out on the edge

Last month in Berlin I gave a keynote at the Landing Festival entitled, It’s your Network, Stupid. I explained that to find new ideas and information, loose social networks are best. Weak social ties enable us to find a wide variety of information and ideas, often relatively quickly using networked technologies. In this way a diverse social network can yield a lot of information.

The loose social ties in these networks usually only provide explicit information. To gain deeper insight and implicitly understand more complex knowledge, closer social ties are required. This was shown to be the case for project managers in finding and sharing knowledge.

“In his [Morten Hansen’s] study, strong interpersonal relationships that allowed discussion, questions, and feedback were an essential aspect of the transfer of complex knowledge.”Hinds & Pfeffer

Hansen stated that, “Strong interunit ties provide the highest relative net effect (or least negative effect on completion time) when the knowledge is highly complex, whereas weak interunit ties have the strongest positive effect on completion time when the knowledge is not complex.” With automation and software replacing routine work, human work is becoming more complex. For this type of work we need to nurture strong social ties so that we can access and transfer knowledge quicker. Developing these social ties takes time. Communities of practice are a type of space where these ties can be nurtured.

Therefore, to work in any complex field, we need be connected to loose social networks, which provide us with a view of the frontiers of our knowledge. We then need to actively engage in communities of practice to develop more complex understanding and knowledge amongst our peers. Only then can we truly contribute as members of teams working on complex problems. Connecting these three spaces requires a new network literacy, or personal knowledge mastery.

“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head. “He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

Don’t stay stuck in the centre of your bubble, go out out to the edges.

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