Category Archives: Social Systems
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
– Rabindranath Tagore
Among the many fundamental debates in philosophy, one of the fundamental debates has been around the concept of free will. The debates have stemmed around two arguments associated with free will.
1) Since future actions are governed by the circumstances of the present and the past, human beings future actions are predetermined on account of the learnings from the past. Hence, the actions that happen are not truly a consequent of free will.
2) The counter-argument is that future actions may not necessarily be determined and governed by the legacy of the present and the past, and hence leaves headroom for the individual to exercise free will.
Now one may wonder what determinism or lack of it has anything to do with the current state of things in an organizational context. How is this relevant? Why are the abstract notions of determinism and free will important enough to be considered in the context of organizational evolution? How does the meaning lend itself to structured institutions like business organizations, if you will, whose sole purpose is to create products and services to meet the market demand.
So we will throw a factual wrinkle in this line of thought. We will introduce now an element of chance. How does chance change the entire dialectic? Simply because chance is an unforeseen and random event that may not be pre-determined; in fact, a chance event may not have a causal trigger. And chance or luck could be meaningful enough to untether an organization and its folks to explore alternative paths. It is how the organization and the people are aligned to take advantage of that random nondeterministic future that could make a huge difference to the long term fate of the organization.
The principle of inductive logic states that what is true for n and n+1 would be true for n+2. The inductive logic creates predictability and hence organizations create pathways to exploit the logical extension of inductive logic. It is the most logical apparatus that exists to advance groups in a stable but robust manner to address the multitude of challenges that that they have to grapple with. After all, the market is governed by animal spirits! But let us think through this very carefully. All competition or collaboration that occurs among groups to address the market demands result in homogenous behavior with general homogeneous outcomes. Simply put, products and services become commoditized. Their variance is not unique and distinctive. However, they could be just be distinctive enough to eke out enough profits in the margins before being absorbed into a bigger whole. At that point, identity is effaced over time. Organizations gravitate to a singularity. Unique value propositions wane over time.
So let us circle back to chance. Chance is our hope to create divergence. Chance is the factoid that cancels out the inductive vector of industrial organization. Chance does not exist … it is not a “waiting for Godot” metaphor around the corner. If it always did, it would have been imputed by the determinists in their inductive world and we would end up with a dystopian homogenous future. Chance happens. And sometimes it has a very short half-life. And if the organization and people are aligned and their mindset is adapted toward embracing and exploiting that fleeting factoid of chance, the consequences could be huge. New models would emerge, new divergent paths would be traduced and society and markets would burst into a garden of colorful ideas in virtual oasis of new markets.
So now to tie this all to free will and to the unbearable lightness of being! It is the existence of chance that creates the opportunity to exercise free will on the part of an individual, but it is the organizations responsibility to allow the individual to unharness themselves from organization inertia. Thus, organizations have to perpetuate an environment wherein employees are afforded some headroom to break away. And I don’t mean break away as in people leaving the organization to do their own gigs; I mean breakaway in thought and action within the boundaries of the organization to be open to element of chance and exploit it. Great organizations do not just encourage the lightness of being … unharnessing the talent but rather – the great organizations are the ones that make the lightness of being unbearable. These individuals are left with nothing but an awareness and openness to chance to create incredible values … far more incredible and awe inspiring and momentous than a more serene state of general business as usual affairs.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
– Steve Jobs
What is the Medici Effect?
Frans Johanssen has written a lovely book on the Medici Effect. The term “Medici” relates to the Medici family in Florence that made immense contributions in art, architecture and literature. They were pivotal in catalyzing the Renaissance, and some of the great artists and scientists that we revere today – Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo were commissioned for their works by the family.
Renaissance was the resurgence of the old Athenian democracy. It merged distinctive areas of humanism, philosophy, sciences, arts and literature into a unified body of knowledge that would advance the cause of human civilization. What the Medici effect speaks to is the outcome that is the result of creating a system that would incorporate what on first glance, may seem distinctive and discrete disciplines, into holistic outcomes and a shared simmering of wisdom that permeated the emergence of new disciplines, thoughts and implementations.
