Thursday, July 10, 2008

Social Networks are the Root of Innovation Diffusion: Pioneering Thought Leaders Theory Contributions

When I did my doctoral thesis, I specialized in knowledge and innovation diffusion theories very much based on the roots of social capital theory. Although there is tremendous media coverage on social communities and social networks - the reality is these underpinnings go back literally centuries.

Below are a few highlights down memory lane of major social network contributions that help put in context the importance of community interaction stimulation to foster knowledge innovation and support its diffusion needs for global learning.

What is different now is that the wide adoption and access to the internet has accelerated the speed of knowledge diffusion. The concepts of community, culture, rituals, social networks, or often I like to call them knowledge tribes are rooted fundamentally in the DNA of the human species. The human society is developing a broader sense of inter-connectedness and increasing reliance on networks, peers, friends, and families for decision making. The power of institutions continues to decline, as value cluster networks evolve in reach, depth, and meaning.

There have been dozens of notable contributions from a variety of researchers, academics and practitioners across multiple disciplines (e.g., sociology, anthropology, phsyics, and mathematics.) Outlined below is a summary of meaningful contributions.

Social Network - Thought Leader Theory Contributions

1853, Auguste Comte (1798-1857):
Comte applied structural terms to argue that people within a social system are interconnected, a concept core to much of the research that emerged in the 1930’s concerning social networks.

1908, Georg Simmel (1858-1918):
Simmel offered a structural perspective on the association between individuals that include concepts related to “social circles”. These concepts were refined later by Charles Kadushin (1966) and by Douglas White (i.e., social circle network models).

1923, Jacob Levi Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974):
Moreno is considered the father of sociometry, a term he coined in 1934. His study of social structures likely took shape in 1923. From 1932-1938, Moreno’s work crystallized, due largely to the influence of his research associates Helen Hall Jennings and Paul Lazersfeld. In a book published in 1934 (Who Shall Survive), Moreno described or alluded to many concepts that eventually defined social networks and their analysis.

1932: W. Loyd Warner (1898–1970):
Warner’s involvement in two key research studies highlighted the need for structural analysis, graphical representation and analysis of social patterns to understand the influence of informal links, cliques and relationships. In one, the Yankee City project, Warner and his associates analyzed social stratification in a New England industrial town. In another, a project for Western Electric (1931-1932), Warner and his associates analyzed interactions and relationships across individuals in a bank wiring room.

1937 Alfred Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955):
In a series of lectures that were not published until the late fifties, Radcliffe-Brown articulated concepts regarding how social relations linked and arranged people in social systems into certain orders. He is credited with as being an early spokesperson for the structural analysis of social networks.

1950, Alex Bavelas:
Bavelas and his colleagues in the MIT Small Group Network laboratory at MIT, conducted research and a series of experiments that shaped concepts related to communication patterns (e.g., chain, wheel, star, all-channel and circle). He is also credited with originating concepts related to the role of centrality within a social network.

1958: Ithiel de Sola Pool and Manfred Kochen:
Pool and Kochen undertook what is now considered pioneering research related to contact networks and the role of influence. Much of this research supported what later became referred to as the “small world” problem. These insights were documented in a manuscript Pool and Kochen authored and circulated for some time before formal publication in 1978.

1965 Harrison Colyar White:
White is a highly regarded thought-leader in the field and perhaps represents the beginning of the more modern age of social network analysis. While at Harvard, White taught what has been considered a memorable course on social relations. Although the course was taught at the undergraduate level, concepts related to social networks had immense influence on students, many of which went on to be leaders in the field themselves.

1967: Stanley Milgram:
Conducted the small world experiment which supported many of the concepts related to “six degrees of separation”, a term that became popularized in a game

1972: Alchian, and Demsetz:
Known for their perspectives on Team production - and that the collective output is greater than the sum of individual outputs, and simultaneously, it is difficult to discover each individual's specific contribution to the group effort.

1973: Mark Granovetter:
Granovetter published a seminal document that examine the influence of weak social linkages between people (“weak ties”). Weak Ties is an evolving concept with reference to job seekers who are more likely to find work from contacts they did not know well. This concept is now applied to social capital as the community, organizations, and individuals begin to work together their connections strengthen, and their social capital increases.

1977: Barry Wellman:
Wellman founded the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSA) which helped bring a fragmented collection of different disciplines (e.g., sociology, anthropology, psychology, econommics, geography, computer science, education, mathematics and communications) into a more coherent field of study. Wellman also was well-known and respected for his own research which examined interpersonal networks and communities as social networks. His research contributions however have continued and he is widely regarded as a thought-leader today.

1988: Coleman - ("structure of relationships"):
Social capital is defined by relationships and the accompanying access to information, resources, opportunities, and control.

1992: Bourdieu ("stocks of knowledge"):
Bourdieu defined social capital as the sum of resources, actual or virtual, that accrues to an individual or a group by virtue of belonging to a network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition. An individual acquires "Stocks of knowledge" as he or she grows up via parents, friends and the resources, assets and advantages that they acquire as they participate in community.

