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One colleague replying privately to my most recent message writes,

"dunno. i reckon we'd get on as humans. dunno what it would add to the
busienss, but..."

The obvious response is the question, "Must it add to the business?"
Knowledge for knowledge's sake is not a bad thing, and there is always the
possibility that someone else will find a way to apply the results of basic
research. In this case, however, I think that we can do a bit better than

To the best of my knowledge, which is limited, applications of network
analysis to business usually come down to overlaying network diagrams on
maps of the business units into which an organization or market is divided.
It is then possible to quickly identify actors in bridging positions who
may either facilitate or become bottlenecks to communication between the
units in question. Alternatively, the overlay may reveal an absence of
communication between units that is hampering business development. So far,
so good. But suppose the question is how to staff a project team with the
goal of creating something new, which entails creating relationships that
do not yet exist either in the formal organization chart or in the network
diagram. Choosing the members of a team is now a matter of art, in which
the director of a project thinks of who might be good for a certain role,
assesses the level of talent or skill that they bring to the table, checks
their availability and then reaches out to them (or to their bosses, who
must sign off on their new engagement).

But let's be more concrete. When I was working for the Japanese agency that
once employed me, my clients were often large international companies with,
however, only a small presence in Japan. When agencies pitched for their
business, they were shown reels of exceptional work produced by the
agency's stars. Then, having chosen an agency, they find that the stars are
not assigned to their team, except, perhaps, in a distant advisory role. If
they ask why, the answer is clear. If their budget is only a tenth of what
their Japanese competitor is spending and the stars are already committed
to other projects, they must work with teams composed of second or
third-tier veterans or newcomers who have not yet achieved a stellar
reputation. The work that they produce is often second-rate.

Asked by foreign executives what they should do if they find themselves in
this situation, I suggested that they look at the newcomer awards in
advertising annuals and request that one or more of these rising stars be
assigned to their teams. Now, having studied network analysis, I can offer
another possibility. Identify successful teams, i.e., those whose work is
judged worthy of appearing in an annual, then look for individuals who
appear as members of several different successful teams over a span of
years, who have not yet won a newcomer award. Since the usual practice in
Japanese agencies is to circulate new employees among several teams to
broaden their experience, these are likely to be highly competent people
whose careers are on the verge of taking off.

The NetLogo Team Assembly model suggests another potentially useful
approach. The model is designed to relate creativity to one variable, the
relative proportions of incumbents (people who have worked together before)
and newcomers (people who have not worked together before)  assigned to
teams. The underlying theory, which seems quite plausible to me as far as
it goes, is that either too many incumbents or too many newcomers will
reduce creativity. The same people doing the same things will fall into
ruts, while people who are thrown together for the first time may never get
their act together. There will be, however, be some ratio (or range of
ratios) of incumbents to newcomers that maximizes creativity. Knowing that
ratio would be good for business.

You know, and I know, that this model is too simple. But as George Box
famously said, while all models are wrong, some are more useful than
others. Here we can think about what we would have to add to the model to
make it more realistic. A great leap forward to a perfect solution is
unlikely; but it still might be possible to make some progress step by
step, by considering factors not yet included in the model.

John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324
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