Thursday, May 13, 2010

Networks - the paradox of density and Gestalt

Nicholas Christakis has a fascinating take in his TED talk on Social Networks, and the part where he showed the knitting of atoms of carbon into graphite and diamonds was illuminating. The diamond is far denser than the pencil lead, but lets in light because the atoms are arranged in a connected network much more than in graphite. It is not the property of the carbon, but of the network, that gives it its 'personality'.

This sort of counter-intuitive result is like America's use of torture to combat terrorism. I don't think anyone would argue that Abu Ghraib damaged their reputation, and made the job of their soldiers even harder, so how to you counter this behaviour? I would argue open and transparent systems, with prisoners accorded all the rights of an American in court will win the war of hearts and minds - if not the isolated battles of interrogation. Why destroy something you respect and trust? If you understand something then you can begin a basis of communication, negotiation, persuasion...At least begin dialogue.

So it is in management. Command and Control doesn't work as effectively in the Knowledge Economy as other techniques that distribute power and empower employees (which used to be known as people, before they were turned into Human Capital).

So lets start looking at the real animal, and rename it as the 'living system' that is an organisation, not the dry graphical nodes of 'social network' chart. By recognising the big picture and seeing it as having it's own dynamic life, that requires care and nuturing, we give dignity back to the people who sustain it. The gestalt is the sum all of us, and yet bigger than all of us individually. As our actions ripple back and forth across the distances between indirect connections you realise the system takes on a life of its own, it develops personality - and that can't be isolated into individual nodes.

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