Great Networks Aren’t Passive

I was speaking with someone about networks and network effects.  One thing that came out of the conversation is that great networks aren’t passive. They are active.  Great networks require people to participate.  They might participate in different ways, but they require active engagement.

Great networks also don’t have a clearly defined leader.  Often the most powerful people in the network are in the shadows.  A person might be described of having a great network, but when we think about the most powerful networks on earth it’s the invisible hand that drives them not designated people.  A person might set up a network and be part of it, but great networks delegate a lot.

Great networks are also decentralized and empowered to act.  At their core, their underpinning driver is trust.  They have a common culture.  It has been said the Israeli startup network is great.  I don’t know much about it, but every one in that network has gone through similar rights of passage.  Rights of passage are important.  They set up common bonds and cultures for everyone in the network.  In the Israeli startup community they are all Jewish, and have the religious rights of passage associated with their religion.  All the traditional customs that come with being Jewish come to the network as well.  Then of course there is the fact that all of them had to serve in the Israeli armed forces.

Those common bonds develop trust.

There are a lot of institutions and entities that say, “We have a great network”.  However, I find that it’s talk with no action in a lot of cases.

If a network starts out as a decentralized entity and transforms into a centralized entity, eventually it will break down.  Centralized networks don’t demand action.  They are passive.  They are command and control.  The end points of the network are turned on and off with decisions made by a central core.  You might call it a “dumb network”.

In our conversation, a person thought that a great network was when someone would answer a telephone call.  I disagreed.  It’s when the person on the other end of the line enters into a “give before you get” action.  Answering a call is passive.  Taking a meeting is passive.  Doing something for someone you might not have met but that shares a common background with you while expecting nothing in return builds the network.   Some people call it karma.

Networks are powerful and much has been written about them.  In the coming technological age, a lot of networks will be assembled using blockchain, or internet of things.  The powerful ones will be decentralized and active. A lot of initial blockchain technology I have seen just takes existing centralized decision making and puts it on a blockchain.  Real power isn’t turned over to the community.

It’s just something to think about if you are setting up a network-or if you are going to enter into an organization that touts their network.

  • Yes — thought provoking.

    Also, to riff on one of your points, in my experience, energy in a network is built through the ask. Without it, there’s no opportunity for reciprocity — and without reciprocity, it’s all passive. Without that energy, the touted bschool (accelerator, corporate alum group, blockchain lol) network is simply a database.

  • awaldstein

    what then in your view is the difference between a network and a community.

    almost every thing you stated is not true of most communities.

    • Communities often aren’t opt in. Networks are.

      • awaldstein

        Since i don’t follow I’ll table this till you come and take me out to dinner. Have a good one my friend.

        • A community is like your neighborhood, sometimes you can’t choose your neighbors. Capice?