I came across two quotations from Kim Rachmeler:
The network knows what the nodes do not.
The nodes know nothing.
The nodes know all.
Both are true.
I’ve been reading a lot about this lately — how, for example, each individual in a group or community has his own knowledge and his own views of what’s going on.
If you participate in such groups, you have the possibility to share what other individual members know. That’s been true as long as there have been groups ( “Hey! I saw a woolly mammoth near the cliff!” ) but more so when you can effortlessly break through organizational and geographic barriers.
At another level, though, the individual members — the nodes in Rachmeler’s description — only know so much. You can also analyze patterns or interactions or relationships and learn things that the individuals don’t know, maybe can’t know (unless they’re doing that analysis).
That’s a quick image for me of the network knowing what the nodes don’t. Guy Kawasaki said something to the effect that when the Macintosh first came out, Apple Computer had no idea what its potential might be. In a real sense, the users created the Mac.
Andrew McAfee has similar points in Explaining my Fondness for Explicit Content. He talks about explicit information, which is essentially what people produce on purpose. Like War and Peace, or Morningstar’s review of the Dodge & Cox International Fund, or this post.
(Not all explicit information is created equal. Just so you know I know.)
McAfee says that implicit information is what people unknowingly generate as they work online. You can do things like aggregate this data, slice and dice it, learn from it in ways that the individual contributors would not know without that analysis.
To me this also related to a recent Will Thalheimer post. He performed an audit with a major retailer, examining where and how people learn. It’s worth reading; this chart is a snapshot (and a link to his post):
I’m guessing that a lot of the time, these store clerks aren’t networking online. But they are learning from the people they most often interact with: the head clerk and immediate coworkers. And they’re learning from their own experience.
They sure doesn’t seem to be learning from district trainers, do they?
Yes, this is a simplification. Thalheimer himself says you have to look at other data he gathered. Otherwise the results on their own “suffer from the problem of de-contextualized self-report data. Combined with multiple other data sources, they paint a really robust picture of an organization’s learning environment.”
Network tattoo photo by Josephine Dorado.