Talking about the Network Era

Interesting things happen when hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, as the writers of the Cluetrain Manifesto said in 1999. Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Arab Spring, and the Occupy Movement are just a few recent examples. Spying on entire populations is another network era phenomenon. In education, the current subversion is the MOOC, which has already itself been subverted by corporate interests. In the labour movement we are seeing things like alt-labour as well as a growing shareable economy. Networked, distributed businesses, like AirBNB, are disrupting existing models, with the inevitable push-back as they become successful.

Networks will transform education, business, the economy, and society even further. In the network era, the creative economy will gain dominance over the information and industrial economies. Professional knowledge distribution will move away from institutionalized business schools into networked communities of practice.

The key to a flourishing society in the network era will be distributed sense-making. Self-instruction, the basis of personal knowledge management, will be a requirement in a growing number of peer-to-peer networks. Networked learning will give rise to networked decision making. David Ronfeldt articulates this well, with his TIMN [Tribes-Institutions-Markets-Networks] framework. Anyone raised during the past several decades probably understands tribes and institutions and even market forces. This is a triform society (T+I+M). But what happens as we become a quadriform society (T+I+M+N)?

TIMN has long maintained that, beyond today’s common claims that government or market is the solution, we are entering a new era in which it will be said that the network is the solution (e.g., here and here). Aging contentions that turning to “the government” or “the market” is the way to address particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to innovative ideas that “the network” is the optimal solution.

In the network era we have to understand how to become contributing members of networks, for work and for life. This should be a major focus for all professional training and education.

“Reed’s Law” posits that value in networks increases exponentially as interactions move from a broadcasting model that offers “best content” (in which value is described by n, the number of consumers) to a network of peer-to-peer transactions (where the network’s value is based on “most members” and mathematically described by n2).  But by far the most valuable networks are based on those that facilitate group affiliations, Reed concluded. – David Bollier

Without good sense-making skills, the citizenry cannot understand complex issues that affect us all, such as individual privacy versus national security. These issues require networked, human intelligence, not broadcast sound bites, nor ‘learning objects’.

Sensemaking should drive policy. Policy drives decisions. Decisions, of course, need to be informed. If the People don’t know what makes their world go ‘round, the folks on the Hill sure won’t. Globalized governments can’t. – Gunther Sonnenfeld

As David Bollier concludes, “Legitimate authority is ultimately vested in a community’s ongoing, evolving social life, and not in ritualistic forms of citizenship.” Should not education move beyond ritualistic forms of subjects, classes, and certifications and toward ongoing, evolving social learning? How else will we be able to deal with the complexities of this networked, connected sphere that we inhabit?

Jon Husband says that we are all in this together.

The interconnected Information Age is beginning to show us that we’re all linked together – and that the whole system matters.

This principle applies to organizations, to networks of customers, suppliers, employees and communities, to our societies and to the planet.

New language for this principle is popping up everywhere – knowledge networks, intranets, communities of practice, systems thinking, swarming, social software, social networks, tipping points.

Awareness is the key.  Maintain an “open focus”.

Being aware of yourself, others and the effects of your actions and ways of being in relation to others is a fundamental requirement in these conditions.

To thrive in the network era we need to understand networks – social networks, value networks, information networks, etc. Therefore we will need network era fluency.

network era fluencyNetwork era fluency could be described as individuals and communities understanding and being part of global networks that influence various aspects of our lives. For individuals, the core skill will be critical thinking, or questioning all assumptions, including one’s own. People will learn though their various communities and in doing so, develop social literacy. Information literacy will be developed by connecting to many networks. Diversity of our knowledge networks can foster innovation and improve our collective ability to adapt.

Mass network era fluency will keep our knowledge networks social, diverse, and reflect many communities. This kind of fluency, by the majority of people, will be necessary to deal with the many complex issues facing humanity. We cannot address complex issues and networked forces unless we can knowledgeably discuss them. To understand the network era, we need first to be able to talk about it.

The network era has already changed politics, created new dominant business models, opened up learning, and is now changing how organizations operate – on the inside. Once we are able to talk about networks, we will see that many of our current work practices are rather obsolete. From how we determine the value of work, to how we calculate pay for work; organizations will need to adapt to the network era.

I think business leaders and HR departments do not understand this shift, or the fact that this shift is accelerating, so that in a year or two 75% of peoples’ value will be based on their network performance, their ability to contribute to and accept from others. – Stowe Boyd

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3 Responses to “Talking about the Network Era”

  1. Jordi Robert-Ribes

    You’re absolutely right on the sentence “Diversity of our knowledge networks can foster innovation”.
    Couldn’t agree more!
    Jordi (from Connecting Perspectives)