The central question: How do we do strategy in networks?
To answer that question, we need to explore networks in a bit more detail.
We can easily distinguish three types of networks: advocacy networks, learning networks (also known as communities of practice), and innovating networks. The drawing below provides a summary from multiple perspectives.
We are all part of multiple advocacy networks. These networks include graduates from schools or universities, employees at a company, fans of a sports team, or members of a club, civic organization, or political party.
Participants in advocacy networks share an interest but usually don’t know each other. Trust levels among participants do not have to be high, because interactions are limited to activities that promote their shared interests.
Learning networks are different. Also known as communities of practice, participants help each other learn. We see learning networks form in schools, companies, and organizations, but perhaps the most common form is professional associations. Members know or can easily learn each other’s names, but each participant is pursuing their personal learning goals.
Participants in innovating networks focus on creating new value. They have developed enough trust to share their assets and recombine them in new ways. By doing so, they create new value. They manage a process of collaboration to experiment and learn by doing. They pursue a shared outcome with mutual benefits.
Innovating networks have a clear structure. They are characterized by a strong core and flexible, porous boundaries. The strong core emerges from the trustworthy interactions of the participants. The porous boundary also emerges from the participants, as they recruit additional resources from their extended networks. (In addition, the porous boundary enables participants to expel members who fail to reciprocate and build trust.)
THE CENTRAL ROLE OF CONVERSATIONS
These networks form through conversations. It turns out that innovative networks form from conversations with a predictable structure and trajectory. These conversations are divergent, convergent, and recursive. By following a set of simple rules, participants can convert their ideas into action.
We have captured this structure in the development of #strategicdoing, an open-source protocol that accelerates collaboration. Mastering this process takes ten skills. While anyone can learn these skills, no one is equally good at all of them. That explains, in part, why cognitively diverse teams innovate more productively.
The Director of the Lab at UNA and co-author of Strategic Doing: 10 Skills for Agile Leadership, Ed’s work has focused on developing new models of strategy specifically designed to accelerate complex collaboration in networks and open innovation. He is the original developer of Strategic Doing.