Hubs and the fallacy of connectedness

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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.

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3 thoughts on “Hubs and the fallacy of connectedness

  1. I agree that people who function as social / knowledge network hubs in an organization represent organizational benefits as well as risks, but I do not believe that hubs are a net negative factor in organizational structures.Hiring – and encouraging the professional development – of any employee has unavoidable risks. To use Gladwellian terms, losing a key maven or salesperson can be just as devastating as losing a connector. I think the key consideration is whether people are playing such roles within an organization due to intrinsic or extrinsic motivations.Having recently read – and written a review of – <a href="http://gumption.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/the-power-of-pull-institutions-as-platforms-for-promoting-individual-passions.html">The Power of Pull</a>, I believe it is essential to cultivate the professional development of the intrinsic passions and skills of each organizational member, whether they are naturally inclined toward being connectors, mavens or salespeople. And if an organization succeeds in creating opportunities for people to exercise their individual passions – in ways that benefit the organization – they are less likely to "lose" the people that are most likely to contribute the most value … in whatever role(s) they play.

  2. Hello Joe, thank you for your comment. I think you make an interesting point. If organizations promote employees’ passions, they would be less likely to loose their employees, hubs/mavens and connectors included. However loosing a hub isn’t the only thread. I don’t know if you’ve read Cross and Thomas’ book: Driving results through social networks. But a lot of the study cases there show how much these hubs can become bottlenecks or biased networkers… and hinder any efforts for collaboration within the organization.It finally boils down to finding an equilibrium where connectivity is rather targeted than overly promoted.

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