Building Networks and Social Capital for Trust and Collective Intelligence

Written by Zhen Goh

Informal self-formed networks have been recognised to carry more intrinsic trust and respect than formal networks. This conforms to the truth that knowledge can only be volunteered, not conscripted. Such informal communities arise through mutual interaction and interdependency over time – whilst they evolve, they cannot be designed. Informal networks are commonly formed not so much through connecting on a basis only of function within an organisation, but through a more adaptive concept of an coalescences of purpose – the identification of a shared task or goal and the recognition of the complimenting relationship.

Informal self-formed networks have been recognised to carry more intrinsic trust and respect than formal networks. This conforms to the truth that knowledge can only be volunteered, not conscripted. Such informal communities arise through mutual interaction and interdependency over time – whilst they evolve, they cannot be designed. That is, we can design starting conditions and attempt to influence the evolution, but we cannot control and direct it (Snowden, 2002a; 2002b; 2005).

Informal networks are commonly formed not so much through connecting on a basis only of function within an organisaion, but through a more adaptive concept of an coalescences of purpose – the identification of a shared task or goal and the recognition of the complimenting relationship. Traditional understandings of connectors within an organisation or a team commonly focus on information brokers or boundary spanners within networks. However, this still focuses on the individual function that people serve – the focus should instead be shifted to the different identities that people are able to adopt within any given network of people (Snowden, 2005).

Humans are able to maintain multiple identities, both in parallel and serial – these range from the deeply personal (parent, spouse etc), to the collective formal (work group, organisation) and informal (sports club, cohort group). The focus on identities allows people flexibility from fixed functions and roles and appreciates that people have the ability to develop identities in specific contexts and for particular situations (Kurtz & Snowden, 2003). Too much focus on set functions and roles leads to a lack of agility. This recognises that dispositions can be adopted, and that identities are fluid and malleable. “’Flexibility’ is demanded everywhere – or, in other words, an ’employer’ should be able to fire ’employees’ more easily. ‘Flexibility’ also means a redistribution of risks from state and economy to individuals.” (Beck, 1999: 12)

In a resilient organisation, individuals should be able to mobilise different aspects of their identities to respond to a certain level of unpredictability, and tap into their informal networks to respond in a more organic and natural manner. Networks provide organisations with the ability to enhance and build on their social capital – the social networks within which the person is placed, and more importantly, takes part. Social capital is generally defined as those relationships which provide people with a sense of trust and community (Schneider, 1997). This social capital and networking has been shown to be important in the organisation and mobilisation of collective intelligence (Young, 1998; Lacey, 1988).

Uncertainty and risk necessitate collective and democratic responses. Paradoxically,this type of argument echoes those of Giddens (1998) and Beck (1999) and carries similar difficulties, in that collective intelligence can be developed through democratic processes and adequate responses to the risk society call for the development of similar processes (Avis, 2002). “Collective intelligence can be defined as empowerment through the development and pooling of intelligence to attain common goals or resolve common problems. It is inspired by a spirit of co- operation.” (Brown and Lauder, 2000, p. 234). Co-operative relations are thought to provide the basis for the maximisation of human potential and therefore for intelligent and efficient action.

Attributions –

Social Network Stimulation –  See Snowden (2005), “From Atomism to Social Networks” for a comprehensive discussion, in the Network Library here

 

References

AVIS, J. (2002) Social Capital, Collective Intelligence and Expansive Learning: Thinking through Connections, Education and Economy, in British Journal of Educational Studies, 50(3): 308-326.

BECK, U. (1999) World Risk Society (Oxford, Polity).

BROWN, P. and LAUDER, H. (2000) Human capital, social capital, and collective intelligence, in BARON, S., FIELD, J. and SCHULLER, T. (eds) (2000) Social Capital: Critical Perspectives (Oxford, Oxford UniversityPress).

GIDDENS, A. (1998) The Third Way: the renewal of social democracy (Oxford, Polity).

KURTS, C. and SNOWDEN, D. (2003) The New Dynamics of Strategy: sense making in a complex-complicated world, in IBM Systems Journal, 42(3): 462-483.

LACEY, C. (1988) The idea of a socialist education. In LAUDER,H. and BROWN, P. (Eds)Education in Search of a Future (London, Falmer).

SCHNEIDER, J.A. (1997) Welfare to Network, Demos Collection1,2,30-34.

SNOWDEN, D. (2002a) Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self Awareness, in Journal of Knowledge Management, 6(2): 100-111.

SNOWDEN, D. (2002b) Just in Time Knowledge Management, in KM Review, 5(5): 14-17, 6: 24-27.

SNOWDEN, D. (2005) From Atomism to Networks in Social Systems, in The Learning Organization, 12(6).

Studies,41 (3), 203-222. YOUNG, M. (1998) Post-compulsory education for a learning society. In S. RANSON (Ed.) Inside the Learning Society (London, Cassell).

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