Supporting the organization to harness the power of the Medici Effect
We are past the industrial era, the Progressive era and the Information era. There are no formative lines that truly distinguish one era from another, but our knowledge has progressed along gray lines that have pushed the limits of human knowledge. We are now wallowing in a crucible wherein distinct disciplines have crisscrossed and merged together. The key thesis in the Medici effect is that the intersections of these distinctive disciplines enable the birth of new breakthrough ideas and leapfrog innovation.
So how do we introduce the Medici Effect in organizations?
Some of the key ways to implement the model is really to provide the support infrastructure for
1. Connections: Our brains are naturally wired toward associations. We try to associate a concept with contextual elements around that concept to give the concept more meaning. We learn by connecting concepts and associating them, for the most part, with elements that we are conversant in. However, one can create associations within a narrow parameter, constrained within certain semantic models that we have created. Organizations can hence channelize connections by implementing narrow parameters. On the other hand, connections can be far more free-form. That means that the connector thinks beyond the immediate boundaries of their domain or within certain domains that are “pre-ordained”. In those cases, we create what is commonly known as divergent thinking. In that approach, we cull elements from seemingly different areas but we thread them around some core to generate new approaches, new metaphors, and new models. Ensuring that employees are able to safely reach out to other nodes of possibilities is the primary implementation step to generate the Medici effect.
2. Collaborations: Connecting different streams of thought in different disciplines is a primary and formative step. To advance this further, organization need to be able to provide additional systems wherein people can collaborate among themselves. In fact, the collaboration impact accentuates the final outcome sooner. So enabling connections and collaboration work in sync to create what I would call – the network impact on a marketplace of ideas.
3. Learning Organization: Organizations need to continuously add fuel to the ecosystem. In other words, they need to bring in speakers, encourage and invest in training programs, allow exploration possibilities by developing an internal budget for that purpose and provide some time and degree of freedom for people to mull over ideas. This enables collaboration to be enriched within the context of diverse learning.
4. Encourage Cultural Diversity: Finally, organizations have to invest in cultural diversity. People from different cultures have varied viewpoints and information and view issues from different perspectives and cultures. Given the fact that we are more globalized now, the innate understanding and immersion in cultural experience enhances the Medici effect. It also creates innovation and ground-breaking thoughts within a broader scope of compassion, humanism, social and shared responsibilities.
Implementing systems to encourage the Medici effect will enable organizations to break out from legacy behavior and trammel into unguarded territories. The charter toward unknown but exciting possibilities open the gateway for amazing and awesome ideas that engage the employees and enable them to beat a path to the intersection of new ideas.
“We chose steel and extra wide panels of glass, which is almost like crystal. These are honest materials that create the right sense of strength and clarity between old and new, as well as a sense of transparency in the center of the institution that opens the campus up to the street.”
What is Transparency in the context of the organization?
It is the deliberate attempt by management to architect an organization that encourages open access to information, participation, and decision making, which ultimately creates a higher level of trust among the stakeholders.
The demand for transparency is becoming quite common. The users of goods and services are provoking the transparency question:
- Shareholder demand for increased financial accountability in the corporate world,
- Increased media diligence
- Increased regulatory diligence and requirements
- Increased demand by social interest and environmental groups
- Demands to see and check on compliance based on internal and external policies
- Increased employees’ interest in understanding how senior management decisions impact them, the organization and society
There are 2 big categories that organizations must consider and subsequently address while establishing systems in place to promote transparency.
- External Transparency
- Internal Transparency
Some of the key elements are that organizations have to make the information accessible while also taking into account the risk of divulging too much information, make the information actionable, enable sharing and collaboration, managing risks, and establishing protocols and channels of communication that is open and democratic.
