The boundaries of companies dissolve in favor of cross-border networks. Actors and relationships, interests and data, expectations and information, business models and knowledge find their way on the Internet. Joining an online community can make the difference for individuals and groups. Whether private or business – it is helpful to know the new realities, the properties of a network.
The effects of the net can be better exploited, if you know its characteristics.
The number of actors/nodes amount to the size of the network. The more participants, the greater the benefit of the network. Additional offers, which exceed the actual purpose, expand the scope of application. A historical example illustrates the importance of size: the more people with a telephone, the more people can be reached, the more people have a telephone and the more services (e.g. information, routing, wake-up calls, telephone counseling) can be marketed. Based on the Dunbar number, the natural limit of social relationships is 150 persons, between 100 and 250. Based on the average number of Facebook friends per user of over 300 (between 250 and 500) you can presume that in the social networks of the Internet the Dunbar number doubles.
The actors become interconnected with one another to a more or less close meshed network. The number of actual relationships between the actors/nodes together with the possible number of connections determine the density of meshing. If the resulting connectivity is very dense, the network has a great impact on each individual. Loose attachment appears in the lack of social relationships and subsequently with frustration as well as isolation. The density can be represented by the number of relationships in respect to the possible relationships – e.g. a network of 8 people has (8-1) * (8/2) = 28 possible relationships; in this example all people are centrally only linked to one person, but not to each other, resulting in 7 relationships; this corresponds to a density of 0.25.
The relationships that get out of the network determine the degree of openness. Prerequisite is the definition of the network boundaries. In companies, they are today much more permeable due to partnerships, joint ventures and outsourcing. The project relationships lead to frequent changes of the network members. The openness results from the number of external relationships in respect to the possible relationships. They are double-edged. On the one hand, a network gains new ideas and members through openness. On the other hand, experiences and insights unintentionally flow out of the network, and people get the opportunity to exert undesirable influence through openness.
Networks have a certain life of their own because of the large number of actors. Perseverance describes the degree of stability. It results from the increase of members and relationships, the changing degree of formal structure, and the general direction, i.e. growth, consolidation or shrinkage of the network Too much change endangers the perseverance and results in the formation of new networks or internal group building.
The time it takes to bring insights to all nodes defines the speed. This information flows through the relationships. With respective channels, actors can communicate in different ways, such as email, intranet, or by exchanging ideas. The distribution can take place by pull or push principle. The pull principle is based on information needs – knowledge is obligation to search; trigger is the target audience; mostly bottom-up. The push principle is aligned to the needs for informing – knowledge is an obligation to deliver; triggers are the information sources; mostly top-down. Built-in feedback, such as receipt confirmation or collection of comments, allow assumptions about the speed.
Bottom line: The network is the most likely organizational format in times of VUCA. The membership benefits are determined primarily by the number of users. Other characteristics are the density, openness, perseverance and the speed of the information flow. Although the network properties allow a better control, it is still necessary to continuously observe and evaluate the network due to the self-organizing members.
In sports, personals efforts determine the performance. The athletes exercise for years to release the trained strengths at the right moment. At competitions, however, the results can be distorted by external influences like the wind. World records are only recognized, if the wind speed is less than 2 m/ sec, since the wind can distort the results. In business influencing factors impact the same way on the efforts from all directions – even if it is sometimes an unexpected wildcard in favor of the own outcomes.
Wind is a directed air movement blowing from different directions. The following sections describe some properties of the wind.
- Wind direction
The Wind evolves as a result of varying air pressures and blows in different directions (North, South, West, East and all possible intermediate stages). Side winds push you out of the chosen direction. Thermal winds produce additionally vertical winds (upwind and downwash). In an extreme case, the wind direction changes more and more rapidly until turbulences are created, which are dangerous due to their unpredictability and power. The winds can not be produced, but people learned to use them – sailing, propelling mills or flying.
In business flows arise that affect the activities. These are the employee behaviors, new technologies or unforeseen market changes. They also take effect from all directions. They often come from the side and create an imperceptible drift that ultimately go past the target. If you are able to deal with these trends, you can make use of them for your own benefit by letting yourself being propelled. If, for example, competitors are increasingly using certain software, this reinforces acceptance in the company. However, if the circumstances are working against your direction, they will burden the activities in the form of resistances. If, for example, the use of external workers is increasingly criticized in public, it could quickly lead to a corresponding rejection internally. If new tendencies arise from different directions, special measures must be taken to secure the day-to-day business, like concerted exchange with the concerned people.
- Wind speed
Total still air always required looking for other energy sources – on ships rudders or engines are used; mills can also work with hydro power. The force of the wind ranges from a light breeze to a strong wind, or to storms and hurricanes. Over time solutions were invented for using the wind energy. Nowadays container ships are developed that are again propelled by wind energy. The first ships are expanding their propulsion with large sails (see here) and that way they already save about 20% fuel.
In business, changes influence daily work. At times machines are changed, some other time the business processes are redesigned or the IT is updated. The more extensive the innovations are, the more the influencing factors push. If then even more innovations take place at a time, the dangerous turbulences increase, which can eventually become dangerous. In order not to be overwhelmed by the influences, it is necessary to look at the indicators of change and to use them for the own business. If they push you in the desired direction, you can let yourself carry away. Comes the pressure from the wrong direction and threaten the ongoing operations, you can no longer avoid taking unpleasant measures. These can be strategy changes or at least adaptations in the planning of the implementation, but also measures for exchanging ideas, such as detailed publications of the current situation or staff meetings, in which problems are openly addressed and comprehensibly solved for the employees.
A special form of wind, the airstream, is not created by different air pressures, but it comes from your own speed. It is for example created, when you drive fast on the road and the air builds up a wall. This produces similar effects as with the natural wind. The airstream always “blows” against the own direction. If you move faster than the sound (more than 767 mph), you can even break the sound barrier with a loud bang. The resistance can be reduced by creative adaptation of the form.
In business, it is possible that too many activities are set up simultaneously. This leads almost automatically to a counter-pressure of the workforce. The unwelcomed changes can be made more “wind-slippery”, especially through open exchange of thoughts. The resistance usually arises from a lack of knowledge of the facts. This resistance is reduced through openness and early involvement of the affected parties. If the management team plans the implementation at a speed that does not allow the workforce to come along, the back pressure increases unnoticed, but steady. Even if many measures go in the desired direction of all concerned people, employees can get too much. In these cases you can only slow down the speed, in order to get faster to the end.
Bottom line: The wind is a natural force which influences the circumstances from all directions. The horizontal and vertical forces and their strength play an important role. Correspondingly, you have to deal with such developing streams also in business. If you can make use of these currents, then you can become faster. If they come from sideways, it is important to take early steps to avoid loosing the path. If it is contrary to your direction, then these resistances slow down, delay or even make the goal fulfillment impossible. Because the business has to deal with similar, difficult to control forces, the wind is an ideal metaphor for influencing factors.