1992: Robert Burt ("structural holes"):
Structural holes are essentially potentially resources or networks; organizations must be willing to actively seek out potential resources, even if they have no previous contact. By filling structural holes, they tap into a wider source of resources.

1992: Langley Keyes ("networking"):
A major attribute of social capital is networking. Networking takes on diverse attributes including: governmental, philanthropic, educations, and often instituions that channel fianncial, technical, political and other rtpes of support.

1993: Cortes ("collaborative time"):
Social capital is a measure of how much collaboration, time, and energy people have for each other, how much time their parents have for their children, how much attention neighbors give to each other's families, what kind of relationships people in congregations have for each other, how much time people in business have for one another, etc.

1993: Harrison White ("social structure and identity"):
White addresses problems of social structure that cut across the range of the social sciences. Most notably, he has contributed (1) theories of role structures encompassing classificatory kinship systems of native Australian peoples and institutions of the contemporary West; (2) models based on equivalences of actors across networks of multiple types of social relation; (3) theorization of social mobility in systems of organizations; (4) a structural theory of social action that emphasizes control, agency, narrative, and identity; (5) a theory of artistic production; (6) a theory of economic production markets leading to the elaboration of a network ecology for market identities and new ways of accounting for profits, prices, and market shares; and (7) a theory of language use that emphasizes switching between social, cultural, and idiomatic domains within networks of discourse. His most explicit theoretical statement is Identity and Control: A Structural Theory of Social Action (1992).

1995: Putman ("social trust"):
Social capital is a measure of social trust in the networks of a community. Strong social networks tend to foster sturdy norms of reciprocity and encourage the emergence of trust.

1995:Putman ("clusters"):
Companies exist in clusters, enjoying the benefits of competitive cooperation by flexibly sharing and subcontracting with each other a pool of specialists, knowledge of the state of the market and the technologies.

1997: Xavier De Souza Briggs ("leverage and social capital"):
Social capital (stored in human relationships, whether causal or close has two purposes - to help communities "get ahead" for social leverage, and to help communities "get by" from a (Social Support). In either case, social capital is only valuable when it connects someone with something new."

2003: Gordon, Cindy ("collaboration commerce"):
Collaboration commerce is a combination of disruptive, and collaboration business models, the integration of new mind-sets, shared values, community, and trust are core to collaboration enablement. Collaboration technologies can help to enable knowledge diffusion but without the social capital and social network foundations, collaboration commerce is weak.

2005: Verna Alle ("value Networks"):
Allee defines value networks as any web of relationships that generates both tangible and intangible value through complex dynamic exchanges between two or more individuals, groups or organizations. Any organization or group of organizations engaged in both tangible and intangible exchanges can be viewed as a value network, whether private industry, government or public sector.

Resulting Groundwork

Until the late 1970’s, the analysis of social networks should be viewed as a very fragmented field of study. Groundbreaking research was often lost or not leveraged by other groups working in parallel at the same time. Fortunately, some efforts were rediscovered decades later by other researchers but in some cases, theories and practices were re-invented (duplicating - but validating - earlier work). Heading from the seventies into the eighties, a transition into what might be called “modern-day” social network analysis, the field has continued to progress and mature as a respected field of study.

Below are several important points articulated between the 1850’s and 1970’s:

* Society can be examined through structural connections between actors (e.g., people or other entities such as organizations and nation states);
* Studying patterns of interaction within social structures can reveal a networks of relationships that join those actors;
* Actors are linked by a web of primary and secondary connections (e.g. strong and weak ties);
* Relationship structures can be visually rendered (e.g., what was once referred to as a sociogram is now labeled a social graph);
* Social structures influence diffusion of information- Certain actors can dominate communication networks (leading to concepts later referred to as “centrality”)
* Social networks can include sub-groups (e.g., cliques, clusters, blocks);
* Social structures are dynamic and continually go through stages of coupling and de-coupling as participants focus on particular activities; and
*Although a network is comprised of relations between two actors, its overall essence can continue indefinitely (e.g., small world concept).

It should be noted that many social network stories we read about today give the impression that they reflect recent developments arising from consumer sites or from technology vendors. In some instances, certain topics are even hailed as original thought (e.g., the social graph).

I think it is important, and respectful, that we understand (and learn from) historical precedents in the field of social network analysis. Much of the ideas and concepts presented today can trace their lineage back to the remarkable work and accomplishments of earlier researchers.

We also strongly recommend to our clients when they are developing their innovation strategies, that they ensure a social capital foundation and social network know-how is integrated into their innovation capabilities. Too many CEOs and senior leaders espouse the value of innovation - yet they have not created cultures where community values are deeply rooted, hence risk taking and knowledge diffusion behaviors can starve the creativity nutrients required to think outside the box and have the confidence and freedom to experiment and continually learn from diverse cultural tribes that make up an organization.

Source Content Recognition:

Mike Gotta wrote a very thoughtful analysis Of Social Networks: Telling Old Stories In New Ways in his recent blog entry which has been used to support this blog entry.

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