For example, it is important that employees ought to able to trace the integrity, quality, consistency and validity of the information back to the creator. In an open environment, it also unravels the landscape of risks that an organization maybe deliberately taking or may be carrying unknowingly. It bubbles up inappropriate decisions that can be dwelt on collectively by the management and the employees, and thus risks and inappropriateness are considerably mitigated. The other benefit obviously is that it enables too much overlap wherein people spread across the organizations may be doing the same thing in a similar manner. It affords better shared services platform and also encourages knowledge base and domain expertise that employees can tap into.
Organization has to create the structure to encourage people to be transparent. Generally, people come to work with a mask on. What does that mean? Generally, the employees focus on the job at hand but they may be interested to add value in other ways besides their primary responsibility. In fact, they may want to approach their primary responsibility in an ingenious manner that would help the organization. But the mask or the veil that they don separates their personal interest and passions with the obligations that the job demands. Now how cool would it be if the organization sets up a remarkably safe system wherein the distinction between the employees’ personal interest and the primary obligations of the employee materially dissolve? What I bet you would discover would be higher levels of employee engagement. In addressing internal transparency, what the organization would have done is to have successfully mined and surfaced the personal interests of an employee and laid it out among all participants in a manner that would benefit the organization and the employee and their peers.
Thus, it is important to address both – internal and external transparency. However, implementing transparency ethos is not immune to challenges wherein increased transparency may distort intent, slow processes, increase organizational vulnerabilities, create psychological dissonance among employees or groups, create new factions and sometimes even result in poor decisions. Despite the challenges, the aggregate benefit of increased transparency over time would outweigh the costs. At the end, if the organization continues to formalize transparency, it would also simultaneously create and encourage trust and proper norms and mores that would lay the groundwork for an effective workforce.
Reputation is often an organization’s most valuable asset. It is built over time through a focused commitment and response to members’ wants, needs, and expectations. A commitment to transparency will increasingly become a litmus test used to define an association’s reputation and will be used as a value judgment for participation. By gaining a reputation for value through the disclosure of information, extensive communications with stakeholders, and a solid track record of truth and high disclosure of information, associations will win the respect and involvement of current and future members.
Kanter and Fine use a great analogy of transparency like an ocean sponge. These pore bearing organisms let up to twenty thousand times their volume in water pass through them every day. These sponges can withstand open, constant flow without inhibiting it because they are anchored to the ocean floor. Transparent organizations behave like these sponges: anchored to their mission and still allowing people in and out easily. Transparent organizations actually benefit from the constant flow of people and information.
Plans to implement transparency
Businesses are fighting for trust from their intended audiences. Shel Holtz and John Havens, authors of “Tactical Transparency,” state that the realities associated with doing business in today’s “business environment have emerged as the result of recent trends: Declining trust in business as usual and the increased public scrutiny under which companies find themselves thanks to the evolution of social media.” It is important, now more than ever, for organizations to use tools successfully to be sincerely but prudently transparent in ways that matter to their stakeholders.
“Tactical Transparency” adopted the following definition for transparency:
Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares the following with its stakeholder publics:
▪ Its leaders: The leaders of transparent companies are accessible and are straightforward when talking with members of key audiences.
▪ Its employees: Employees or transparent companies are accessible, can reinforce the public view of the company, and able to help people where appropriate.
▪ Its values: Ethical behavior, fair treatment, and other values are on full display in transparent companies.
▪ Its culture: How a company does things is more important today than what it does. The way things are done is not a secret in transparent companies.
▪ The results of its business practices, both good and bad: Successes, failures, problems, and victories all are communicated by transparent companies.
▪ Its business strategy: Of particular importance to the investment community but also of interest to several other audiences, a company’s strategy is a key basis for investment decisions. Misalignment of a company’s strategy and investors’ expectations usually result in disaster.
Here are some great links around transparency.
According to J.D. Lasica, cofounder of Ourmedia.org and the Social Media Group, there are three levels of transparency that an organization should consider when trying to achieve tactical transparency.
