Network Nuance

So I was going to write a post about ego getting in the way of progress. My thinking was that an almost unconquerable sense of self made real, meaningful collaboration difficult. If everyone gave fully of themselves, with no thought for personal gain/prestige/ownership then we’d get so much more done.

Anyway, that’s how I started out but then it went in a different direction. I began thinking about where that idea sits within the mechanics of networks and this is where a paradox crept in.

One of the most trumpeted features of networks is their ability to facilitate collaboration. The more connected we are the more we’re able to collaborate and the more we’ll get done. Surely.

Except there’s a counter-effect in networks. What they offer in collaborative possibilities they take away in collaborative dis-incentive.

Before we were all so well connected it was much harder to rally people together for a cause. In economics speak there was a far greater barrier to entry if you wanted to create a movement, or at least spread an idea.

In short it was time-consuming and expensive.

With this being the case people had to compromise. They might pick a cause that they mostly agreed with. They might overlook some of the unappealing ideologies or personalities because they were sufficiently in agreement with the over-arching principles and participants.

They might have even foreseen some inevitable, internal negotiations to contend with if they were to lick the whole thing into shape.

Under these conditions it was possible to gather momentum, forge ahead with big ideas.

But those barriers to entry no longer exist. And here’s the dis-incentive. I might really like what you’re doing but not feel it’s quite right. Perhaps there’s something about you I don’t really like. The thing is, I no longer have to make do.

After all, in such a networked world with sufficiently accessible means of production I can easily do my own, slightly different thing. Perhaps I can gather a few like-minded people to the cause. Maybe it’ll remain just me.

This happens at scale. And before we know it we’ve created an entire spectrum of nuanced projects. All of them pulling in slightly different directions.

They may each achieve their own, tightly focused objectives but can they and at the macro level, can networks, successfully tackle the really big issues?

  1. Interesting post Simon. And I agree. Increasingly seeing top down collaboration work far more effectively than grass roots collaboration for all sorts of reasons.

    On another note, I believe there is a big difference between collaboration in a network and collaboration in a community. Networks and communities tend to bring about different behaviours at different levels.

  2. You could well be right, Simon – the friction in between the competing groups can pose real problems.
    Just look at all of the different charities that exist to do, essentially, the same thing: save the world, save animals, save old people, save young people and so on.

    For me, the really interesting point comes in the spaces between those groups when progress is actually made.
    It’s a bit like walking. One group goes a bit to the left, the other group a bit to teh right building on what the first group did, and so on.
    So long as the groups are mutually aware and within the same space, collaborative, nuanced progress should be possible.

    Additionally, I think that this is healthier, in the long run, than single service providers. Just look at the difficulties faced by, let’s say, local government and public service in their non-competitive environments…

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