When FiveThirtyEight published the details of 3 million trolls and bots that were linked to the Russian-based company Internet Research Agency, they were merely providing data. Two researchers initially compiled the data. But by making the data public, FiveThirtyEight was able to engage a diverse group of widely varying expertise in order to make sense of it. It is only with knowledge that we can examine data and turn it into information. FiveThirtyEight realized that a small group of experts was not enough. These data required a subject matter network to make sense of them. The initial results are interesting but so far there are no actionable insights for the average person or organization. As a society we have some more information but are still none the wiser in knowing what to do next. But it’s a start.
“Many other readers shared their works in progress, and given the sheer size of the data set, there is likely much more to come — as well there should be. Releasing the data was meant to preserve an important historical record, but analyzing it is the only way to understand what happened and bolster national security.” —538-Russian Trolls
It was interesting to note that the link that was shared via Twitter contained tracking information [note the “/?ex_cid=story-facebook” at the end of the referenced URL] Everyone is tracking you online, even the ‘good guys’.
Anyone in a position of organizational leadership in this connected world should be focused on making their networks smarter. The smarter their networks, the better decisions they will be able to make. But it’s a two-way street. One has to give in order to get.
More of our challenges are going to be big and complex. Understanding networked markets requires more than expert analysis. The case of FiveThirtyEight shows how a connected organization can use the trust it has established in the network to help solve a problem. The social capital of its creator, Nate Silver, combined with the reputation of initially the Wall Street Journal and later ABC News, shows it to be a fairly reputable source of news, information, and opinion. FiveThirtyEight has given to its network and as a result has a certain reputation. Therefore, many people were willing to chip and analyze these data.
Any organization today would be well advised to consider a similar approach. How can you make sense of complex problems and big data without outside help? Relying on internal subject matter experts is no longer enough. Organizations need to cultivate external subject matter networks. This takes time and some direction. Building this type of network is much more than crowd-sourcing, which is really crowd-milking. Anyone with any expertise quickly sees through companies that just want to ‘pick their brains’, as my friend Alex Barrera recently noted in the ungrateful others.
In order to develop a subject matter network, you have to first be seen as a valuable node in others’ networks. This takes time and effort and is a core part of the discipline of personal knowledge mastery.
For organizations, building networks means connecting new ideas and information in order to test out better practices. Through the work being done, knowledge is gained. The results of the work have a direct result of the reputation of individuals and organizations. By sharing those results at the appropriate time, social capital is created. This social capital can then be called upon to help with complex problems. The strength of an organization’s subject matter network is a direct result of its social capital in the network.