▪ Operational Transparency: That involves creating or following an ethics code, conflict-of-interest policies, and any other guidelines your organization creates.
▪ Transactional Transparency: This type of strategy provides guidelines and boundaries for employees so they can participate in the conversation in and out of the office. Can they have a personal blog that discusses work-related issues?
▪ Lifestyle Transparency: This is personalized information coming from sites like Facebook and Twitter. These channels require constant transparency and authenticity.
Create an Action Plan around policies and circumstances to promote transparency:
Holtz and Havens outline specific situations where tactical transparency can transform a business, some of which are outlined in this list.
▪ Major Crises
▪ Major change initiatives
▪ Product changes
▪ New regulations that will impact business
▪ Financial matters
▪ Media interaction
▪ Employee interaction with the outside world
▪ Corporate Governance
▪ Whistleblower programs
▪ Monitoring corporate reputation internally and externally
▪ Whistleblower programs
▪ Accessibility of management
Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Employee Engagement, Employee retention, Leadership, Learning Organization, Learning Process, Management Models, Organization Architecture, Risk Management, Social Dynamics, Social Systems, Walled Garden
Tags: boundaries, communication channel, conversation, crowdsource, democracy, diversity, employee engagement, learning organization, mass psychology, organization architecture, risk management, social systems, strategy, transparency
MECE is a thought tool that has been systematically used in McKinsey. It stands for Mutually Exclusive, Comprehensively Exhaustive. We will go into both these components in detail and then relate this to the dynamics of an organization mindset. The presumption in this note is that the organization mindset has been engraved over time or is being driven by the leadership. We are looking at MECE since it represents a tool used by the most blue chip consulting firm in the world. And while doing that, we will , by the end of the article, arrive at the conclusion that this framework alone will not be the panacea to all investigative methodology to assess a problem – rather, this framework has to reconcile with the active knowledge that most things do not fall in the MECE framework, and thus an additional system framework is needed to amplify our understanding for problem solving and leaving room for chance.
So to apply the MECE technique, first you define the problem that you are solving for. Once you are past the definition phase, well – you are now ready to apply the MECE framework.
MECE is a framework used to organize information which is:
- Mutually exclusive: Information should be grouped into categories so that each category is separate and distinct without any overlap; and
- Collectively exhaustive: All of the categories taken together should deal with all possible options without leaving any gaps.
In other words, once you have defined a problem – you figure out the broad categories that relate to the problem and then brainstorm through ALL of the options associated with the categories. So think of it as a mental construct that you move across a horizontal line with different well defined shades representing categories, and each of those partitions of shades have a vertical construct with all of the options that exhaustively explain those shades. Once you have gone through that exercise, which is no mean feat – you will be then looking at an artifact that addresses the problem. And after you have done that, you individually look at every set of options and its relationship to the distinctive category … and hopefully you are well on your path to coming up with relevant solutions.
Now some may argue that my understanding of MECE is very simplistic. In fact, it may very well be. But I can assure you that it captures the essence of very widely used framework in consulting organizations. And this framework has been imported to large organizations and have cascaded down to different scale organizations ever since.
Here is a link that would give you a deeper understanding of the MECE framework:
Now we are going to dig a little deeper. Allow me to digress and take you down a path less travelled. We will circle back to MECE and organizational leadership in a few moments. One of the memorable quotes that have left a lasting impression is by a great Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman.
“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist takes this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to theexcitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower! It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
The above quote by Feynman lays the groundwork to understand two different approaches – namely, the artist approaches the observation of the flower from the synthetic standpoint, whereas Feynman approaches it from an analytic standpoint. Both do not offer views that are antithetical to one another: in fact, you need both to gather a holistic view and arrive at a conclusion – the sum is greater than the parts. Feynman does not address the essence of beauty that the artist puts forth; he looks at the beauty of how the components and its mechanics interact well and how it adds to our understanding of the flower. This is very important because the following dialogue with explore another concept to drive this difference between analysis and synthesis home.
