Social Network Structures and Innovation’--

Dave Hawthorne

(via email 7.3.07)

"The network will first develop a scale-free degree distribution," writes Peter Csmermely ("Weak Links, Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks," 2006). "Finally, it will arrive at a star conformation where one or very few mega-hubs dominate the whole system. The star network resembles dictatorships in social networks." he continues. "If we decrease the temperature further, the star phase will condense even more, which is possible, only by disintegrating the orginal network to produce fully connected sub-graphs. This means the disappearance of the giant component (in the network), and if the network was a living system, this topological phase transition would be called 'death'."

In short networks are types of structures that are indispensable to living all living entities, from single cells to global societies. The types of networks I am discussing are structures common to "complex adaptive systems" like humans and our communities. I am not talking about your electrical grid, though it too exhibits many of complexity principles.

It's been noted by many people, Dave Snowden (Cognitive Edge), being the one I've heard the most from on this topic, that complex adaptive systems are always greater than the sum of their parts. That's pretty simple right?
When I first saw an entry in my General Science text in grammar school showing the chemical structure of wood, my first thought was: "If we know this, then why is it that only God can make a tree?" As we keep inching towards artificial wood that is ever more like actual wood, we have to keep in mind, it's still not a 'tree.' A tree is more.

Trees are living things
. They exist in a complex, interdependent web of other living things, as do we. That ecological web on closer examination utilizes a variety of network configurations, and those configurations, seem closely correlated with the specific functions within the eco-system. While all the different structure may do a lot of the same things, clearly, but some of them perform a functions unique to them and a small set of similar structures closely related to them. Some are bark, some are leaves, roots… we’ve all seen the illustration in our school book.

My focus will be on human network types at the social level. I will try to make the case that if we are interested in promoting effective innovation, then there are specific networks types that can help or hinder the process. Further, “Community” is a type of social structure consisting largely of network structures but with additional properties that make it likely to experience the social equivalent of an immunological response to any innovation. Hopefully, we will be able to collaborate on some specific strategies for working our way around this and avoiding the automatic rejection of helpful ideas.

As I learned working with you at NYUonline you have a way of bringing fresh perspective to topics.

"Tree is more" and your reminding us it is a "living thing" gets my attention.

Listening to Andrew Hargadon speaking at the first Network Roundtable in 2004 recounting his research showing the social nature of collaboration (including how the Thomas Edison laboratory REALLY worked with an extended team of inventors and a strong leader, not Edison who was out and about and visible), I'm with you. Hargadon is now Director, UC Davis Center for Entreprenuership. Their web site indicates Hargadon both: "argues that most breakthroughs depend on teams of individuals who bring together existing ideas and rip, mix and apply them in new ways and places." and wants to put a lid on the oft used traditional managerial challenge when innovation is needed embodied in "thinking out of the box.".

Knowing your interest in, and understanding of LEARNING from your program development role at NYUonline, can we please turn attention here to the application of your "social network structures and innovation" to LEARNING through "participation and connected intelligence", the topic of the article this wiki is assembling (hopefully!)?
~ Jenny Ambrozek 7.4.07