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The beauty of networks: smart, dynamic, innovative

March 20, 2012 | Blog-Admin1 | Learning Elsewhere |

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Nadia von Holzen

In her blog post Nadia von Holzen reflects on the nature of networks, on their constitution, texture and driving force. Networks shouldn’t be taken as rigid entities, they are driven by people and their engagement and are thus propelled by an inner dynamic. Networks grow, evolve and move and it is the network’s members who breathe life into this loose conglomerate transforming it into something similar to a living organism. Therefore networks are pivotal to a learning organization as they comprise essential qualities to manage, transform and generate knowledge.

By Nadia von Holzen

When I arrived at SDC in January there was a discussion going on to categorize networks. I was a bit puzzled as in my understanding networks are living systems and as such each network is unique. Networks are dynamic, and constantly in a change mode; networks are people and shaped by their engagement. I simply didn’t see the value of putting them into boxes (or categories).

I was relieved to discover a dynamic network landscape; each network driven by engaged focal points and core group members; each network with its own dynamics; its “ups and downs” as nicely outlined in Marylaure Crettaz’s blog. The networks are growing, evolving and moving with the conversation they launched – I would say somehow organically. With the creation of its networks SDC gave a strong signal underlining its understanding and its willingness to be a learning organisation. And I admit, that the networks were my motivation to join SDC in the beginning of January 2012. From a knowledge management perspective networks are THE approach to connect people, ideas, and divergent thinking. With the network idea, SDC set off on a learning journey which I felt I could learn from and contribute to.

The beauty of networks

Let me share three aspects I truly believe and experience that characterize networks:

  • SMART: Knowledge is distributed and needs to be connected for optimal use. Networks connect the people and bring their knowledge across and beyond an organisation. Being a network member means being in conversation. Through conversation knowledge circulates. Conversation is about listening, trying to understand, and make meaning and sense of the information. Networked thinking fosters richer and deeper understanding; networked working is and makes smart. The last post from Manuel Etter outlined nicely that today and even more in the future global problems become more and more complex and require a networked approach.
  • DYNAMIC: Networks are living systems. They are complex adaptive systems. They are not organisational units. (Andres Roberts explored lately in a management innovation eXchange blog post the learning organisation and came to the conclusion that networks are rather “organisings”, always fluid, moving, learning, adapting). Networks are dynamic and constantly in motion. They are shaped and reshaped by the conversation they have. They can be very active or have phases of low activity; but without a certain dynamic, without engagement and commitment they would simply fall asleep and finally die.
  • INNOVATIVE: Innovation happens at the edge. Networks go beyond institutional walls. Reaching out means change of perspective and diversity, crucial for innovation. Networks have the great potential to connect different viewpoints, experiences and thinking. While during our work we constantly have to narrow down and focus, networks allow us to open up to new ideas and thinking. Organisations need networks or people engaged in networks to bring in diverse thinking.

So how can we foster an organisational learning culture allowing networks to be smart, dynamic and innovative?

  • Celebrate the work of the organisational networkers and network leaders. The people and their commitment are nurturing the conversation. Trust is the fuel for sharing and exposing ourselves in discussions; especially in virtual collaboration (we currently have an inspiring e-discussion on the success factors of e-collaboration on the network facilitation group nwfg). Organisations need networkers with networking skills.
  • Give networks space to be creative, improvised, and adaptive. The networked way of working is more organic and fluid and asks for flexible planning approaches.
  • Encourage networks to go for diversity and to connect to divergent minds.

What are in your experience the key characteristics of networks? What keeps networks alive? How can we best foster a “networked culture” within our organisations?

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