The Network is the System

By Anton Rossouw.

Our tribal business model is based on the anthropology and sociology of  tribes as networks.

Therefore we hold Network Theory as well as Complex Systems Theory dear to our hearts in our consulting practice, and often offer the combination as a great explanation of how leaders could understand  the true holistic nature of organisational structure, innovation incubation, opportunity discovery and directional flux influence for strategic direction setting. It also works well to model the complexity of business groups such as programs and projects. 

One of our most valuable primary paradigms towards understanding enterprise dynamics is to view organisations as a Complex Adaptive Systems that comprise a range of connected and linked nodes (agents) represented as a Network, as opposed to use the traditional simplistic hierarchical representation.

However, hierarchy remains a valid representation because the effect of hierarchy on our thinking can be used as a visualisation and sense-making cue to overlay on to the organisation as a network. When that is done, very different perspectives emerge from the visualisation particularly uncovering the nodes where true leadership and influence reside. This leadership and influence to best stimulate adaptation and innovation in organisations is most often not located in the traditional executive management structures as most people expect, but within the organisation in unexpected nodes.

Therefore an understanding of networks and how they operate in the real world is a very important contributor toward facilitating effective future strategies and innovative change. It is often better to harness the power of the network than to utilise the hierarchy.

LinkedIn business network

A great way to start understanding the power of network visualisation, is to start with one’s own LinkedIn profile “network” which can be graphically visualised by a tool developed by the LinkedIn Labs. Our brains are great at pattern recognition and networks are great at offering patters for our brain to play with. As an example the clusters in my network are related to the various professions, technologies, industries and organisations that I have been involved in during my career, including a recently connected small network going back thirty years to the friends that I left school with and went to University with. I can with this visualisation explore complex connectivity that I was previously unaware of.

A great lecture on the importance of networks and what it can tell us (it explains the world!) can be found on the Santa Fe Institutes' (The best source for Complexity Science) YouTube channel - presented by Prof. Mark Newman - one of my favourites clips that I often re-visit.