Networks, Return-On-Investment and Co-Creation

January 24, 2018 1 Comment

“The most robust and resilient networks are those that create additional value for each participant while strengthening a community or ecosystem as a whole.”

Adam Pattantyus

Return-on-investment (ROI) is not a term that I love, especially given how militantly utilitarian and narrowly it is often considered and applied. My friend, mentor, business consultant and holistic thinker Carol Sanford refers to ROI as “the future increase in value that is expected when the initial capital contribution is made.” Carol is quick to point out that capital can take many forms (financial, intellectual, social, spiritual, natural, etc.), and for network participants (or let’s call them “co-creators”) this often takes the form of investments of time, money, knowledge, creativity, and social connections.

Why would co-creators in networks take the time and risk to make such an investment? What is the expected return? Presumably, when we are talking about networks for social change, the principle driver is the desire to make a meaningful difference for people, places and purposes they care about and that they sense will be more positively impacted through network activity. Co-creators are also “kept in the network game” if participation enhances their own capabilities, grows and deepens their connections, and gives them increased opportunities to be creative, and perhaps even find a place of belonging!

“Connections create value. The social era will reward those … that realize they don’t create value all by themselves.”

– Nilofer Merchant

So it is important for convenors and facilitators of networks to intentionally create conditions that optimize these vast possibilities, in part through establishing a baseline of trust, transparency, generosity and generativity. This also and very importantly includes being acutely aware of and deft in the handling of power dynamics and how these contribute to “othering” or create inequitable opportunities to partake and flourish. What this kind of network tending does not look like is standardized and top-down organizational procedures, didactic capacity building, and rigid centralized “management.” It is more in the direction of leading with authentic care and curiosity, listening, inviting and considering all contributions and the fullness of each co-creator, and making space for emergent opportunities.

This kind of approach is rooted in a belief that human beings are, in Carol Sanford’s words, “open-ended in their capacity for growth and development.” So there really is an evolutionary mindset at play here, such that the overall orientation of the network is towards continuously elevating what it believes it and its co-creators can do. In the end, each and every co-creator should have a role in establishing and stretching the limits of the network’s potential.

How does this align with your network building efforts?

“Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us 
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.”

– Marge Piercy (from “The Seven  of Pentacles”)

1 Comment

  • It is interesting to see the effects of this kind of revolutionary network tending on more traditional institutions, or rather on the PEOPLE who work in more traditional, top-down, hierarchical institutions. They often feel a push/pull between a human desire to connect and the demands of their workplace. The network fosters an evolution of their spirit that may be uncomfortable in their current structure, but that ultimately nudges them and their organization in a good direction.

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