Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Filling the structural holes vs Proving the pudding

A lot of what I do could be described as filling structural holes. In fact, 'acts to fill structural holes' is in my current job description (note, where it reads emap, it should now read Bauer Consumer Media).
I've long thought it's important in any organisation. Social tools, no matter how good, can't forge the connections - people's use of them does that. And people who are the connections between tighter networks of separate interest groups fill those structural holes.
Nice to see Clay Shirky pointing at hard evidence to support this view.
To quote Clay:
"Information, beliefs and behaviors are more homogenous within than between groups. People focus on activities inside their own group, which creates holes in the information flow... structural holes.
"People with contacts in separate groups broker the flow of information across structural holes. Brokerage is social capital in that brokers have a competitive advantage in creating value with projects that integrate otherwise separate ways of thinking or behaving. Brokers create much of the value we associate with innovation."

As Ron Burt of the University of Chicago puts it: "People who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas."

The question is can I make even more effective connections by doing the innovation myself rather than by brokering it?

Is it better to seek an AND solution rather than an either/or.

The proof of the pudding?
Access to loads of great ingredients opens ways to recombine them into wonderful puddings. Offering recipes gives a series of suggestions on what puddings should be made. Ultimately more puddings of different tastey varieties get made.
Alternately use that access to make one or two puddings with the ambition that others think they taste so good they are inspired to go looking for recipes to recombine themselves.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?