You know how things sometimes become more clear to you as you talk? So I thought about my own inner needs and how my passion fuels and directs my work. And because this meeting was a very satisfying way to work, I realized again how much I thrive on peopletime and connection.
So if you want to see me be best at what I do, invite me to where you are, let’s talk and use Net-Map to better understand what is going on and how you can concretely use your networks to get what you want. Or maybe but really just very maybe… I will leave my toys in the box and won’t draw a link and we will first spend some time to figure out where you actually want to get. Or, more basically, what needs you feel and what it is that lights your fire.
How do you know that you have designed your interview (and it doesn’t have to be a Net-Map) in a way that allows your interview partner to reenact an antique drama? Try telling me the great story line in a few clear sentences. Like this: We start painting the background by drawing a straightforward clear structure of either formal lines (e.g. authority) or physical flow (e.g. of goods, money). The next link is more informal, less clear, maybe situation and personality driven, might circumvent some of the clear structure of the first link (e.g. political pressure, conflict, friendship). The tension builds. The big drama starts when you put up influence towers and the interview partner has to make the tension between formal and informal links explicit and tell you which ones actually make an actor influential. In a group interview you might actually see sparks in the air while you group debates why this and not that actor is most influential. Finally, after all that drama, you need the resolution, the morale of the story. That’s what happens in the qualitative discussion after the mapping. You ask: What does that mean? What can / should we do? Where do the main problems come from? How could this change? These questions give closure to the interview but also open the door to possible next steps: How do you take what you have learned in this play into the real world…?
Very often, when interviews or group sessions feel like something went wrong, it is because they lacked this choreography: Maybe you didn’t allow your interview partners to draw the background because you thought you knew it already and wanted to jump into where the drama was right away (in this case: no formal/material links, just informal ones). This way you can’t build the friction between what should be and what is, so no high drama in the middle (even though you thought you had found a short-cut to get there). Or maybe you want to avoid any drama, because this is only about collecting objective facts, right? Your interview partner and you fall asleep in the middle of it, because you just ask one question next to the other and you never get to a tough point where you have to dig deeper to understand meaning or relevancy. Well, after you wake up you can do some equally solid and slightly dull data analysis, but you haven’t really gathered a new understanding of the world here. Another thing that sometimes happens, and might even be the effect of doing stuff right in the first half is that you run out of time and once every last link is drawn, every last influence tower is set up, you have to run, abandoning your interview partner just as all the drama is over, hanging in the air, without meaning or closure. This doesn’t only mean that you will both be confused and slightly frustrated afterward. But you are also missing out on the most profound learning, on the meaning and morale of your story. In my experience, the time you spend after building the plot step-by-step, looking at it from a birds eye view, discovering the great lines and asking your interview partner to interpret it for you, is the richest part of the interview. You couldn’t get there, without going through the drama before. There is no shortcut. But don’t think you can skip the last step, just because it is not as scripted and structured as the ones before.
My father loved telling this story about the man who went to a tailor to have a suit made. After a week he comes back and tries it on.
Man: “It is a bit too tight at the shoulders.”
Tailor: “Oh well, why don’t you try lifting your shoulders like this and twisting one back and one forward, then it will be fine.”
Man: “And what about the pant legs, one is longer than the other.”
Tailor: “No problem, just bend one knee and turn the foot to the side and no one will see it.”
Man: “But it is also really wide at the waistline.”
Tailor: “Isn’t it great to have some breathing space? Just breathe in real deep and stick out your tummy.”
and on and on it goes…
My father took great pleasure in showing us each and every contortion the poor guy went through to make the tailor happy and the suit fit. Finally he would limp out of the shop, belly sticking out, shoulders and legs in strange angles and overhear two friends talking about him. “Look at this poor cripple!” “Yeah, poor guy, but he has a great tailor!”
Do you have such a great tailor in your organization? I am often amazed at the desire for stability and fear of change (or fear of confronting tailors?) that leads organizations to keep their bad tailors and force everyone else to learn how to walk limping and contorted while still carrying a smile on their face. Instead of standing up straight to let everyone see that the tailor is not doing his / her job properly.
In network terms this kind of situation often develops in two stages: First the tailor is a person who sits on a structural hole (connecting two parts of the network not otherwise linked), has some kind of responsibility not easily transfered and is in the position to function as a gate keeper or bottleneck. If the tailor turns out to be a bad one, there are two ways organizations tend to deal with this kind of situation: Either someone in a higher position of authority changes the situation by removing the person, working on improving their performance or building alternative procedures. Or, in case leadership does not act, you can see an interesting growth in the informal networks: Those people within the organization who have no authority to do anything about the situation, build informal bridges around the structural hole to continue being able to do their work. And because they know that the leadership is not supportive of changing the situation, they will make do, lift one shoulder, twist one leg, stick out their belly and pretend everything is just fine.
