Leadership Write-up: Managing Diverse Networks, Part I

Introduction: Impetus for the Post

This past Tuesday, as the uproar over SOPA and PIPA reached a crescendo with Wikipedia and many other sites shutting down in protest I was able to participate at The Greenhouse Innovation Hub’s discussion on the two anti-piracy bills. As an attorney who deals with IP issue, focuses on social media marketing, and has worked with legislators as a committee clerk, I felt like it was the perfect storm for me to bring my perspective to the table.

A year ago, I would not have been able to tell you what the heck was going on or why I was participating in so many different activities and interests, other than that I wanted to be a part of something and work on things that fascinated me.  Now, after the 2011 Leadership Institute is pau, can I say that I think was attempting to “manage my network.”

Dr. Tanya Menon of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management came and gave a special presentation to Leadership fellows this past November. Her topic was discussing the research behind “managing diverse networks” and why it leads to successful leaders and relationships. Her research focuses on “how national culture affects people’s everyday assumptions and their patterns of decision making.” To say the least it was very fascinating, and I gained so much in an hour that I have wanted to do this post for a long while, but have not had the time to sit down and type it. So with the New Year passed, my resolution was to get this topic out in January at the very least. In addition, as this might take 2-3 posts to wrap-up I want to plant the seed in your mind that I am planning something for my Leadership Institute project (which all fellows have to choose and then execute after the class is over).  Let’s just my project does not just involve attorneys, but hopefully other leaders in Hawaii. So let’s get to what Dr. Menon shared!

What is “Luck” and What is a Good Network?

If you remember my earlier post on Corporate Hawaii, you will recall that Colbert Matsumoto basically said create the opportunities for lightning to strike. Well, Professor Menon basically agreed. She herself said she did not believe in luck, and that it is chance and probabilities. Why?

She argued that successful people build networks that allow them to know what is important, when, and to whom. This people infrastructure forms the basis of situations that look like luck to outsiders. To understand this we need to explore what is a good network. In turn, we need to play that Kevin Bacon game based on John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation.

So here’s the question, if you were playing the game, who would you pick to get to have the least amount of degrees to Kevin Bacon, John Wayne or Burgess Meredith?

Generally, most people’s reaction is to automatically pick John Wayne due to name recognition. The reality is Burgess Meredith is the correct answer, why? It has to do with this notion of creating weak, indirect, but diverse networks versus forming a clique, which is strong, direct, and redundant. Burgess did many films, tvs, and even commercials whereas John Wayne was only known for a certain genre of movies. Therefore, while John is well-known is reach beyond his world is limited, whereas diversity gives Burgess more reach.

Keeping a tight-knit group means strong bonds and direct, which are helpful, but it also means redundancy of information, which can lead to group-think.

The Why: Redundant vs. Diverse

I know what you are thinking, but John Wayne is more well-known, so how is Burgess successful? That is only one-part of the equation, remember I said it would demonstrate what is a good network. A clique, forms a kind of feedback loop, where a person in the clique is only seeing the same people and gaining very little new knowledge due to limited input. Whereas a network with structural holes, that is it is weak, indirect, and diverse presents what? Opportunities. It is basically the knowledge-gap at work or the “strength of weak ties” (or diversity).

By creating a system with structural holes, this network may be weak and indirect, but has diversity of inputs, meaning that the person at the center of it can broker information.

The key is to brokering the holes in the web, among disparate groups, which gives people who can manage diverse networks the ability to profit because a) you can control/broker the flow of knowledge and b) have access to diverse, unique information.

In addition, I think this Wired article largely echoes what Dr. Menon was saying:

Opposites Don’t Attract (And That’s Bad News) | Wired Science | 

I am going to stop here for now, as this is a lot to take in, but I will use this interesting question for you to ponder that Dr. Menon asked us during the seminar:

Why is it that many CEOs and other top-level executives happen to also smoke? 

If you are fascinated with leadership and management studies I would urge you to “Subscribe” today because the follow-up posts to this will be interesting.


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