The Net Work of Relationships

November 25, 2007

A year ago this time I was redlining the copy-edited version of Net Work. I had to fight that crushing feeling of knowing I could have written a passage differently, or chosen a different example, or explored a topic more fully, but that the opportunity had passed. Just the typos, Ma’am, that’s what’s left to fix.

Networks are about relationships among people, and they are changing all the time. Hence, networks and the work we must do to maintain them (our “net work”) belongs in the domain of complexity. Our understanding of them, too, is changing all the time based on our own experiences coupled with the reporting and observations of journalists, thought leaders, scientists, and pundits (i.e. bloggers).

So I welcome this opportunity (thanks, Dave!), as I welcome speaking engagements, to add some new bits to Net Work. So I begin.

My last real post to my own blog (Networks, Complexity, and Relatedness) is a month old, and it’s the one heralding Dave and Mary’s HBR article. My HBR subscription is coming due, and I just received what I think is my last hardcopy issue (December 2007, not yet online) which contains an interview with psychologist John M. Gottman, an expert on relationships of married people. While he wisely declines to make any extrapolations from the deeply personal domain to the business domain, there are some insights that may be applied to the net work of relationships, which the smallest unit of glue in a network, and to building social capital, the sum of the ties of all types.

  • The saltshaker of “yes.” Gottman suggests that having a full shaker of ways to respond positively, or with interest, or with respect, to what others say, can keep relationships running smoothly. There is an old language trick I adopted some time ago that helps with this: learning to replace the word “No” with the phrase, “Yes, AND” while also replacing all “Buts” with “Ands.” This shifts the speaker’s mindset as well!
  • Being open to small moments of attachment and intimacy. It may feel like time and work to inquire after the health of a child, comment on a new photo affixed to a cubicle, or to share one’s own current personal conundrum or perplexity. And it may be hard for some to do without feeling phony or manipulative; consider it a prerequisite that you must have respect for the other person and also be able to listen.

  • The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” of relationships – the best predictors of failure – are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

I am closing my public talks on Net Work these days with a quote from The Little Prince: “It is the time you take for your rose that makes it valuable to you.” So be it also for our networks.

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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