loosening group boundaries

“When a society is too grouped, people do not have any social contact with people from other groups,” [University of Pennsylvania’s] Centola said. “People with the same job all attended the same school, live in the same neighborhood and frequent the same clubs. Their networks do not expand beyond that group.”

Loosening these tight group boundaries means that people’s next-door neighbors may have different jobs or levels of education, but they may still have similar politics or recreational activities. These similarities allow people in different social groups to encourage the adoption of a new complex idea, take neighborhood recycling as an example, which can then spread to other neighborhoods and social groups.

But when group boundaries are eliminated entirely, people have almost nothing in common with their neighbors and therefore very little influence over one another, making it impossible to spread complex ideas. – PhysOrg

The Triple A Organization (Awareness, Alternatives, Action) by Valdis Krebs takes this into consideration, promoting organizational dynamics that connect unique group boundaries but do not destroy them.

Image - Valdis Krebs

Image – Valdis Krebs

In the network era, the quality of our professional  connections becomes a prime source of our influence and value. However, our network connections do not negate the influence of our close family and team ties, nor do they replace  the influence of our larger work groups in our organizations and institutions. We need to understand how our various strong and loose social ties can help us learn, get work done, and be better citizens.  We need to balance our perspectives, sometimes focused on complex work requiring not just our attention but trust that is developed over time. But this is not enough, we also have to get away from our work, families, and teams and look at the bigger picture, capturing glimpses of new ideas from a diverse social network.

In 1936, the author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In today’s networked world, our test will be to hold multiple opposing views at the same time. We can do this by using our social networks to find these viewpoints. Engaging in communities of practice, where connections are tighter, gives us a place to play with these ideas. Finally, we have to test out emergent ideas amongst those we trust.

Successful AAA organizations will enable the flow of opposing ideas, as well as the space and time to test new ideas. Understanding our communication and knowledge flows, through social and organizational network analysis, such as that provided by Valdis, gives us the visualization necessary to ensure that we have the foundation for working in the network era. Balance in the network era will be achieved in a constant dance of engaging people and ideas. This continuous cognitive movement will ensure that people and organizations can adapt to the new challenges brought through our increasing connectivity.


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