Today I talked with one of the participants of my Net-Map masterclass about the first Net-Map she is planning to do. She works for a charitable foundation and is looking at how to best manage and improve her donor relations. While we were talking about how to use Net-Mapping strategically, we soon came to an important insight. It is not: “The more you network, the better.” Because there are potentially endless networking partners, each and every connection you maintain takes time and effort and commitment. In a world where all three are not unlimited, it is crucial to network strategically, to sit back and think about who your crucial present partners are, who the most beneficial future partners could be and who might be holding you back or distracting you in a way that it makes sense to limit your interaction.
I have found that putting up influence towers after you finished a complex network map can be a moment full of relief and clarification: Out of your say 60 network partners, only 1 or 2 get the highest tower, maybe 5-10 are in the highest third… Now you can think about what you need to do to have your best possible relationship to these 5-10 actors. And have a look at the bigger picture, asking yourself: Is there anyone who should be more influential and involved in the future? What do I need to d0 about them?
Very often, if your project is well on track, and you are not working in an extremely hostile or dis-empowered situation, there is little you need to do about your current 3 most influential actors: They tend to be on board already, you have put a lot of effort into cultivating these relationships, they are your allies. It’s easy and directly rewarding to continue focusing on nourishing your relationships to your old friends. But look at your map for those high influence actors with whom you don’t have close and positive relationships yet: If you can include just one of them into your closer network, make this one a champion for your idea, you will be able to tap into a whole new network (this actor’s network) and add this actor’s influence to your cause. I’m not arguing that you should abandon your old friends. But if you are looking strategically at network development, try putting more energy into building relationships that are not perfect yet and focus on those actors that (in your perception) can be most influential to your success.
I think there is a general belief that the more intelligent you are the more successful you will be in life. And in theory that makes sense: If you are intelligent, you see more opportunities, are aware of challenges more quickly, can do more excellent work and there you go… success!
Today I talked with a colleague about a typical frustration we experience when working in research projects (where, by definition, you expect people with above average intelligence…): The more complex and in-depth thinkers you are in the team, the more exciting is the initial phase when you throw around ideas, develop the foundations for the formula that will explain the whole world and put each and every aspect of it in relation to each and every other aspect of it. It’s a wonderful moment that broadens your horizon and makes you feel like your brain is a muscle that’s working very hard.
But… in my experience working with a highly motivated, creative, knowledgeable and intelligent team of researchers is not the most reliable formula for getting tangible, timely, understandable outcomes. And I sometimes suspect that that is not despite of the collective brilliance in the room but rather because of it. If you know how complex the world is and have the feeling that, if you only try hard enough, you might be able to come up with the paper about “How everything is linked to everything”, it is nearly impossible to get yourself to write the paper about: “The three major causes for XY (small specific change of something)” – especially as you know that these three causes are just three out of many interconnected ones and maybe the specific change you look at in your paper is again just a little spec of dust in the whole universe of things.
A friend of mine calls this state of affair: Analysis Paralysis. You don’t move forward until you have analyzed everything regarding a specific issue. But with each step of analysis you find there is another mystery hidden behind the curtain that needs to be analyzed as well and you get more paralyzed the more you know.
And in the meantime, people who know how to limit the complexity walk past you, busy getting stuff done. And I believe there are two types: Some don’t think in such complex patterns to begin with and for others it is more a matter of self-discipline, they can switch into “get-stuff-done-mode” when they know it is time.
Now tying this back into social network analysis: One widely researched issue is that of homophily: People tend to develop networks with others who are similar to them. Sometimes that’s really helpful, because it means that your colleagues and friends know where you are coming from, share your values etc. But when putting together work teams, just relying on the natural processes of self selection or putting teams together with very similar skill sets might not be the best idea, even if everyone on the team is an excellent thinker. So if you recognize yourself (or your team) in my above description, see if you can find someone with a proven “get stuff done record” and see if you can add them to the team to channel your creativity into tangible outputs. Even if they will annoy you with there permanent questions of: “So what does that mean concretely?” and “Who is gonna do what when to get this done?”
Most people think that either optimists or pessimists got it wrong, they see the world through their rose or grey tinted glasses and whatever they experience, they interpret as positive (optimist) or negative (pessimist). At the Sunbelt Conference of the International Network of Social Network Analysis last week, I heard a talk by John T. Scholz who showed that maybe both are giving a realistic account of what their experience looks like, that the optimist might indeed live in a better world than the pessimist.
He described an experiment he called voluntary dilemma (as opposed to the prisoner’s dilemma, where participants cannot opt out): 20 students played for 20 rounds, in each round they would choose one partner to cooperate with and could either fulfill their commitment or cheat. Delivering was a bit more expensive than cheating. If both parties delivered, they won a great price (of game money), if you cheat and the other one delivers, you win a medium price and if both cheat, you still have some small reward.
