outside world was no longer a privilege that only a few managers or VP’s could afford. This came as one more blow to authority as we knew it. This 19 NB: strong variations exist between the UK and continental Europe. Still most of the advice delivered by Daniel Porot are still applicable, whatever the circumstances. 20 The Pie Method for Career Success: A Unique Way to Find Your Ideal Job, Richard Nelson Bolles (Foreword), Daniel Porot B o x 1 : E x a m p l e N o . 1 : F i n d i n g a n e w p o s i t i o n t h r o u g h n e t w o r k i n g . Europe is a nice place but finding a job here can prove a little difficult. It’s mainly the case when you get older or vice versa, when you are inexperienced19 .However, uncertainty is a strong driver for change, and interesting methods are cropping up here and there. Apart from LinkedIn and its clones, I have a particular liking for Daniel Porot’s PIE method20 . Porot is a Swiss consultant who invented his own special networking approach (PIE stands for Passion, Interest, Employment). Porot’s idea is very straightforward: 80% of jobs are never advertised through normal channels. Daniel Porot concludes that you might as well forget about the good old CV, if you want to be noticed by the right people. His method emphasises that you had much better show your passion and start talking about it if you want to be able to stick your fingers in the ‘PIE’. The PIE method is threefold: 1. P for Passion: start prioritising the activities for which you have a passion. Then make a few appointments with people who share your Passion. Just talk to them about your common interest. Don’t even think of telling them you are looking for a new job at that stage. Passion interviews have nothing to do with begging for a job: don’t spoil it. At the end of the interview ask the interviewee two questions: a) Could I go and see them upon your recommendation? b) Could you please recommend three other names of persons with whom I should make appointments in order to exchange valuable information on that subject? 2) I for Interest: it is very likely that after approximately 10 interviews of that kind you will have raised the interest of one or more of the persons you will have visited. It is recommended to resist the temptation to say yes to job offers at that stage. 3) E for Employment: now you will most certainly have created a network of people who share your interests. It is up to you to keep this network alive. It is also most probable that you will have found a new job in one of the areas which excites you most and this is the the starting point for a brand new adventure. uld you please recommend three other names of persons with whom I should make appointments in order to exchange valuable information on that subject?
  13. 13. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 13 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN change took place in the early 1990’s and today’s network giant Cisco Systems was created in 1984 to address – and even provoke – that change. Cisco’s founders were two researchers who were working in different places on different incompatible and non-connected IT systems. They invented the network router, which made Cisco so famous, in order to be able to exchange e- mails from their workplace to agree on who would feed the dog when he or she gets back home21. II F- COLLABORATIVE WORK AND INFORMAL NETWORKS The communications revolution that we have just described has impacted asynchronous communications. Synchronous communications were bound to be next on the agenda and this is happening now. The idea that people should share the same document and work on it in real time is not very new in fact. Way back 1993-1994, Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes were already competing with each other on the concept of Groupware. But it took a long long time for this concept to be actually deployed in the field and become a reality. Without diminishing the interest of both Lotus and Exchange, I would like to stress the importance of the Web in the development of collaborative work. On the one hand, there are fun tools like Microsoft Netmeeting22, but also Peer to Peer network clients (Napster in 2000, Kazaa, emule ETC…). Most of the latter are illegal but they also undeniably provide instant gratification to their users. On the serious side of collaborative work there is Webex23 and its webconferencing clones. Webconferencing made it possible to develop that kind of services without having to invest in heavy and costly infrastructure. This is yet another new revolution of the way that people work everyday. 21 This anecdote by Gary Bridge, Senior VP IBSG Cisco Trusted Advisor Club, May 2004, Paris. 22 http://www.microsoft.com/windows/netmeeting 23 http://webex.com. Webex is the world leader for webconferencing with 60% market share.
