Network ThinkingDecember 14, 2011 22 Comments
Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a cross-sectoral group of emerging and established leaders from around southern Maine through the Institute for Civic Leadership, an initiative IISC had a hand in establishing some 18 years ago. For the past six years I’ve offered three days of collaborative capacity building entitled “Facilitative Leadership and Teams” to each successive cohort, and it’s been interesting to see how the offering has evolved over time. Throughout there has been an interest in looking at how to leverage what is now an incredible base of 500 + individuals who have been through this leadership program. And so this year we dived formally into network building strategies.
My challenge was to tie together what we have traditionally offered as collaborative skill building with networked ways of thinking and doing. To this end, I invited people to consider the differences between networked and more traditional organization-centric ways of getting things done. I then summarized with the following list of elements of network thinking:
- Adaptability instead of control – Thinking in networks means leading with an interest in adaptability over time. Given contextual complexity, it is impossible for any actor or “leader” to know exactly what must be done to address a particular issue, much less keep what should be a more decentralized and self-organizing group, moving in lockstep. Pushing response-ability out to the edges is what helps networks survive and thrive.
- Emergence instead of predictability – As with any complex living system, when a group of people comes together, we cannot always know what it is they will create. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Vying for the predictable means short-changing ourselves of new possibilities, one of the great promises of networks.
- Resilience and redundancy instead rock stardom – You see it on sports teams all the time. When the star player goes down, so goes the team. Resilient networks are built upon redundancy of function and a richness of interconnections, so that if one node goes away, the network can adjust and continue its work.
- Contributions before credentials – You’ve probably heard the story about the janitor who anonymously submitted his idea for a new shoe design during a company-wide contest, and won. “Expertise” and seniority can serve as a bottle neck and buzz kill in many organizations, where ego gets in the way of excellence. If we are looking for new and better thinking, it should not matter from whence it comes. This is part of the value of crowdsourcing.
- Diversity and divergence – New thinking comes from the meeting of different fields, experience, and perspectives. Preaching to the choir gets us the same old (and tired) hymn. Furthermore, innovation is not a result of dictating or choosing from what is, but expanding options, moving from convergent (and what often passes for strategic) thinking to design thinking.
What do you think? What would you add? And what do you make of this?