Hubs and the fallacy of connectedness


Photo courtesy of  jared

I bet this is how your organization looks like right now: a bunch of highly connected nodes scattered here and there. I bet as a decision maker you’re thinking you will do the impossible to keep these “hubs” on board. I bet as a knowledge worker you’re thinking you should be like one of those… believe me, you don’t. There are better positions that need to be filled, and being a hub is not one them.

I’m not saying that hubs –which are the most connected nodes in your organization’s network- aren’t important. They surely are, they shorten paths between members and insure the spread of information within the organization. However I firmly believe that they do not enhance the connectedness of the organization and here are some reasons why:

– Hubs may play a great role in connecting different nodes together, but like it or not, they are a threat to your organization. Envision how your organization’s network would suffer from the loss of a hub. Fragmentation of your network is the first consequence that comes to mind although it might not be an immediate one. Loss of knowledge is however the most important risk to consider since that the routes taken by information become much lengthier increasing the probability of its loss along the way.

– Hubs can also intentionally –when organization’s politics are in play- or unintentionally create cliques, which may hinder collaboration initiatives and create conflicts in the long term. This will surely harm any shared vision you instilled among your knowledge workers and damage your organization’s culture to great extent.  

– It takes a great deal of social capital to become a Hub. Too often these central players can have a substantial position within the network as Go-to people when colleagues are seeking information or advice. However hubs can easily become bottlenecked and thereby end up using their time inefficiently and holding up work and innovation at myriad points in the network.

– And here is another issue most hubs might face. They may be well connected within the organization but that’s about it. Their connections revolve in a small world, a micro-sphere and they hardly step outside their little bubbles. Hubs don’t bring about competitive advantage because they evolve in the same-old-same-old environment obstructing their chances to innovate.  

So again, I’m not saying that you needn’t interlace the network within your organization. I’m just pleading you to be careful while doing it. Organizations are complex systems where people and social objects evolve in an interwoven context and an off-the-top-of-my-head approach would suggest promoting an overall connectivity, thinking that the more connected these components are, the best they would interact. Actually, this has been proven to be too simplistic and it often ends up overwhelming employees and creating bottlenecks. Fostering innovation and better collaboration in the organization can only happen through targeting connectivity of the right expertise with the right influence in the right position.  

Lamia Ben.


Sunday Musing: Pale Blue Dot


Photo Courtesy: "Pale Blue Dot" photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on July 6, 1990.

In the shadow of recent events that made history for Tunisia, I remembered this amazing quote of Carl Sagan: For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallibilities, we humans are capable of greatness. 
And it actually reminded me of this great video I once saw that made me realize once more, how we are, as Pascal puts it, A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an All in comparison with the nothing, a mean between nothing and everything…

“We were hunters and foragers. The frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the Earth, and the ocean, and the sky. The open road still softly calls. Our little terraquious globe as the madhouse of those hundred thousand millions of worlds. We, who cannot even put our own planetary home in order, riven with rivalries and hatreds; Are we to venture out into space? By the time we’re ready to settle even the nearest of other planetary systems, we will have changed. The simple passage of so many generations will have changed us. Necessity will have changed us. We’re… an adaptable species. It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby stars. It will be a species very like us, but with more of our strengths, and fewer of our weaknesses. More confident, farseeing, capable, and prudent. For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallibilities, we humans are capable of greatness. What new wonders, undreamed of in our time, will we have wrought in another generation? And another? How far will our nomadic species have wandered by the end of the next century? And the next millennium? Our remote descendants, safely arrayed on many worlds through the solar system and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that whatever other life there may be, the only humans in all the universe come from Earth. They will gaze up, and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of raw potential once was. How perilous, our infancy. How humble, our beginnings. How many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.”

— Carl Sagan

Have a great Sunday!
Lamia Ben.

The power of networked workers


Photo courtesy of Ivan Walsh

Meet Sara, she Works in IT, takes lunch with marketing and often gets together with friends from sales to chill out after work. She’s an active twitter user, she blogs and often takes part of IT events.

Meet Omar, he Works in IT as well, takes lunch and solely hangs out with his friends from IT. His social online presence is restricted to Facebook where he connects with family and friends. He almost never attends IT events unless he has to (for professional reasons).

Sara and Omar may both be good at what they do. They may both have great people skills and are great assets to the organization. But one thing is sure, Omar will never be as valuable as Sara, and here is why: Sara is a networked worker.

What is a networked worker?           

They go under different names: Weavers, brokers or connectors. Networked workers are knowledge workers who happen to be the bridges between various social networks that would’ve never overlapped without their presence. They link different networks and thereby recombine the different cultures of these networks to make out a unique style of their own. They may not be central in their respective networks but they draw value from the variety of networks they belong to.

Why are Networked workers valuable to the organization?

Here is the thing about networked workers: because of the unique role they play in filling up structural holes in networks, they become indispensable. They’re the go-to people when seeking information or looking for the latest updates. They’re in the loop, not because they want to be but because people want them there. Networked workers get the best out of weak ties. They browse through their networks and can do wonders just by linking the right people together.

