Breaking Social Networks Versus Building a Learning Organization

FastCompany has an article by Chris Trimble of the Tuck School Of Business about the impact of social networks on innovation . He says while existing social networks are a necessity in the idea generation phase of innovation, they need to be broken and re-created in the execution phase. Quoting from the article :
Breaking networks is the only way to prepare an organization to take innovation efforts beyond mere ideas. You can train an individual about what an innovation is and why it demands different behavior, but you can’t retrain an organization simply by training the individuals within it. The individuals may acquire knowledge, but organizations are more powerful than individuals, and organizations reinforce the past.
So often in my work chronicling innovation efforts, I’ve observed major turning points for the better following substantial reorganizations. Why? Reorganizations break those involved with an innovation out of their existing network, and force them to forge new relationships and new networks from scratch
. “

Interesting perspective !! More connections are not always good. However,I wonder if reorganization is a sustainable way to bring a change in behavior and execute innovative ideas? Just breaking out of an existing social network and entering into a new one does not necessarily guarantee different behavior. Being a part of a community or social network over a prolonged period of time influences individuals in a big way – in terms of the mental models and world views which in turn affect decisions made. My take is that if an individual has been affiliated with a social network for a sustantially long time there is a good chance of internalizing the “ways of thinking” of that network. So, even if one does break away from the network and enter a new one ,there is a good chance of being influenced by the old ways. My feeling is that managers need to be “aware” of the realities of the new business and the potential influence that their existing belief systems could have on decision making. Deep awareness of the rationale behind decisions is a more organic and non-disruptive way of driving innovation as compared to reorganization. This is a key trait of learning organizations.

Reorganization may put in place formal structures and systems in place for the new business to innovate. However, informal relationships in social networks go beyond work in many cases and that is the basis for trust. Disrupting this would mean destroying social capital in thorganization. Train managers not just on innovation but on becoming deeply aware of the subtleties of the decision making process. Reorganization, because organizations reinforce the past seems to be a quick fix – A classic case of addressing the symptom and ignoring the underlying problem. To build a debate culture, to surface assumptions as a group and challenge them, to question everything that is conventional wisdom would the key. And this is the training managers would need to ideate and execute innovation. Fundamental changes are tough but these are the long term capability building steps to be taken – IMHO, reorganizing for innovation might not be sustainable.


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