Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Master of SNA: Valdis Krebs

Continuing from the last few posts, it seems increasingly useful to unravel the full range of value and processes within social network analysis. The applications and contexts in which SNA can add insight seem to be multiplying every day. And still, there is so much more that will probably emerge through informed experimentation.

Inflow and Valdis Krebs

I was lucky enough to be trained for three days by Valdis Krebs who has been working in this field for twenty years.

In addition to years of experience across a variety of organizational models, Valdis has a remarkable talent for clarifying through anecdotes even the most complex concepts and abstract principles. He designed the Inflow software to untangle confusion with the same sort of power.

Exceptional Course Design

Without a doubt, Valdis is one of the best teachers I've encountered -- and that includes my time at Bryn Mawr and working toward my PhD at Brown. Beyond standard training, this course supports and demands learning and problem-solving that go beyond the parameters of any particular task.

What Does SNA Promise?

As firmly as Valdis believes network analysis can help organizations with everyday challenges, he is also quick to add that network issues comprise only one part of a bigger picture. Both the analyses and subsequent solutions only offer potential. The rest must be accomplished by those in the network with the right kind of support from the organization's leadership.

He indicated that this kind of analysis works best for organizations when looking at people at manager-level and above in the heirarchy. These are the networks and sections of the overall organizational flow that hold the greatest potential to improve flow of information.

What Parts of the Network Should Be Measured?

Valdis began by indicating that there is value for networks when an individual requires one or two steps to relay information to another individual. The research bears this out, but it's also common sense.

Valdis' Example

If I want to influence George Bush and I have a relationship with him, I have a good chance of getting information to him. If, instead, I know Barbara Bush well, I still have a good chance of getting the information to George. My relationship with Barbara and her relationship with George makes it probable, but there is already a chance that the information will not arrive in the form or with the focus that I intend.

Once one gets to three steps removed, say, I am the college roommate of Barbara Bush's high school roommate, there is much less of a chance that I can get information to George. I must rely on my contact to transmit the information to Barbara and then on Barbara (who doesn't know me) to get the information to George. If my information or message arrives with George at all, there's a good chance it will be distored.

More on Valdis and his ideas in the next post.

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