What happens is this: Optimists and pessimists approach the game with different attitudes: If you assume everyone will cheat, it is only rational to cheat, cutting your losses and still getting a small benefit. If you assume everyone will be honest, you will deliver and every time you play with another optimist, you both will take home the big reward. But what about the times when you play with a cheater? Scholz found out that by far the most rewarding strategy was to play Quit for Tat: You offer everyone a first chance, if they deliver, you continue playing with them but the first time someone cheats, you quit; you are unforgiving and don’t give them another chance.
Because of this strategy, the groups quickly segregated into an optimist and a pessimist cluster: The honest players identified each other, kicked any cheaters out at their first try and developed strong relationships of repeated play with high rewards. So, after a few rounds of playing the game, they actually lived in a gated better world, where those who cheated were not allowed in. Most of the pessimists did try out a different strategy sometime in the middle of the game. But at that time they only had the other pessimist left as possible playing partners and whenever they tried to play an honest game, they were disappointed and got reaffirmed in their experience that honesty doesn’t pay. If you started off by cheating, it was basically impossible (in this small 20 player game), to move out of your group, into the optimist group. In all games the unforgiving optimists took home much larger prices than anyone else. This effect was significantly increased when the researchers allowed partners in each round to recommend other players to each other.
This was an eye opener for me: I don’t think the world as a whole is a particularly good place and I know that people do evil and selfish things all around me. But I always had that feeling that I live on this lucky island, where people are just a bit nicer to each other than average. When Scholz described the unforgiving optimist, I felt like looking in the mirror, because I do give everyone the benefit of the doubt – once. If they don’t fit on my little island of optimists, they won’t get permanent resident status…
Lin was a participant in my Net-Map workshop in Utrecht last December and here is how she describes her experience using the method:“Working with Net-Map 2/2/11 Hello Eva, After you introduced me to the Net-Map exercise I have now used it three times, working with women entrepreneurs in Eastern Africa. I was particularly keen to learn about Net-Map, as I provide a workshop in networking for companies and organizations called Mobilize Networks! – see http://www.netsheila.com. The first part of the workshop provides participants with a basic knowledge of how networks can be used as an economic resource by any business or organization. The participants are seated four, five or six people to a table and by the end of the basic session (2.5 hours) they have learned to identify their needs and to use the networks of the people at the table to take the next steps in resolving their needs. This is pure magic. We look at the business theory related to networks – that networks provide you with access to markets or knowledge or people that are otherwise difficult to reach, they provide the possibility of developing unique knowledge, an essence of competitive advantage, and they provide connectedness and trust (but can also be exclusive, so beware!). After laying the basis I usually insert elements into the workshop that are relevant to the organization or company I am working with. In the case of one multinational corporation I worked with, we looked at benchmarks for diversity across several industries and the participants developed a strategy to improve the score of their company. I often have a session using the skills developed in the morning to develop strategies for mobilizing financial resources. The exact content of the second half of the program is determined after careful consultation with the client. I am presently consulting with associations of women entrepreneurs in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia and providing the Mobilize Networks! workshop is part of the work. Between 25 January and 1 February I used the Net-Map exercise in my workshop, to create an understanding of the environment in which women entrepreneurs operate and the network of actors and linkages this entails. In Uganda for example we had a table with poultry farmers and they wanted to know who influences the market for poultry farmers. In Tanzania we had three tables of people in the honey industry and in Ethiopia we had the service industry, the honey industry and the coffee industry. Each country also had a handcrafts table. We had many and varied maps, and people were glued to the process. We started the Net-Map before lunch. In Tanzania women came in from lunch early so they could keep working together on their maps. I found that 3 hours was a good amount of time to spend on this exercise. My favorite question, when looking at the finished maps with the whole group (30 – 40 people) was: “What have you learned?” The answer is inevitably that they have a better grasp of the industry and its environment. One great answer was: “We usually discover the actors, the linkages and the power differentials once we have a problem. We are swimming upstream. With this map, we can be ahead of the game and develop better strategies.” After completing the maps and sharing the results, I ask people to write down what their next step will be to put the learning into action. The poultry people realized they needed to improve their relationship with the bank. In Tanzania the handicrafts people saw that too few organizations and institutions are concerned with quality and their next step will be to work to change this. At the end of the session there was lightness in the room: people had developed a deep understanding and that was empowering. All 100 participants received a link to your blog. Quite a number of the participants are trainers themselves, and I hope some of them will take the exercise into their practice. Lin McDevitt-Pugh MBA, Amsterdam, the Netherlands +31-6-15048468 firstname.lastname@example.org”
Have you used Net-Map in your work and want to contribute your experience to our growing community of practice? Write it up and send it to me (email@example.com) so that I can add your voice to this blog. And feel free to send pictures as well.