There are two possible ways of gaining knowledge. Either we can proceed from the construction of the flower ( the Feynman method) , and then seek to determine the laws of the mutual interaction of its parts as well as its response to external stimuli; or we can begin with what the flower accomplishes and then attempt to account for this. By the first route we infer effects from given causes, whereas by the second route we seek causes of given effects. We can call the first route synthetic, and the second analytic.
We can easily see how the cause effect relationship is translated into a relationship between the analytic and synthetic foundation.
A system’s internal processes — i.e. the interactions between its parts — are regarded as the cause of what the system, as a unit, performs. What the system performs is thus the effect. From these very relationships we can immediately recognize the requirements for the application of the analytic and synthetic methods.
The synthetic approach — i.e. to infer effects on the basis of given causes — is therefore appropriate when the laws and principles governing a system’s internal processes are known, but when we lack a detailed picture of how the system behaves as a whole.
Another example … we do not have a very good understanding of the long-term dynamics of galactic systems, nor even of our own solar system. This is because we cannot observe these objects for the thousands or even millions of years which would be needed in order to map their overall behavior.
However, we do know something about the principles, which govern these dynamics, i.e. gravitational interaction between the stars and planets respectively. We can therefore apply a synthetic procedure in order to simulate the gross dynamics of these objects. In practice, this is done with the use of computer models which calculate the interaction of system parts over long, simulated time periods.
The analytical approach — drawing conclusions about causes on the basis of effects – is appropriate when a system’s overall behavior is known, but when we do not have clear or certain knowledge about the system’s internal processes or the principles governing these. On the other hand, there are a great many systems for which we neither have a clear and certain conception of how they behave as a whole, nor fully understand the principles at work which cause that behavior. Organizational behavior is one such example since it introduces the fickle spirits of the employees that, at an aggregate create a distinct character in the organization.
Leibniz was among the first to define analysis and synthesis as modern methodological concepts:
“Synthesis … is the process in which we begin from principles and [proceed to] build up theorems and problems … while analysis is the process in which we begin with a given conclusion or proposed problem and seek the principles by which we may demonstrate the conclusion or solve the problem.”
So we have wandered down this path of analysis and synthesis and now we will circle back to MECE and the organization. MECE framework is a prime example of the application of analytics in an organization structure. The underlying hypothesis is that the application of the framework will illuminate and add clarity to understanding the problems that we are solving for. But here is the problem: the approach could lead to paralysis by analysis. If one were to apply this framework, one would lose itself in the weeds whereas it is just as important to view the forest. So organizations have to step back and assess at what point we stop the analysis i.e. we have gathered information and at what point we set our roads to discovering a set of principles that will govern the action to solve a set of problems. It is almost always impossible to gather all information to make the best decision – especially where speed, iteration, distinguishing from the herd quickly, stamping a clear brand etc. are becoming the hallmarks of great organizations.
Applying the synthetic principle in addition to “MECE think” leaves room for error and sub-optimal solutions. But it crowd sources the limitless power of imagination and pattern thinking that will allow the organization to make critical breakthroughs in innovative thinking. It is thus important that both the principles are promulgated by the leadership as coexisting principles that drive an organization forward. It ignites employee engagement, and it imputes the stochastic errors that result when employees may not have all the MECE conditions checked off.
In conclusion, it is important that the organization and its leadership set its architecture upon the traditional pillars of analysis and synthesis – MECE and systems thinking. And this architecture serves to be the springboard for the employees that allows for accidental discoveries, flights of imagination, Nietzschean leaps that transform the organization toward the pathway of innovation, while still grounded upon the bedrock of facts and empirical observations.
