Knowledge Networks

Steve Borgatti is my all time favorite Social Network Analysis author. He is a SNA expert to be taken serious (after all, he is one of the people behind the standard software UCINET) but while he knows all his formulas, his most interesting papers are more philosophical than empirical or mathematical, exploring, for example,  how different kinds of flows (let’s say money or infection) require different kinds of centrality measures, because it does make a difference whether you give something and then it is gone (alas, money) or you give it and keep it at the same time (Also alas, infections. If only it where the other way round…).

I found this brief text about the meaning of different network structures for knowledge sharing and he does a good job of explaining how you can quantify the quality of a connection by looking at it’s multiplexity (do these two people just share knowledge or do they have more than one different link). And he looks for the most efficient network for knowledge sharing: The hub-and-spokes network has one central node that all links go through and who can reach everyone with one step. This is highly efficient as long as the central node is performing well and we are looking at simple “knowledge packages” that need to be delivered, where the right answer is clear – as compared to a knowledge co-creation process or situations where more than one answer is possible. A more stable situation that is equally as efficient would be the core-periphery structure, where the hub is replaced by a group of interconnected core actors who are surrounded by a periphery of non-connected actors. He concludes:

“In sum, dense, core/periphery networks are very efficient at spreading knowledge.
The other side of the coin, however, is that they are not good at innovation, because it is too easy for the conventional wisdom to swamp new ideas.” Steve Borgatti 2005


Sell… without selling

The other day I answered the question “What is your best advice for selling a product?” and that really got me thinking. I come from a family of entreprenneurs, so selling what I do is no only my bread and butter now but might have been in my mother’s milk as well. But we are also the kind of people who will run a mile if we feel like you are trying to sell us something and will not buy your product (even if we like it) because we hate being pushed.

So, how do you sell without selling? The answer isn’t a sales trick but a genuine change of attitude. From thinking: “I have a product I want to sell to you!!” to “Tell me about your problem and I might be able to help you solve it.” Because, honestly, nobody wants to buy your product because they want to buy your product – they want to have their problem solved and if your product can do that, great!  That means instead of having a perfect, one-size-fits-all sales pitch and attacking your victims (a.k.a. clients) with it, your three most important skills for developing business relationships are

1. Listening

2. Empathy and

3. Thinking on your feet.

These things are especially important if you are providing a product or service that is complex, customizable and personality-based, where people don’t just buy a physical gadget from you but engage in a service relationship, where a lot of the value they get is linked to what kind of person you are. If it will be your role to advise or teach them something, they have to first like and trust you to even want to engage you.

So start by listening and finding out what your client’s problem is. Often they will have a vague idea and your first service is to help them frame the problem, give it a compelling name and together developing a story line of 1. This is what it is at the moment, 2. This is where it comes from, 3. This is what we would want it to be and 4. This is how we could achieve that. And only number 4 on this list is where your product may come in.

But what do you do if you realize on the way that your product or service actually won’t solve their problem? Then don’t waste everybody’s time by pushing it on them and stay focussed on your mission of solving their problem. Tell them honestly what you would do in their situation, recommend a product, service, book, colleague or course of action that might help.

That is the final test of whether you use this strategy as a sales trick or you really mean it. And the person you are talking with will be mightily impressed when they realize you REALLY just want to solve their problem. Also, it saves you the pain of doing a bad project that might pay you now but harm your reputation in the long run. You can choose between being remembered as: “The guy who talked us into wasting a lot of money with false promises” or “The generous and competent person who helped us solve our problem.”

Case study EPA: (Net-)Mapping Your Way to Action ( by Paul Boos)

You might need more than this to navigate hierarchical sensibilities (picture by Calsidyrose, flickr)

Paul Boos learned Net-Map when I facilitated a session at the Society for Organizational Learning (SOL) and even though I rushed them through the activity and we didn’t have much time to go into details, he immediately picked it up and started using it for strategic planning in his work environment. And what’s even more exciting, he did achieve some goals that he might otherwise have missed AND he wrote it all up in a 4 page case study for us to learn from it.

