Wednesday, April 29, 2009

LinkedIn; looser ties and adhoc communities of purpose

Reid HoffmanImage via Wikipedia
Ok. Stick with me on this. Today's is a long post including gems from Reid Hoffman (CEO LinkedIn) and JP Rangaswami (Confused of Calcutta) and shock revelations (at least to me) from a British Goverment minister (Tom Watson).

I was lucky enough to be invited to The Guardian/The Conversation Group's evening with Reid Hoffman, last night in London.

Reid is both CEO of LinkedIn and a serial innovator. He sits on more boards and advisory boards than he's had hot dinners.

Before Reid took the floor I had a chance to meet and chat with him, and also to catch up with JP Rangaswami and Tom Watson MP.

Tom's an interesting chap: the first politician I've met who really gets the depth of the coming disruption and its potential to reorganise politics.

Watch his next moves!

JP is busily expanding his personal Dunbar number. He thinks he's up to 380. He won't claim these are all intensely maintained relationships but they can be activated to become so. All digital relationships have resulted in face to face meetings to build to that number.

We mused that this may be a male-favouring model. Our shared experience being that women tend to allocate more time to maintaining relationships between these bursts of intensity - and are therefore likely to maintain less, but stronger ties.

Men (perhaps because our relationships, our knowledge of each other, are shallower) can 'pick up where we left off' after long gaps in contact, as if the intervening time has simply melted away.

We are good at loose ties.

What our digital social tools are enabling is a way for all of us to extend those loose ties.

And because it's a light-tie model, perhaps it favours the male psyche?

This seems to run contrary to the idea that 'the web is female' in that networks are feminine while linear models masculine.

It does and it doesn't (to answer in a less binary, more networked way :-)

The digital tools we now have enable both the deep and loose tie models. Their real power is in the way our deep-tie focus can rapidly shift and reform in communities of purpose.

These are the periods of intense relationships with an adhoc group from among your ever-growing Dunbar Number.

The web gives us more opportunity to build the right loose ties so that when the time and the purpose are right those ties can switch from loose to deep.

Or as Reid put it later: "Sorting signal from noise means participating in the right groups: Wisdom of the right crowd vs the stupidity of the masses."

Which takes us neatly on to Reid's talk. I tweeted a few highlights and invited questions for Reid from followers.

Here's the result of that, some Reid Hoffman highlights:
  • Companies can tell employees not to have info online about as much as they can stop them having mobile phones. Having a profile means you may be recruited and that makes companies nervous. But it's a benefit - it reveals the companies presence - it's access points and specialities.
  • All companies need a social media policy since EVERYONE will end up using it in some way. Linkedin insists if its employees are going to blog about Linkedin they run it past the PR department first.*
  • What the Internet means for management, companies and careers: It helps pros become more efficient.
  • How I get new ideas is that I talk to people. Add the power of online and (you get to talk to more people, more efficiently).
  • Every individual is becoming a small business. Part of what makes a professional good at what they do is knowing where to go to assemble a problem solving team around them - deploying networks of people around you.
  • I think we'll see the assembly of collective intelligence to make good strategic decisions in companies.
  • Businesses fail when they only depend on resources within their firewall. Look at what Microsoft is doing trying to be relevant online! Too many long-serving Microsoft-ingrained people in charge and believing they know best.
  • Speed of iteration is key. Linkedin releases every week. Doing this teaches new techniques about how to execute in that cycle.
  • We live in a networked world. Don't compete late.
*This seemed contradictary to me since Reid also spoke about the value in trusting your employees.

My take - you don't need separate and new policies you need reminders of the same ones we've always had which govern how we talk about our employers - ie you don't share the things that give your company a competitive advantage and you don't publish bitches about the boss, the brand, the products etc.

Grown-ups know how to do this. People you trust should be allowed to get on with that. I called Reid out on this. His response was that there are cases where such policies protect the naive employee (one case saw a woman tweet to ask followers if she should take a job she hated at Cisco in return for a fat paycheck. She hadn't realised that Cisco would be listening for mentions of its brands and that her tweet could go beyond her followers.).

I also accept there are some professions for whom guidelines are essential because having a political bias or being seen to tout for business could get them slung out of their profession. But again, this would be the same if they wrote a letter to their local paper. You don't need a different set of behavioural guidelines simply because more of us have access to publishing.

We got a few questions tweeted during Reid's talk:

@Aage_Reerslev asked about Reid's take on the development of mobile going forward, which we didn't really nail. Sorry. TBC

@soverpeck asked how Linkedin would remain relevant as more people start to use Facebook for business. Reid's response is that it will revel in its specialisation - you will always know why you are using linkedin; and it won't be to play poker!

@chadcat asked about Linkedin making its API more open. Given Reid's rapid iteration mantra, the process of getting accepted (for developers) seems slow and restrictive.

I suspect Reid's thinking on this is focused on that specialisation idea. Linkedin's focus on the individual (ascendent over the needs of the company) and on business efficiency over 'anything else you may want to do online', is the real evolutionary funnel here.

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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?