Hierarchies and networks

How to tap your company’s hidden network: Forget the IT network. It’s a company’s human infrastructure that really determines whether it lives or dies:

Woe to the person who doesn’t understand the trust network in his or her company, she tells the generals, whose attention is now becoming more focused. Ignore this hidden structure and your quality team players will jump ship, mentors will abandon their charges, institutional memory will vanish, and glad-handing schmucks will weasel their way into power. But if you fathom how your company really works, you can identify and reward your most valuable employees and unearth innovative ideas.

Stephenson is a leader in the growing field of social-network business consultants. As happens today with the generals, her ideas usually manage to command attention. Anyone who has worked in any organization knows there’s at least some truth to what she says.

Humans are primates, after all, and we groom each other through sharing information. Organizations are constantly abuzz with thousands of shared confidences, whispered at the water cooler or between buddies in the bowling league. Taken together, those communications make up a kind of dark matter of corporate culture–an unseen force that has significant influence on whether everything holds together or flies apart.

I think many of us can identify with this:

And yet Stephenson, despite her faith in the power of social networks, has a confession to make. “The truth is that with all my talk of networks, I’m really a closet hierarchist,” she says. “I like hierarchies because they’re clear. Nothing is ever totally clear in a social network because they’re always in motion.”

Which might explain why Stephenson so enjoys working alone. “There is no clearer hierarchy than a business of one,” she says. “I’m free, and I can’t tell you how happy I am.”

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