  14. 14. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 14 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN Collaborative work took off very recently in the enterprise world, after the fashion of P2P , which grew so popular with consumers. In a way, it is not very surprising; above all, professionals are consumers too. Sign of the times, personal employee websites24 are now superseded by Blogs25 where employees describe their working conditions and build their online communities. Even more powerful than Blogs, Wikis are fully- fledged collaborative web pages, where every reader can also become a contributor and even modify the contents entered by others users. II G- ONLINE NETWORKING: THE LINKEDIN EXAMPLE AND THE FOAF MODEL The advent of LinkedIn26 is in my eyes, only natural, after years of changes in the way we work. LinkedIn is even what I would call the perfect networking online tool. At any rate it has become almost obligatory for these thousands of professionals who want to build their own informal networks. The principle on which LinkedIn is hinging is simple. It is named the FOAF27 model and it was made popular by the Friendster28 website. It consists in inviting the owners of the e-mail addresses which populate your personal address book to join your LinkedIn network of friend and/or colleagues. In their turn, all these invitees may invite their own friends and colleagues to join their networks and opportunities therefore multiply. The basic principle underpinning the FOAF model is that known as ‘six degrees’29, i.e. that anybody in the world is no more than six degrees away from you. Anytime you search for a 24 Eg. JP Figer’s astounding home page. JP Figer is Capgemini’s CTO. 25 Refer to http://www.blogger.com if you want to have a go at it. 26 http://www.linkedin.com. 27 Friend of a Friend. 28 http://www.friendster.com/ 29 Cp. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts http://www.target.com/gp/detail.html/601- 7321482-1117753?asin=0393041425 . Read also in New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994037) the confirmation that anyone can be contacted after 5 or 7 e-mails. Figure 6: Webex makes it possible for several co-workers to work and share the same document, wherever they are, through the web.
  15. 15. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 15 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN person through LinkedIn (be it a search by name or profile), the system will display how you are connected to that person and how many levels there are between you and him/her. You may then ask whoever in your network knows this person to act as a go-between. LinkedIn look- alikes do exist but it looks like the system and its amazing database are by far unequalled Figure 7: 3 main functions of the LinkedIn online service30) Figure 8:Sample search results page in LinkedIn. The LinkedIn system is independent from hierarchy and rank. It knows no boundary. Employees and managers may use it for their own benefit, but at the same time, the broadening of their networks may also be profitable to the organisations to which they belong. At the end of 30 Source http://joi.ito.com/joiwiki/LinkedIn , Wiki dedicated to Linkedin
  16. 16. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 16 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN the day, a firm whose staff is better at tying links with other professionals from other organisations is also a firm where information circulates better than others. It’s a win-win approach. II H- THE VIRTUOUS CYCLE OF HUMANS AND TECHNOLOGY Of course, I never meant to say that LinkedIn invented networks, nor that it’s informal networks that created tools like LinkedIn. What I mean is that humans and technology are part of the same virtuous relationship. LinkedIn has gained amazing visibility in no time (a few months only to be precise, since the end of 2003). This amazing popularity made LinkedIn an accelerator for informal networks. However, it is not unusual that pranksters infiltrate networking systems, the way it happened with the friendster network31. Friendster was soon infested with fake users, nicknamed ‘fakesters’, i.e. phoney users who decided to call themselves funny names (most of the time, assumed celebrity names) in order to make fun of the system and ridicule it and its fans. The whole thing ended up in a fight between real users (hence nicknamed ‘realsters’) therefore enticing the friendster website owners to clean up their database in order to protect their true subscribers who were fed up with the spam they kept receiving from fakesters. Informal networks, however self-sufficient sometimes need the help of a hierarchy too. II I-THE END OF AUTHORITY AS WE KNEW IT Regardless of the ‘friendster’ anecdote, one may be certain that the move towards more freedom and more self-organising networks is here to stay. Beside all the explanations that I have already exposed in this article32, I think that the end of authority33 as we knew it ranks very high in the hierarchy of critical change factors. Authority in our postmodern era is seen, handled and experienced very differently. Whereas authority used not to be questioned, its representatives – whoever they are – are now forced to negotiate with those ‘under’ which such authority applies. All has to be discussed; things cannot be imposed and this is why those in power can no longer hide behind such authority to get things done. In a way, the Marcom Director of 1995 I described at the beginning of this article certainly got that feeling that sitting up there at the top-floor of our building was no longer sufficient if he wanted to have things and people under total control. I am sure that – even subconsciously – he felt that freedom was at work down there and that there wasn’t much he could do to stop it, and 31 Should Linkedin decide to shift their business model to pay-per-use, things may affect different in the future. A loss of 90% of subscribers is very likely. 