The Crazy World of Networks

September 16, 2014

Julia Hobsbawm is Honorary Professor of Networking at CASS business school in London. I’ve just finished reading an interview with her in one of this week’s broadsheets. What strikes me in the first 100 words of the article is the journalist’s (Zoe Williams) instinctively adverse reaction to the notion of a network. For her, the word seems to be a synonym for ‘elitism’ or ‘clubs’ or just plain discrimination. But Zoe isn’t alone. Use the word ‘networking’ with most people, and the it conjures up not only the same sort of ideas but uncomfortable memories about conferences and parties where, if you’re like me, you always feel like the outsider uncomfortably looking for the way in to the social clique.

Yet there is another job title that CASS could have bequeathed to Professor Hobsbawm: Professor of Relationships. In our technically enabled social world, the word ‘network ‘ seems to have become detached from the quality and diversity of the relationships we have with the living, breathing, loathing and loving human beings who form those networks. Zoe and Professor Hobsbawm finally arrive at the human nub of networks in the last paragraph: ‘ the moment when someone looks you in the eye and engages you’, as Professor H. describes.  I don’t want to ignore the importance of objectively analysing human networks, but practical experience has taught me that all the network analysis in the world, to quote an old movie, ‘doesn’t amount to a hill of beans’ until we build the relationships that we want and that we need in this crazy world.

That’s why we chose this interview as the first blog for our new website.

Collaboration is at the centre of everything we do at Extended Mind, and at the heart of great collaboration is the network of relationships we hold to make it happen. I think the truth is that most of us need a little help with the impossible, invisible stuff of relationships. Whether we’re creating and communicating a new strategy or developing the Next Big Thing for our organisation, other people will always, always help or hinder what we’re trying to achieve. Our approach to developing collaborative leaders and organisations focuses on weaving emotional and social intelligence into the fabric of every relationship we have. We’ve found that enabling people to visualise the sum total of those relationships – the network – support that development process.

It’s true that various branches of science and academic study, from economics to network science to neuroscience, inform our work but I think the last few words of this article really sum up what we’re about at Extended Mind. Arguing that we shouldn’t become too distracted by the technology and the data analysis, Professor Hobsbawm reminds us that:

‘it’s the connection, not the algorithm that counts.’