Social Ties and Enterprise 2.0

I’ve followed the work and postings of HBS Professor Andrew McAfee for some time now and appreciate the clarity, perspective and research he has delivered as we – the enterprise software industry – collectively migrate toward Enterprise 2.0.   

His recent post on “How to Hit the Enteprise 2.0 Bulls Eye” was a direct “hit” with my work on the shape, scale and value of social ties found within enterprise communications (my “logo” at the top of this blog was developed to reflect the principles outlined in McAfee’s bulls-eye diagram below).   

Professor McAfee’s work is well worth a read…and a re-read!  From his Enterprise 2.0 Bulls Eye post:

“Consider the prototypical knowledge worker inside a large, geographically distributed organization (all of what follows also applies for smaller and more centralized organizations, but probably to a lesser extent). She has a relatively small group of close collaborators; these are people with whom she has strong professional ties. Beyond this group, there’s also a set that includes people she with worked on a project with in the past, coworkers who she interacts with  periodically, colleagues she knows via an introduction, and the many other varieties of ‘professional acquaintance.’ In Granovetter’s language, she has weak ties to these people.

Beyond this group there’s a still-larger set of fellow employees who could be valuable to our prototypical knowledge worker if only she knew about them. These are people who could keep her from re-inventing the wheel, answer one of her pressing questions, point her to exactly the right resource, tell her about a really good vendor, consultant, or other external partner, let her know that they were working on a similar problem and had made some encouraging progress, or do any of the other scores of good things that come from a well-functioning tie. By the same token, if our focal worker is a person of good will, there are many other people in the company she could help if her existence, work experiences, and abilities were more widely known.

Of course, there’s also a large group in the organization who are just not going to be of much use to our prototypical worker, and vice versa. These people will not form ties. They’re simply co-workers, not actual or potential colleagues. It seems at first glance as if it wouldn’t be valuable to use any type of technology to bring these people together. This, however, is too hasty a conclusion, as I’ll discuss.

The bullseye figure below is an extremely simple and not-to-scale representation of the relative size of these groups, from the perspective of our focal knowledge worker. The small core of people with whom she has strong ties is at the center, surrounded by her larger group of weakly-tied colleagues. Potential ties are in the next ring, and co-workers— people with whom valuable ties do not and will not exist— make up the outermost ring. My intuition is that for most knowledge workers the four circles in the figure are nested accurately — that the number of potential ties, for example, is greater than the number of weak ties— even if their relative sizes are way off.”


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