32 Please note that I will spare you the inevitable diatribe against globalisation. 33 Cp. Gérard Mendel’s History of Authority [Une histoire de l'autorité (Permanences et variations), édition La Découverte; (2002) - ISBN: 2-7071-3636-0]
  17. 17. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 17 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN also because at the end of the day, the entire organisation benefited from the insidious freedom of informal networks. Sociology Technology Economic environment "Turbo-capitalism" •Elective tribes •Authority challenged •Hypertext •Internet (Web) •Collaborative tools •Networking tools •Collaborative work •Synchronous online communications •Informal professional networks Figure 9: Cross fertilisation of the factors for informal networks development34 The end-result of the cross-fertilisation of all the reasons for the development of informal networks is viable and profitable because of the link between its members35. Those networks are real, they were not produced by obscure technocrats hiding behind their organisation charts. They were made willingly by real people based on knowledge and competence. And I think that this is why organisation charts have become so abstract and useless; it’s because they are completely useless when it comes to identifying the right human beings who can make projects happen. The fact is that the real decision-maker is seldom he who is identified as such in the organisation chart (or at any rate, he may not be alone). Informal networks are, conversely, based upon the trust between people; as a matter of fact, business has always been based on trust. And trust is stronger than force. The aims of such networks are transparent and all network members freely agree to share these aims when they join a network. The vision is clear to all. Such networks are created, live and die naturally and spontaneously. This very spontaneity is the reason why they also are dynamic and result-oriented. They are more efficient than top-down organisations because they are based on their member’s skills, not status. Hierarchical 34 ‘Turbo-capitalism’ phrase coined by Hubert Luttwak, ultra conservative US economist. Turbo-capitalism is desribed in our 1995 book entitled Visionary Marketing, Ibid 35 Cp. Bernard Cova’s book about link value at (http://www.harmattan.fr/index.asp?navig=catalogue&obj=livre&no=5574) Cova’s idea is that goods are less important than what they represent in terms of linkage between humans who are part of the same community.
  18. 18. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 18 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN organisations do not always recognize competences36, which in its turn generates feelings of injustice and therefore, yet more suspicion towards Authority. Informal networks are cross- functional, they ignore organisational silos. But informal networks are change agents and therefore, they often challenge the establishment. In a manner of speaking, one may say that impertinence is one of their characteristics. There we are, informal networks are here to stay and develop and we may also say that they are a great means of circumventing traditional organisational issues with regards to change management. However, I would like to draw your attention to some of their drawbacks too, and this is what I have determined to do in the following chapter. III – THE FAR SIDE OF INFORMAL NETWORKS III A- FIRST LIMITATION : INFORMAL NETWORKS AND THE COMMON INTEREST In part II, I have (somewhat intentionally) omitted to highlight the common interest of the organisations in which informal networks operate. Informal networks, even though their intentions may be good, are only result orientated. Very often, they have to circumvent standard procedures and the standard way of working if they want to achieve results. 36 According to Scott Adams, it would even be the other way round; Adams’s Dilbert principle – Peter’s principle with a twist – proposes that only incompetent people can be promoted for fear of letting them generate operational disasters http://www.unitedmedia.com/comics/dilbert/