Paul and his colleagues are involved in the labeling of pesticides at the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently the pesticide producers who apply for registration send PDF documents with the contents to the EPA, somebody has to type these into a document and follow up if the initial PDF doesn’t actually fit the requirements. Pauls group asks: Wouldn’t it be nice if the pesticide producer could type in discrete data elements following a turbo tax-like interview process and spit out a controlled label that meets the rules?

For someone who stands outside of government hierarchies like me it’s easy to say: Yes! Go for it! But we all know that having a good idea and getting approval from the right people in a hierarchical organization are two very different things and figuring out who to ask when and how can make all the difference. Through Net-Mapping Paul and his colleague realized which leaders had to be involved in the process early so that they don’t get miffed and don’t feel disrespected. They came up with 8 concrete networking steps they needed to take and achieved at least a partial success, as you can read here: Net-Map Case Study EPA pesticides.

As you will see in the case study, Paul is strongly involved in the Agile Software Development movement which promotes iterative, open and crowd sourcing approaches to software development and I will have the pleasure to play around with Net-Map with them at their Agile Coach Camp’s Games Day, 23 September, 2011 in Columbus Ohio.

Have you used Net-Map in your work? Send me your case study and let’s build this community of practice together!

Who wants to learn Net-Map and why?

Strategic positioning analysis for an international research institute

Paolo Brunello and I discussed who our potential participants for the Net-Map Summer School in Vicenza would be. Why would they want to learn it, what would they want to do with it? I came up with this list:


What they want to do with Net-Map:
These are people who want to change the world together by using Net-Map. They need to learn strategic network planning for groups that will help you achieve their goals even if they are not the most powerful actor in the field.

Who they are:
Staff of development organizations and their donors, environmental organizations and their donors, members of social movements, unions, lobbyists, staff of government agencies involved in multi-stakeholder processes etc.


What they want to do with Net-Map:
They are interested in combining qualitative and quantitative methods, might or might not know quantitative network analysis, might be involved in research for social change, exploratory research, intercultural research. They need to know how to use Net-Map as a data collection tool, what makes it stand out from other tools and how it connects to the existing literature and other complementary tools.

Who they are:
Social scientists, development researchers, political scientists, social network analysts, staff of universities and think tanks, monitoring and evaluation specialists

Managers (in the broadest sense):

What they want to do with Net-Map:
They want to advance themselves, their brand, organization, career etc. by being more strategic in their networking and in handling complex situation and power plays at their work. They want to learn how to use Net-Map as a tool to deal with the people aspect of success (after they know everything about the numbers aspect), use it as a tool to support strategic thinking and team planning.
Who they are:
Managers, CEOs, project and team leaders, entrepreneurs, students in their last year, people stuck under a glass ceiling in their career development, moms (dads)  returning to the workforce after baby break, people in mid-life career change, marketing people

Trainers and Facilitators

What they want to do with Net-Map:
They want to use the method to add to their existing toolbox and use it to assist all of the above. Mainly with a focus on the learning and process aspect as opposed to the data collection aspect. They are most likely to work with the managers (in the broadest sense) and the advocates.
Who they are:
Trainers, facilitators, knowledge managers, internal/employed and external free lancing trainers and facilitators, career and executive coaches.

Does this list have your name written all over it? Then we should talk.

Sign up for the Net-Map Summer School in Italy!

Net-Map proudly presents… [drumroll]:

The first ever Net-Map Summer School in Vicenza, Italy.

We will offer two beginners classes on the 20-21 of June and the 27-28 of June, where you will learn how to use Net-Map to understand complex and messy issues that involve many different actors with different goals, formal and informal links and different levels of influence. We will use your own case studies to learn the method and prepare your first Net-Map intervention with you. As an extra bonus you are entitled to 1 hour phone/skype conversation with me (Eva Schiffer, the inventor of Net-Map) within 6 months after the class, to help you implement this intervention.

On a more personal note: You will love Vicenza. It’s a beautiful, UNESCO world heritage site, ancient, but bustling with life, a brief one hour train ride from Venice. And, your family will also love it. I am bringing my mom and my 2 year old, and so far we are expecting two more children and two spouses. Our host Paolo Brunello is a native of Vicenza and has promised already to show us around the best places to eat and enjoy in Vicenza, plus he is offering a cultural trip to Venice for the whole family (if you bring them) on the day after the training.

>Have a look at our detailed program and sign up<