bring your own network

The day when a single person can work alone, without any help from others, is fast disappearing. Some individuals may still be able to freelance and work alone from time to time but most of us will have to work with others in order to get anything done in a networked society. About five years ago I worked for a large company with my Internet Time Alliance (ITA) colleagues, and this comment was written by our client at the end of the project.

“What the ITA group brought to the table in our engagement, in the person of Harold Jarche, was not only his extensive experience and network, but also the expertise of the rest of the Alliance and their networks as well. While we in our organization have networks of our own, the quality and extensiveness of the ITA network added a value that we would not have been able to tap alone, and led us to a superior solution that will better serve our customers.”Corporate University Manager within Fortune 500 Health Insurance company

Several times during this project, which lasted over a year, the client needed additional skills, such as video editing. The combined ITA network was quickly brought to bear, and we were able to make a highly qualified recommendation to get the work done by the right person. With our reputations on the line, we made sure the client got the quality work they needed. We were the sum of our own experiences, as well as our networks.

In today’s digital economy, you are only as good as your network. This makes the mainstream practice of requests for proposals (RFP) and job applications look rather quaint. The RFP process assumes that clients know what they need. This makes sense if they are buying office furniture. It does not make sense for professional services that have to deal with any level of complexity. The same goes for job applications. The company assumes there is a job to be filled by a person with a certain set of attitudes, skills, and experiences. But if we are going into the unknown future, what we really need are consultants and employees who have resilient knowledge networks that can help them deal with uncertainty and non-routine work.

So what would help us know who has the network to deal with complex and changing work? The Seek > Sense > Share framework of PKM could provide some insights. Map the network of people who could help in the event of a problem or decision. For example, you could ask, “Who would you contact if you had to make a decision to move into a new market?”. A series of these types of questions would show how diverse applicants’ knowledge networks are.

In terms of sense-making, applicants could explain their routine of reflecting on their experiences. No routine would show a lack of sense-making discipline. In addition, seeing how applicants engage with communities of practice in order to stay current in their field would show an active learning mindset. To see how well applicants share, one could look at endorsements from their networks. These could be testimonials or indicative in terms of comments on blog posts, retweets, etc. Lack of sharing openly could indicate a knowledge network that lacks diversity or depth.

When work is learning, and learning is the work, organizations need to look at how good people are at actively engaging in learning networks. The network they bring may be much more important than the individual skills they have. Today, job interviews should include a note to ‘BYON’.


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