  19. 19. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 19 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN In this case, processes are often by-passed in order to produce a better, faster result and often I have seen people impressed with the efficiency with which such networks may operate. However good it is to produce results, there are certain limitations to such behaviour. For instance, if by- passing processes has to become a rule for an organisation to get things done, then it’s certainly a sign that something has gone haywire. I have seen many examples like this where – in order to make every day operations work – one relies heavily on certain individuals who have managed to make themselves irreplaceable. In that case, such employees/managers either wilfully or subconsciously are potentially causing great trouble for their co-workers or even their clients. Should they be unavailable, day-to-day business is therefore grinding to a halt, which is unacceptable. One may believe in, and even encourage, the power of individuals in a group, but processes is what makes a company work at the end of the day. No processes work without skills, but also no people should be encouraged to work – unless exceptionally – B o x 2 : E x a m p l e N o . 2 : T h e ‘ P o l e P o s i t i o n ’ p a r t n e r s h i p p r o g r a m m e b e t w e e n F r a n c e T e l e c o m E n t e r p r i s e S o l u t i o n s a n d C I S C O S y s t e m s . FT and CISCO Systems are working together very closely as part of the Pole Position alliance programme, which is hinging on the following activities. 1) Sales alignment with a view to better service common customers, 2) In depth work on ‘verticalisation’ of offerings, namely with regards to the retail and finance sectors, 3) Joint marketing work on horizontal offerings such as VOIP, 4) Joint work on the positioning of France Telecom as an on-site service provider through the GOLD certification programme. As a result, positioning France Telecom as a sole provider of both managed and integrated services. This programme is very powerful and is generating a large amount of incremental revenue for the operator each year. It was created out of the ecosystem of FT under the impulse of FT’s newly created Business Alliance department. Thanks to the exceptional level of intimacy, both internal and external, that was created, a very large cross-functional project (a.k.a. programme) was created. This programme involves hundreds of contributors at the service provider side and a dozen of full-time channel account managers, engineers and business developers from Cisco Systems. This programme is structured in a totally de-centralised fashion, with champions at all levels of the hierarchy in both companies. Each champion s in charge of his or her leg of the programme, be it vertical (Finance, Public sector, …) or Marketing, innovation, operations,… The status of the programme is monitored through monthly steering committee meetings and bi-monthly high-level exec-sponsor meetings. All participants are in charge of their part of the programme, which ensures ownership and commitment due to project buy-in at all levels. B o x # 3 : E x a m p l e N o . 3 V i s i o n a r y m a r k e t i n g . c o m a f o r u m f o r e x p e r t c o l l a b o r a t i o n o n M a r k e t i n g t o p i c s . The http://visionarymarketing.com website was created in early 1996. At the beginning, the website was used to publish my own research entitled Visionary Marketing. Throughout the years, the site has now become a virtual space for real collaboration between various Marketing experts. Please note that voluntary contributors may contact me at http://visionarymarketing.com/engfeedback.html for details.
  20. 20. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 20 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN outside of processes. This is a very critical limitation of informal networks that one should always, bear in mind and it’s not always true that the interest of a small group of people matches that of the organisation to which they belong. III B- SECOND LIMITATION: INFORMAL AND FORMAL NETWORKS If informal networks are very popular, I think it is very understandable because they are based on skills appraisal between peers, it means that anyone who is confident enough in his/her abilities may be able to join such a network. However, this does not mean that informal networks are superior by value to their more formal counterparts. The most obvious form of formal networks is the old school-boys networks. Schools often facilitate such networks of alumni, but the latter very often create their own networks within the main alumni association. Other formal networks – some of them official – may also cross fertilise these alumni networks. Very often, you will hear people or even the media fantasize about such formal networks; mainly those which are getting closer to secret society status. I would say that many of these fantasies are on the fringe or even inspired by urban legends and I will not cover them. However, such formal networks exist and, like it or not, informal networks are not always compatible with them. Formal networks are often exclusive. They are also based upon a very clear set of rules – not forcibly committed to paper – which state that members should help each other and also how they should behave with one another. Being part of a formal network triggers a few obligations and members have to comply. Obviously, this state of fact does not interfere – at least theoretically – with the development of informal networks. Both can and do co-exist, but interests may be conflicting.
