Was fascinated reading an article in the paper this weekend, entitled "Are your friends making you fat", which is all about research that demonstrates the influence of friends in your network on how you live and work. Like all the best books of this type, Connected seems at its heart to be based on a very obvious idea: that social networks affect our behaviour more powerfully than we tend to acknowledge. Be that in becoming obese, taking up (or quitting) smoking, or what we wear.
For me, the article became more interesting when it started to talk about how the success of projects or initiatives might depend on different types of networks. For example, the article discusses the success of a broadway musical:
Christakis tells the story of a friend of his, Brian Uzzi, who has used
the impact of social networks to analyse the success or otherwise of
Broadway musicals. "He finds that if the key players – the director,
costume designer, sound person, producer, etc – all worked together
before, and everyone knows everyone else, then the show is a flop. He
also finds that if you put together a group of people, who have never
worked together before, the show is also a flop. But if you put
together a group of people some of whom have worked together and some
who haven't, then the show is a runaway critical success with enormous
This got me thinking about what I often say in presentations about SSE and why we attempt to put together a diverse group of social entrepreneurs in a cohort, and the importance of the network they develop in terms of resource, opportunity, support and experience. It's also worth reflecting on this when thinking about the type of organisation you build and the mix of skills + trust that is needed.
Later on in the piece, the researcher (Nicholas Christakis) discusses this in a different evolutionary context:
"If you want to hunt a mastodon," Christakis says, "it's really good if
all your friends know each other because you can work closely together
to kill it. But if you want to find a mastodon, it's much
better if your friends don't know each other – because they'll all have
the same information. If you don't know your friend's friend, the
chances are he will be able to tap more distant regions of the network."
I think this is potentially fascinating from a social entrepreneur's point of view, and demonstrates why networks can be so important to success.
For example, in the early stages of researching and establishing a new organisation (or 'finding a mastodon' in this context), a social entrepreneur needs information, expertise, inspiration, support and knowledge from a variety of sources. That's when the cohort of like-minded, supportive people who don't know each other beforehand can come into play, along with the networks of witnesses and staff they come into contact with at SSE.
Then, when it's about running the organisation, and building and mobilising a community of support behind it (or 'killing the mastodon'), it is those who share the same mission + are part of the same group or team who can play a key role in making that happen. The ability and confidence of the social entrepreneur to build that community + team around them, and to 'bring people with them' on the journey is then pivotal.
Get both of those networks right, and those mastodons won't have a chance there'll be plenty more successful entrepreneurs and organisations to be influenced by.