When galaxies collide, tens of billions of stars pass close enough to each other that the immense gravitational fields encompassing entire solar systems push and pull on each other, tempting planets to change orbit; few stars or planets actually collide. Gravity is a structural design element that expresses and defines systemic shape. It makes room for reliable order.
When networks of human beings come together, the push and pull of competing gravitational fields can interfere with the reliable order of previously distinct and separate networks. Each network has its culture, its focus, its limitations, and all have issues (both physical and metaphorical) of “bandwidth”. There isn’t enough time in the day… our people don’t work on that… capacity is maxed out… We have many ways of saying a community or network would rather be left alone. There are good reasons such excuses are made with such frequency—even when they are not needed.
No healthy organization is likely to want to work with you, if you ask it to change or abandon its mission in service of yours.
So, the networking of networks is not easy. It is useful, then, to examine three kinds of networks:
- social networks,
- mission networks, and
- market networks.
In essence, all networks are social networks, but we can distinguish between those built to connect people who share a primarily social web of connections and those that have a different core focus. Social networks, of course, include both the web of interpersonal relationships and the software and infrastructure that allow us to manifest those connections through information technology.
Mission networks have a shared project. The Climate Action Network, for instance, brings together hundreds of non-governmental organizations working to enhance and expand policy and innovation by government, business, and communities, with a focus on countering climate disruption. Government agencies are also mission networks; many, if not most enterprises, are mission networks, of a kind.
Market networks may be strictly commercial or may be shaped by public policy, relative mission harmony, or by a mix of all three. They could also be described as networks of opportunity, in which participants connect, because there is some perceived practical benefit other than social connection or the pursuit of an intangible value. One example would be the automotive industry. Each major company may have a shared internal culture and mission, but between them, they form a market which may be more or less friendly to the mission of each participant. They are not necessarily allies; they do not necessarily share a culture, care about each other, or work like a team; they may even be barred from doing so by law.
And yet, some market networks, such as an artisans’ trade association, labor unions, or legislatures, are also relatively coherent mission networks, through which competitors become team-members. This kind of market network adds value by curating, protecting, and expanding the combined accumulated achievement of its members. This can bring a mission focus, but the degree to which participants share a culture of collaboration will determine whether the network reinforces an agreed sense of value, or whether it simply provides ways for participants to compete to capture specific types of opportunity.
The power of a network is the people. In our time, we face many stark choices, but the most significant is whether we will come together in service of each other, and of a future in which being human is a beautiful, inherently valuable thing. Networking networks in a way that enhances the capacity of each to sustain its own acculturation of value means participants must be able to see how the resulting merger of heat and light brings order, adds to mission effectiveness, and builds the capacity of each to add value for the rest.
To build a future that is rooted in catalytic collaboration, we need the ethics of a gravitational push and pull that honors each and expands our overall potential. Insight is not a finite resource; sharing in solutions expands it.
[ The Note for February 2016 ]