  21. 21. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 21 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN III C- INFORMAL NETWORKS DO NOT SPRING FROM TOP- DOWN DECISIONS Top-down decisions in order to decree that people should work in informal networks do not make sense. Spontaneity cannot be artificially generated. It’s a contradiction in terms. Likewise, it is not always easy to convince people that they should join your or somebody else’s network. All employees do not feel so excited to work off the beaten track. Many of us would rather wait for Management to give the go-ahead, even if it’s just another excuse for them to procrastinate because they know that all initiatives do not come from the top. Not all of us despite hierarchies and their habit of slowing change down. On the contrary, many an employee will find comfort and solace when they hide in the shade of bureaucracy. To such people, technocratic rigidity is always better and less risky than initiative, chaos and uncertainty. 37 Check http://www.linux.org/dist for details on LINUX distributions. B o x # 4 : e x a m p l e N o . 4 : O P E N S O U R C E ( a k a . ’ F R E E ’ ) S O F T W A R E A F E W B Y - P R O D U C T S O F T H E N E T W O R K As everybody knows, computers are now a commodity and they cost less and less everyday. €1000 is even more than enough to buy a multimedia beast that is going to keep you happy for a while. However, you will still need to install a few pieces of software on that computer and that is going to cost you quite a bit of money. Windows XP home edition alone is worth €180 (OEM version) and is worth something like €600 for a standard localised version of Office XP. Note that all that additional cash is only going to buy you the minimum software required. If you want to buy it all, you will soon have to spend as much as you have already spent on hardware. If you think that this is a real problem, relax! I have the right solution for you: we call it open source software. Open source is software which is being developed by a community of engineers, complying with self implicated standards and rules and agree to share the source of their code with the community. The end-result is free software (unless you decide to contribute on a voluntary basis), with the only cost being that of a 60MB download for the open source Open Office office suite for instance. The principle may appear a little strange to outsiders. Talented young people work day in day out until their software matches up to proprietary software. More than often, the end-result is really amazing. The free software movement (note that it is free as in the speech and not as in free of charge) is directly inherited from the liberal movement that gave the Web its popularity. The free software foundation (FST) was created by Richard Stallman in 1984 as a means to react against the increase in prices of software licences. The aim of the FST was to get back to the good old days of the 1970’s when software programmers could exchange their code with no constraints. Open source software means that any ‘client’ is free to copy, package, de and re-package and even distribute that piece of software. This is why you can find so many versions (rightfully called ‘LINUX distributions’37 ) of LINUX, in fact one version (or distribution) for each group of software enthusiasts and/or companies who decide to build upon its ‘kernel’. Because it is based on converging interests, the open source community is really successful despite what sceptics may say; definitely the world is not always ruled by money, free software is here to prove it. A community of enthusiasts is a group of people who share information and help each other. Their motives have nothing to do with greed; although they don’t really know each other per se, the fact that they are part of an online community creates some sort of solidarity between them. […]
  22. 22. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 22 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN III D- FOURTH LIMITATION: INFORMAL NETWORKS KNOW NO BOUNDARIES Often, in large organisations, where information cannot or won’t be always shared in a uniform manner – mostly because there is too much of it and the organisation itself is too large – there is a very effective way of keeping abreast of what is going on internally: ask somebody who is sitting outside the company! It may be an alliance manager, it may be a supplier or a client, because very often they know more about your organisation than yourself and your co-workers. Indeed, information better expands externally. Informal networks too. On the one hand, the more an informal network of people rubs shoulders with people from the world outside, the more it is likely that fresh air can be breathed into their ideas and plans. Using external networking will often make it possible to benchmark your organisation without resorting to costly consultants. However good it is for informal networks to develop and branch outside their parent organisation, one may say that this may generate fears that valuable information could be leaked to competition. Such fears, however unjustified will cause a problem for informal networks to develop, internally with the firm’s management’s blessing.
