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Yesterday Daily Thoughts started some Organization Mathematics for dummies. [Training is to addition what culture change is to multiplication] Believe me, I am talking about me. That is why I take extra care to understand anything that has to do with numbers in the organization. If I get it, anybody can.

Cultures are thought  and imagined by homo sapiens but are shaped and maintained by homo imitans. What we see around us, from clothes to unwritten rules, is what influences our behaviours. It’s a pull mechanism – we are pulling each other’s behaviours, whether we like it or not; whilst top-down communications is always a push system. In culture terms the game is clear:  peer-to-peer one, top down communications nil.

The peer-to-peer influence (ideas, behaviours, unwritten rules, social norms, emotions) is  a fact of life, unavoidable. Traditional management has paid no attention to it, other than to vaguely acknowledge ‘peer pressure’. There is plenty of evidence today about this hidden power.

If so, then surely the next question is, does anybody (in the non-hierarchical, peer-to-peer informal arena)  have the same power to influence? Even without needing to go deeper into ‘types of influence’, network theory comes along and whispers: excuse me, remember, it’s a network; in a network your position in it , and your connectivity, matters more than anything. Highly connected ‘peers’ (people)  have tremendous power, (and perhaps they are largely unaware of) because, all things equal in terms of those unwritten rules, emotions, ideas, behaviours, social norms, etc, their influence will always be a multiplier. Low connectivity, low influence. We can go for ever arguing about classifications of influence. Trust me, keep it that simple.

You see? More arithmetic to come now. So, the logical next question surely is: how many of these do we have in an average organization? Is there a number? A formula? Is it random? A normal Bell distribution of…? Network theory has been listening to us since the above paragraph and, when network theory hears ‘Bell distribution’, it gets very, very upset. More whispering: excuse me, I  told you, it’s a network, we don’t do Bell distributions, sorry; it’s a Power Law!

A power what? Yes, a power law, logarithm distribution: few people have lots of something, and most people have little of that something. Which is what a frustrated  network theorist says when others don’t get it. Translation: in any organization we have in  fact a relatively small number of individuals who are highly connected, and therefore have the ability to multiply and exercise high influence. Full stop. And we have a large number of individuals purely connected and low influence. Second full stop.

Isn’t that good news, almighty leader? In World I, push mode, top down communications on workshopsterone, if you have 5000 people, that is your number. In World II, pull mode, if you have  5000 people, you may have as many as 250 or 500 who are highly connected and the rest are not. Of course all it depends on hows those 5000 are organized in terms of clusters, but, roughly, that’s it. I repeat, isn’t that good news, almighty leader? Imagine that you can magically engage those 500, on a mission. Surely very doable.

PS: I am not talking hierarchy here. Forget the organization chart. Amongst those 250 you may have Mary, the lady in charge of the post room, Peter the informal leader of the smokers club/tribe that disappear and reappear mysteriously, and Jennifer, the team leader with no direct reports, a team of 10,  and an informal reach of 100, because ‘she knows what is going on more than anybody else’.

There are more maths coming tomorrow. And a bit of the Bible: Matthew 13:12, for those curious; the most unfair network prediction ever made.


Webinar: Company culture as a social movement.  Few seats left.

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