Superconnect

Superconnect

The practical guide to discovering the rules of our superconnected world through the science and sociology of networks.

In Superconnect, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood show that success is less about who you are than how you connect—a chance meeting with an old colleague leads to a swanky new job; two businessmen collaborate online and cofound a successful start-up; a friend introduces a promising entrepreneur to a millionaire looking to invest. But why do these lucky breaks always happen to other people?

Personal and professional networks shape everything we do, but simply knowing that they exist won’t help you harness your connections for maximum success. With an eye toward business applications, Superconnect outlines the new rules of our densely linked society. At the core of the analysis are three simple network components—strong relationships, weak relationships, and hubs—that interact in surprising, counterintuitive ways. Understanding how these components mesh, and connecting unrelated people, is the way to achieve in today’s hyper-connected world.

Reviews:

From Management Today, June 1st, 2010

Books: Out of the weak can sweetness come forth?

Julia Hobsbawm

Familiar networks cause group think, say the authors; random encounters work best. It’s music to Julia Hobsbawm’s ears.

Superconnect: The power of networks and the strength of weak links Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood

This is the book equivalent of ‘music to my ears’. Why? Because it lays bare the art and science of my business – the business of networking – and declares it indispensable to successful careers, personal growth and enterprise alike. Written in the earnest but easy style of Malcolm Gladwell-meets-Clay Shirky, Superconnect argues that ‘by co-operating with the network forces around us and harnessing them to our ends, we can swap the delusion that we can control the world as individuals for the reality of creating in collaboration with other people’.

Its central observation, which I agree with, is that what makes networking succeed is not the ’strong links’ of a pre-existing contact base but the ‘weak links’ of random encounters that, if acted upon, can yield jobs, career changes or entrepreneurial stepping stones that would otherwise not exist. Using an array of historical case studies, the book illustrates the point about weak links by quoting John Stuart Mill saying there was value in meeting ‘persons dissimilar to themselves, with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar’.

Given that I completed this review on the day that the Cameron coalition entered Downing Street, I think the authors have a point: cultivate your weak links and you may get power: neither could get it on strong, ie party, links alone. If you’re a wine lover, then you’ll appreciate the relish with which the authors identify the different varieties of grape and yield. They are very down on certain ‘hubs’, the familiar networks, such as the workplace, that can create the kind of ‘group think’ that they say led to Watergate; while being very up on what they call ‘network stars’. These are business models that connect people, such as Auto Trader. They describe the ‘network tailwind that drives the firm forward’ in such businesses, which they call ’superconnectors’. Various ‘isms’ and social types crop up. Naturally, this is de rigueur in any kind of sociological management-meets-can-do book these days. My favourite is ‘Rolodex roulette’, an embellishment of the term ‘weak links’ – meeting as many varied people as possible and seeing what you end up with.

Which brings me to my only rub with the book … A fascinating and enriching read, it is predicated on the idea that most people are comfortable with networking. The truth is that many are not. My own experience is that the main barrier to networking is shyness and an inability to enjoy what the authors and people like me take for granted – that it is fun and productive. I would have liked less arguing of the main points and more analysis of how you can encourage this elusive elixir, rather than inspire people to want it and think they can achieve it through osmosis. Perhaps reticence explains why so many connect virtually – Facebook has a quarter of a billion users, Twitter has 50 million tweets a day – rather than in person.

In an interesting chapter, ‘Cyberspace – brave new world?’, the authors explore the phenomenon of customers clustering around a few websites with which they are familiar, mirroring what Koch and Lockwood call ‘hub-link’ structures in the real world. They say that the internet brings about a ‘terrific intensification of the communication and network trends seen before its invention’. In other words, we humans behave in broadly similar ways, and always have done. This is one of the chief appeals of Superconnect. It points out that networking has been practised throughout history and it has just got better with modern technology. I particularly like the example of Diderot’s Encyclopedie, which failed to take off fully in the 18th century, whereas Wikipedia has succeeded at the start of the 21st century because of the vastly greater numbers of people who were able to take part as contributors, thanks to new technology.

The authors, through a series of weak links, met while on the board of Betfair. They have taken a gamble that readers will be as turned on by networking as they are. I sincerely hope that they win their bet.

– Julia Hobsbawm is the founder and CEO of the networking business Editorial Intelligence. www.editorialintelligence.com.

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From The Sunday Time, May 30th, 2010

Joined up thinking

Edward King

“Networks” and “networking” are among the most prevalent buzzwords of the past few years. In The Rise of the Network Society, the sociologist Manuel Castells proposed the network as the dominant organisational logic of the information age, a logic characterised by decentralisation and flexibility. Connected, a recent and influential study, suggested that thinking in terms of how information flows through decentralised networks of influence can help us to develop solutions to social problems. The focus of Superconnect, on the other hand, is firmly on entrepreneurship and how networks can make us rich or, in the managerial parlance of its authors, “help us thrive and reach our potential”.

The main idea is that there are three components of the social networks we live in. “Strong links” are close relationships to the family and friends we depend upon on a day-to-day basis; “hubs” are the outfits that shape our education and professional lives; and “weak links” are the connections we make to the people “who occupy the background of our lives”. Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood, both successful entrepreneurs, argue that this third category is the most important. Weak links tend to be responsible for our most valuable discoveries. Most life-changing decisions are likely to have been prompted by a random encounter with a stranger or advice from a friend of a friend. The authors advise that if we tap into our “dormant network” of peripheral contacts we’ll have more success in life.

Most examples are drawn from the authors’ professional experience, and the strongest parts of the book are when they are doling out advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. But it is when they try to develop their argument beyond their area of expertise that they are less convincing. They suggest that if we think of ourselves as “autonomous hubs with a useful network in tow” we could free ourselves from a “wage-slave” mentality and all become self-asserting entrepreneurs like them, which, in the current economic climate, may strike most people as naively optimistic.





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One Response to “Superconnect”

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