  23. 23. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 23 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN III E FIFTH LIMITATION: INFORMAL NETWORKS CAN BE HARD TO TRACK Informal networks are based on people’s intimate knowledge. In certain cases you may be able to track them, describe them and even label them. More often than not, you will not be able to do that, namely because they can easily be reconfigured. Authors like B. Cova and R. Salle 38 even devised a method for the graphical representation of informal networks, which they called ‘milieu maps’. However, trying to represent such networks might also dictate you to keep a few details to yourself. When trying to track informal networks inside the organisation, this problem is even more acute. Probably, this is knowledge which is best left informal too. 38 B. Cova, P. Ghauri & R. Salle : Project Marketing, Beyond Competitive Bidding. B o x # 4 : C O N T I N U E D [ … ] The way that such people work defies logic – at least seemingly. Whoever ever designed a piece of software in his or her life knows how complex that work is. Software programmes are a lot like living organisms. Besides, making people work together can often turn into a nightmare: users, designers, architects, programmers, etc. all have different perspectives and getting them to agree to something and work according to plan is not a piece of cake. When it comes to open source, there is no apparent logic or project structure, no ruling organisation or control and yet, there are quite a few real-life examples of success in that area: first and foremost, unknown to must users, APACHE, by far the web’s most popular web server, which has now become a standard. It is free software, in all senses of the term. For a few years, Microsoft has tried to impose its own web server – sometimes with success – to the Internet community (code name ISS), namely at the time universally known as the Internet bubble. However, in the long run, Apache imposed itself as the industry standard, mainly because of its legendary and proven robustness. However unlikely, the apparent anarchy or chaos governing the development of free software proved more successful than Microsoft’s know-how with regards to application development. Apache often comes hand in hand with the MYSQL database software and the PERL and PHP languages (aimed at building dynamic web pages) in order to produce probably the most reliable Internet server suite. Between 2000 and 2002, I was able to test and compare the reliability of both servers which ran a similar service (one under NT, and the other under LINUX with Apache, PERL and PHP). Over a period of two years, we only had to reboot the Linux server once. The NT server had to be restarted at least once a week. There are more good practices which would mean more to end-users: Open Office for instance, is a free office suite, which can be downloaded from the http://openoffice.org website. Its look and feel – even after the major 2.0 overhaul – is still not up to scratch with the original but it is both reliable and compatible. Besides, because free software is not about making profits, some of these programmes can be localised in a number of languages which would appear exotic to most of us, but are nonetheless irreplaceable if one wants to foster software development in emerging countries. Free software is not just great software, it also takes the human factor into account
  24. 24. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 24 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN III F- SIXTH LIMITATION: ACHIEVEMENT REPORTS Figure 10:Inside the organisation, some of the links between people are definitely outside the hierarchy. Figure 11: All networks must end somewhere. Even though theorically, everyone knows everyone else, this does not mean that wants to talk to anybody else. Barriers are there which can’t always be lifted. Some are natural (common interest, project teams working around the same client or a group of clients,…) some are more artificial (e.g. procedures preventing lower level employes from having direct contact with people higher up in the hierarchy. According to sociologist Christophe Dejours39, if you want to do your job right, you are bound to circumvent your company rules at all times. You are also bound to bypass your hierarchy (preferably without talling them), and you are bound to IV- OF NETWORKS AND MEN Of all times, formal and informal networks have existed; whether they be aiming at the interest of a small group of people or the general interest. Informal networks are not the product of our post-modern society. I believe it’s in the nature of humans to get together and help each other and complement each other until they form a chain of solidarity, when the powers that be do not make it possible for a group of individuals to reach their objectives. Most probably, informal networks have, in one way or another, always existed. It’s up to each of us who wants to use this powerful tool to do so ethically and with respect for others. This is indeed a powerful tool because it ignores hierarchical obstacles, when hierarchies are there for people who are more interested in politics than the general interest. Informal networks enable people to achieve great results, despite organisation silos, mainly when processes are failing or are poorly implemented. Informal networks are also a very interesting form of counter-power because they are change enablers, based on the skills and the mutual respect of their members. However, sometimes 39 Dejours’s work on Dejours’s work on performance reviews is entitled: L'évaluation du travail à l'épreuve du réel (when performance reviews meet reality), by Christophe Dejours (paperback edition) INRA: http://www.inra.fr
  25. 25. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 25 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN informal networks can also oppose changes when the implementation is poor and leading to a deadlock. Informal networks cannot be avoided. As old as civilisation itself, they are born from the trust that people give each other, whatever their aim; be it good or bad. I don’t think therefore that there is anything new in them. What is new though is how quickly you may be able to build your informal network online nowadays, thanks to all those Internet tools that are available to you. But they are nothing but tools; anybody does not want to talk to anybody else. What is striking though is how individuals are prone to develop their own personal strategies outside their social and professional hierarchies; such strategies help them escape an order on which they seem to have no control. Social rigidity – to a certain extent – is a thing of the past. The sort of immutable certainly and comfort that it generated is over too. People have – however unprepared they may be – to get used to living and making the most of their uncertain futures. Their own special way of reducing risk is to rely on themselves and try and form pockets of resistance or conquest through informal networks, which they master. This individuation41 is very different from individualisation; it can be found in informal networks and informal networks do reinforce that individuation in return. 40 See: The philosophy of history by G. W. F. Hegel Translated by J. Sibree “No man is a hero to his valet-de-chambre," is a well-known proverb; I have added - and Goethe repeated it ten years later - "but not because the former is no hero, but because the latter is a valet." He takes off the hero's boots, assists him to bed, knows that he prefers champagne, &c. Historical personages waited upon in historical literature by such psychological valets, come poorly off; they are brought down by these their attendants to a level with - or rather a few degrees below the level of - the morality of such exquisite discerners of spirits.” 41 See Footnote 15 Figure 12: Some organisations, mainly when they are very large are very good at creating barriers which reinforce power and authority. People behind barriers are always more mysterious and authority is fuelled by that mystery, because you are more led to fear those whom you don’t know well: ‘No man is a hero to his valet-de-chambre’40.
