Monday, August 11th, 2008
links with links

Linking is all the rage.  Certainly, we see that some websites are veritable “linkfests,” providing the reader easy connections to a feast of online material.  The best of these feature an astute selection by the purveyor of the site, as well as some context why the link might be of interest or importance.  On the other end of the spectrum are computer-generated aggregations, which may offer some opportunity for serendipitous discovery, but are often a waste of time.

In another dimension we have the linking, also computer-based, that forms the core of the social networking phenomenon.  You won’t find me on MySpace or Facebook, but I did join LinkedIn recently.  Before I had ten connections, the system informed me that there were three ways to get to an interesting guy named David, of whom I had previously been unaware:

Even within the business-oriented LinkedIn, at least one of those connections seemed far-fetched enough to be called random.  In fact, network theorists tell us that such oddball links make networks more effective and more efficient.Kind of like throwing a little precious metals into a portfolio otherwise made up of financial assets. Which makes me wonder whether LinkedIn, with its structure oriented to vocational and educational stops along the road, really captures all of the aspects of “me” that represent my world.For example, volunteer activities and club memberships, which are so important to the networks of some people, are not captured in the same powerful way as jobs held and schools attended.  I can mention such interests and involvements in my profile, but they aren’t separate elements for linking.

Do the quantitative analyst, the golf architect, the farmer, the corporate lawyer, the nature photographer, and the neighbor buying Elton John items on ebay have anything to talk about with each other, anything in common other than knowing me?  It’s easy to dismiss the offbeat nodes of a network, yet they often represent its untapped power.

Organizationally, analyzing such network dynamics is becoming increasingly important.  Leaders must strive to understand the external and internalHarvard Business School | Entitled “Communication (and Coordination?) in a Modern, Complex Organization,” this working paper is an example of the type of analysis we will increasingly see. networks of people that drive its performance — their reach, their diversity, the ease with which ideas flow within and across those networks, and how they morph over time.

This is especially true for investment firms, where it’s easy for the focus to get too narrow and for too much information to be coming through too few pipes.  There are many ways to attack the problem, some people-based (à la the function of the expert web linker referenced above) and some using sophisticated computerized applications.  Whatever the combination of tools employed, the best firms will leverage their knowledge of the networks to make better investment and organizational decisions.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to contact David.