The research into network science has led to some new ways of thinking about social behavior. This research into networks offers multiple insights into movement building—the connecting, transforming, multiplying, generating, and cultural changing aspects of all movements. I’ve posted some applications from this research at different places.  In a new book, “Connect!: A Guide to a New Way of Working from GigaOM’s Web Worker Daily” (Anne Truitt Zelenka), the author compiled the following summary of how social networks work. I found its insights helpful.

1. Homophily: People like to hang out with others who are similar to themselves. This homophily is a source of connection because it allows you to find people with whom to work and socialize. But it can be also a source of stagnation if it means you don’t expose your thinking and your work to different opinions and perspectives and information.

2. Clustering: Homophily leads to clusters of people who know each other. Within a cluster, information and ideas are shared and in many case opinions become aligned to a certain way of thinking. Also, if you know one person in a cluster, you are very likely to know or to be able to be introduced to someone else in that cluster. Again, like homophily, the principle of clustering is good in providing shared frameworks of thoughts, ideas, and methods but bad when it keeps you from seeing other ways of thinking that might bring more success and progress.

3. Multi-dimensional Identities: Fortunately, this principle of multi-dimensional identities implies that people can be part of many clusters at once. Networks flourish as members willingly connect to other clusters by tapping into the other dimensions of their identity (hobbies, professions, religious practice, political beliefs, professional work, etc.).

4. Small worlds: Big worlds are made small by multi-dimensional people joining with clusters along their many dimensions. As people join into different clusters based on their multi-dimensional identity, they increase connections within the network and make the world smaller and more collaborative. Diffusion of innovation and the practice of collaboration happens as we create short paths between different people in a small-world network.

5. Innovation Thru Cross-Pollination: When ideas or patterns are translated across clusters, cross-pollination occurs. This leads to creativity and innovation. Networks work best when clusters interact regularly and align thinking and ideas with each other while at the same time allowing new ideas and patterns to be transferred from one cluster to another.

6. Stagnation: Networks can become stagnated when they are too highly connected–particularly at the cluster level. Even “hubs” with high numbers of connections can stagnate because with so many connections, each connection means very little to the hub. Thus, new ideas are never given a chance. Hubs must consciously seek connections to clusters from other communities that aren’t over-connected and closed.

7. Dilution: On the other hand, networks can suffer a dearth of connectivity, leaving too few relationships for ideas and information and support to move. Networks must seek clusters with enough connectivity to introduce fresh ideas.

8. Weak ties: Networks take advantage of weak ties between people–the casual acquaintanceships and friend of friend relationships. Strong ties imply membership in the same clusters; weak ties lead to more connections across clusters. Networks must activate these weak ties to find new opportunities, stretch thinking, and exchange support.

What are some lessons for us within Campus Crusade (or within this or that mission agency, church-planting effort, denomination, church)?

  • We should beware of stagnation inherent in homophily and clustering–living within our own universe only.
  • We should connect with other clusters based on our broad multi-dimensional kingdom identity (i.e. Campus Crusade and Compassion Int’l or World Vision).
  • We should encourage non-traditional partnerships and connections (i.e. Evangelical with Roman Catholic; leadership focused organizations with organizations reaching the poor).
  • We should look for innovative ideas in domains other than where we are trying to innovate. We need cross-pollination.
  • We should look for friends of friends and casual acquaintances to help us solve our problems. We must get out of our own universe.
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One Response to The Lessons of Social Networks

  1. Bill Petro says:

    Jay,

    GigaOM is a great resource. Also check out “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Originally a Forrester report, now a full book, talks about the phenomena of social networking.

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