  26. 26. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 26 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN Figure 13:Networks are stronger when they link with outside members in order to poster cross- fertilisation. This can also help lift a few internal hierarchical obstacles. As a result, individuals conquer their freedom in groups, which are based on individuals. This complex and reflexive paradox is at the source of the success of informal social networks. All this is not new per se, but it becomes more universal and more urgent for those who want to escape the rigidity of large organisations. It is therefore not very surprising that we should witness some of these large organisations which try and capture that great yearning for liberty and keep it to themselves, as if liberty could be put in a cage. If I get back to the two extreme examples which I described at the beginning of this article, I believe that they are the symptom of a middle-management disease; middle managers may have been taught to direct others, but they may not have been taught how to negotiate their powers in a society where authority is more and more questioned. More than ever, the future of management will undoubtedly be about understanding the human factor. Thriving informal social networks are here to remind us that this will be the case. Client Partner Supplier Communities NGO’s
  27. 27. YANN A. GOURVENNEC – HTTP://VISIONARYMARKETING.COM – COPYRIGHT © 2005 Page 27 / 27 OF NETWORKS AND MEN B o x N o . 5 : 5 t h e x a m p l e : T h e f r e e W i k i p e d i a e n c y c l o p a e d i a ( h t t p : / / w w w . w i k i p e d i a . o r g ) E x c e r p t f r o m J e r ô m e D e l a c r o i x ’ s l a t e s t b o o k e n t i t l e d W i k i s 42 “A ‘Wikiwikiweb’, or wiki for short, is a dynamic website, the pages of which anyone can edit to their heart’s content. Wikis are living examples of cooperative and community-centred teamwork aimed at elaborating working documents together. On a wiki, any visitor can interact with the page he or she is reading and even create a new one. There is no moderator on that kind of websites; the visitor’s changes are accepted immediately by the system and they are instantly visible to all other readers. What is happening in real life is that a first contributor starts writing a text, another one modifies it, a third one corrects a typo etc. Wikis are amazing tools when it comes to sharing knowledge and achieving cooperation, be it amongst co-workers of an organisation or the members of a virtual community, or even the entire community of web users at large. The paradox hightlighted by wikis lies in the fact that this kind of collaborative work is far more open yet more straightforward than other more complicated collaborative suites. Wikis are hinging on the belief that leaving the system entirely open and reducing the impact of potential destructions to a minimum is more profitable than putting all sorts of security mechanisms up front, for the latter would discourage contributors entirely. Indeed, no problem is ever ‘serious’ on a wiki because all the versions of the same document are always retained on the server, and therefore, it is always possible to get back to an earlier version. The whole system is based on the trust that is bestowed on its users and the constant watch that is carried out by the community for the benefit of the community. Through this watch, glitches or even voluntary degradations can be corrected as easily as they were created. The flagship of wikis is the Wikipedia project, a free collaborative and living encyclopaedia. Like all wikis it is 100% the result of collective work. Each reader can turn into a contributor at a click of a mouse. As a result, wikis do bridge the gap between readers and writers. The contents of a wiki are necessarily evolving on a permanent basis: Wikipedia started with 1.000 pages in 2001 and grew exponentially ever since until it reached its current status of one million articles. In the meantime, the project had gone round the world with local versions in 40 different languages.” This book can be purchased from Amazon See also Blogs, Wikis, And Feeds In Action, by Dave Johnson 42 M2 publishing http://www.m2editions.com