Within the organization, networked workers have a broader view of the activity. They aren’t trapped in their daily job bubble; rather they see the organization’s strategy at work across different departments. They come out with more rational decisions because they have better knowledge of their impact. They follow better routes for execution because they have built-in expertise detectors and they can be influent enough to make the case for change within the organization.

Networked workers are the interface between different networks. They are therefore in contact with various ideas, dogmas and cultures. They don’t fall for the homophily trap and thereby are much prone to coming up with innovative ideas.

They are often great carriers and evangelists of the organization’s culture. They bring back the value of their own relationships and contact networks to the organization (identify new hires for example) and can often reinforce their organization’s brand and reputation by providing a human face to the organization. Networked workers can be the finger on the pulse of changes in the organization’s environment.

What’s in it for the Networked worker?

Four words: connections, influence, innovation and opportunities. 

Connections: Networked workers may not have as much connections as Hubs but they have access to different networks. This can be far more valuable in the connected world we live in.

Influence: The unique role that these knowledge workers play in filling structural holes and their unique position grant them enough influence to have their voice heard within their networks.

Innovation: People from the same social network tend to converge towards a common current of thought and that can only be harmful for innovation. Networked workers on the other hand belong to various networks and thereby avert falling for this trap. (I wrote more on this here:  Homophily is #1 innovation enemy)

Opportunities: Being part of multiple networks means being in touch with diverse people which can translate into opportunities.    

How to become a Networked worker?

Becoming a networked worker doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of socializing, networking and engagement. But always keep in mind that you can only be part of a network if its members want you there. It’s therefore extremely important to be Genuine and to help as much as you can. You can’t expect to get immediate benefits unless you’ve put enough effort to grow your networks.

Here are some tips that could help you become a networked worker:

1. Socialize with co-workers from different departments. Attend events and conferences, meet experts from your field and beyond. 

2. Enhance your e-reputation: have an online presence, listen and engage in conversations. Blog and/or be present on social networks (twitter for instance).

3. Diversify your online contacts. Don’t get trapped into your career bubble.

4. Reach out and offer as much help as you can. Give unconditionally. 

5. Always seize the opportunity to extend an online relationship into real life. 

6. Be yourself!


In the end

They say it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. But the truth is, it’s about who knows you and what networks you’re part of. 

Lamia Ben.


Enterprise 2.0 reads – December 2010

Beside the usual prediction posts that have become part of December’s landscape, I have come across some interesting reads that discuss issues at the heart of the socializing organizations. Here is a taste of articles that can’t afford to be missed in my sense.

Enterprise 2.0 and culture : change or do with it ? By Bernard Duperrin

If enterprise 2.0 needs a specific culture so let’s change the corporate culture before starting! On this point, I agree with Lee Bryant : we can’t mandate culture…We need approaches that co-build cultures and work models.

…The paradox of the cultural question is that no one has the answer, and that there are many chances no answer exist. The only certainty is that we can’t discuss the existence of such concerns and that even a strong corporate culture won’t be enough to override it. Then, dealing with the issue will be nothing but dosage and feeling.

Creating a culture of collaboration By Oscar Berg   

What makes building a culture of collaboration hard is that it requires constant work and awareness. You have to consciously think about and practice collaboration in every situation where it benefits the individual and/or the group until the collaborative behavior in that kind of situation happens "naturally" in the sense that we have programmed ourselves how to behave and do not need to spend mental energy – the collaboration auto-pilot is on.

A key lesson to make when trying to achieve this in a business context is that if you leave out the fun, autonomy, trust, creativity, the sense of engagement, then not much more than extrinsic motivators such as monetary rewards exist to build a culture of collaboration – and then you are on the road to failure for sure. 

Management at the time of social media By Esko Kilpi Oy

That is the way we have seen it: managers inspire, motivate and control employees who need to be inspired, motivated and controlled. These dynamics create the system of management and justify its continuation.

For the first time in history it is not profitable to simply think that managers manage and workers work… Top-down, one-way communication or separating thinking and acting don’t produce results any more…Now we know that intentions arise as much in the actions and outcomes cannot be fully known in advance. This is why a new, different, view of management is required to serve the creative, learning-intensive economy.

Social Business gets seal of approval By Christoph Schmaltz

In its latest Web 2.0 survey management consulting firm McKinsey gave its seal of approval to what is emerging to be known as social business.

According to McKinsey a networked enterprise is one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization's reach to customers, partners, and suppliers. 

All in all, the McKinsey report does not provide any new revelations for social business practioners. However, McKinsey's seal of approval (and not to forget Gartner's) will hopefully be the catalyst for getting the social business engine started properly in 2011. Bring it on! 

Enterprise 2.0 Roll-up: You Can Hate it, but You Can't Kill Email By Chelsi Nakano

"Just as video did not kill the radio star, social media will not kill e-mail," wrote Phil Green, CTO at Inmagic… Google Wave is, of course, a primary example of why we're just not ready for the level of collaboration we think we are. 

Green points out that e-mail’s strength lies in connecting, not collaborating. "People will connect when there is context, because they have a shared reference point, a reason to connect. At some point, bringing that connection (or connections) into a collaborative environment is necessary to address problem solving because the socially connected people have a basis for their discussion."

The point: We're not going to see the end of e-mail in 2011, but we're probably going to see a big dent in its user base.


Lamia Ben.