Do your networks own you – or do you own them?


Does the bear eat you or do you eat the bear (Polar Bear Family and Me by Gordan Buchanan)

Does the bear eat you or do you eat the bear?

Coming back from the largest meeting of social network analysts, the Sunbelt Conference of the International Network of Social Network Analysis (INSNA) I realize that my approach to this question might be different from the mainstream in the field. Most researchers who are interested in social networks will ask a variation of the following questions:

  • How does the network you are embedded in determine what you get (depending on research interest the “what” can be as diverse as “money”, “weight gain” and “HIV/AIDS”)? Or:
  • How is your network determined by who you are (looking at the network differences between men and women, rich and poor, sick and healthy, new and old staff etc.)

I guess, that’s what most researchers do, looking at how one thing is determined by something else. I am much more interested in the practical and proactive question:

  • Once you understand your network, what can you do about it?

Network researchers make a compelling case (backed up with a lot of evidence) that network structures do indeed influence what you can achieve or what risks will come your way. And it is obvious that different people have networks are structured differently. But wouldn’t it be great to get a better understanding of what individuals and groups can (and cannot) do to improve their network structure and content to be happier, achieve more of what they want, get out of painful, limiting and dysfunctional network relations?

Have you been able to change your networks? Why did you do it and how? What was difficult? What was easy? Did it change what you can give and get? I’d love to hear from you.

And if you want to find out what happens to the man in the glass box as he is visited by a hungry ice bear (picture above), you will find an amazing video here:

4 Responses

  1. Hi Eva,
    I’m doing a lot of work these days on people building their networks, which is a variation of changing their networks. There is such a thing as a sick network – people who bring you down. What I am working on is how teachers can get more done, with more fun, by creating networked schools. What I am finding is that when teachers work from their core values they can more easily connect – on a higher level if you will – with other teachers.
    Said differently, if you and I chat with each other we may, some day, come around to a discussion of what we think is important and what we can do together. If we start by sharing what is important to us – for me it is a world that works for everyone, with no-one left behind – we can start talking immediately about our projects and find out how each other can contribute to each others projects. I talk about that in my recent blog:

  2. Hi Lin,
    Your work sounds great! And I agree that there is a lot people can do to improve the quality of their interaction – especially if they conciously set their mind to it and are brave enough to take the first step.

  3. Connections – Networks gives information about connection between people or social entities and how these connections are formed . Networks allows the information diffusion through the connections .
    The connectivity also influence the decision making .

    • Yes, that is why I am so fascinated with the issue. The thing that I would want to add is that once you understand your networks and their importance, you can see how you can develop them to your own (or your community’s) benefit.

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