Social Network Analysis and alliances

I recently shared the platform with David Ewbank, head of knowledge management and alliance management at pharma giant Aventis, at the European Business Information Conference in Paris. I spoke on the living networks, while David spoke about how Aventis is using social network analysis to undertand better how knowledge is flowing within its R&D team, and its joint R&D projects with other pharma companies—these topics tied together very well. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is not new, but it has seen an immense surge of interest in the last 6-12 months. As society and work processes become increasingly interconnected, gaining insight into the dynamics of personal networks becomes critical. However it is often not evident what “interventions” in shifting organizational structure or personal behaviors will enhance performance. We are now in a phase of experimenting with how to bring out the positive network characteristics of organizations, with Aventis doing some very interesting work in this area.

Since I believe that the the next decade and more of management will be dominated by working in a world of increasingly blurred organizational boundaries, I’m delighted by David’s dual role. The Wall Street Journal commented on this in an article on how knowledge executives are reinventing their roles. The juncture of knowledge and alliances (which to my mind includes client and supplier relationships) is an immensely important domain that will see far greater attention in coming years. One of the themes in my keynotes and work that has attracted particular interest over the last months is that of “information policies”. Organizations are subject to opposing forces. On the one hand, there is an imperative to share information and knowledge actively with key clients, suppliers, and partners. However there are still limits on what can and should be shared. The challenge is to create a culture and policies that enable effective sharing within appropriate boundaries. Extranets are now standard practice, helping to bring this issue to a head. More on this later.

Terrorism, technology, and an open society

Having just returned from a quick five-continent round-world trip, I am frequently asked about the mood around the world. Wherever you are, it is characterised by uncertainty. The focus is very short-term; people find it hard to think beyond a few months ahead. If we do stretch our minds a little further, there are compelling issues that will shape our future as humans. Terrorism is in the forefront of people’s minds, and the nature of technological development and the flow of information is such that ever-more frightening tools are becoming broadly available. Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy harkens a world in which “how-to” guides to create deadly self-replicating viruses are freely available on the Internet. Joy himself has suggested that research be stopped or constrained in potentially dangerous fields. Others—especially governments—want to watch us all very, very closely, leaving privacy as a historical concept. One of the key choices the human race faces is how to respond to these challenges. A recent article in Salon.com provides an insightful perspective. To try to constrain knowledge will lead to a far more divided society. What has created the most pressing problems on the planet today is division—of wealth, opportunity, and access. If we turn our backs on an open society, if we have a future, it will be deeply unhappy. We can only respond to the risks if we know what they are. There is certainly a balance to strike, but if we err, it should be towards more rather than less openness.