Posted in Business Process, Employee Engagement, Innovation, Leadership, Learning Organization, Learning Process, Management Models, Model Thinking, Motivation, Organization Architecture, Recognition, Risk Management, Social Dynamics, Social Systems
Tags: Analysis, creativity, employee engagement, employee recognition, innovation, learning organization, mass psychology, Mental Construct, Mental Models, organization architecture, social network, social systems, Synthesis, Systems Thinking, talent management, uncertainty
We start off with the premise – Human beings are good. Absent any constraints, human beings are inclined toward doing good. It is a fair assumption that have stood the test of time and the institutions, at an aggregate level, have for the most part endured and advanced human prosperity and happiness on account of the fundamental premise.
As we continue to thrive and move forward and forge and foray into new branches of knowledge and gather insights into our worlds, internal and external, we have a little more headroom to reach out and engage and contribute to the well being of other people that may not serve any immediate vested interest. Along the way, people have gathered a mix of different capital of various magnitudes – economic capital, intellectual capital, and social or reputation capital – and hence, they are in a better position today, than any time before, to be able sprinkle this capital across local and non-local communities. Thus, economic capital may translate into micro-lending and charity and endowments, intellectual capital may translate into voluntary time associated with teaching and mentorship, and social or reputation capital may translate into giving people opportunities. There is a far greater degree of awareness of larger issues that impinges on the advancement of the human race … issues around environment, conservation, global sustainability, clean energy, medical, basic infrastructure matters, democratic values, food, et al. And to that end, NGO’s, foundations, wealthy donors, corporations, governments, taxpayers, et al have contributed immensely to all of these causes.
Sometime ago I read this article – The Case against Corporate Social Responsibility in the WSJ. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703338004575230112664504890.html)
The argument was that if corporations ought not to focus on profits and social responsibility since those are competing outcomes that dip into a shared pot of responsibility of enhancing shareholders’ wealth. Yes, the argument has some merit if we were to reduce this argument to fiat consideration. But given the increased awareness of people in a world that is globalized and is under a spotlight of rich social media, this argument carries less weight today than more early years in business history. Talent has indeed become a prized asset, and companies set up structures, with the profit motive in mind, to harness the asset in a needful manner – all to finally serve the interests of the shareholder. But talent has also become fickle and mobile; it is becoming relatively more difficult to handcuff talent to the steering wheel of an organization. The organization is thus, for the sake of long-term sustainability, have to create structures that will encourage loyalty and engagement among the employees. And thus, the organization has to espouse higher aspirational ideals, which may immediately sacrifice short term profits for long term sustainability. I contend that corporate social responsibility is becoming another factor that will increase in importance over the passage of time.
So how do the flow of such events and the presumption of good tie into employee engagement? To stretch the above argument further, it is important for company to provide a supportive framework to allow employees to distribute their capital, should they choose to do so! I am not suggesting that people must distribute the capital, but I am suggesting that they have the opportunity to do so. And when they do, they aptly get recognized because it is still a capital that is being distributed generally with no expectation of immediate return. The returns maybe illusory with respect to formulating tangible financial metrics, but nonetheless it has a lot of importance. Thus, it is important that there are channels and applications and systems in place to encourage social good within the ranks and files of the employees.
Here are some interesting facts that you ought to think through. And these are facts in the context of US only:
1. There are over 1million charities and foundations.
2. The total amount of revenue associated with these charities and foundations are over $1.5 trillion.
3. Almost 50% of the amount is driven by private donations, of which $300 billion are private individual contributions. Private donations represent estates, bequests, etc.
4. There are over 20 million people employed in charity and foundations in the US.
So clearly this is a big and powerful sector. And if companies can provide the structure to support the cause of community engagement among employees, that would only mean that they magnify their community footprint, and hence will have access to the new millennial generation that transcends the extrinsic provisions of the employer-employee contract.
Tags: corporate accountability, corporate social responsibility, employee engagement, employee recognition, extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, social causes, social recognition, social systems, sustainability
Virality is a metric that has been borrowed from the field of epidemiology. It pertains to how quickly an element or content spreads through the population. Thus, these elements could be voluntarily or involuntarily adopted. Applying it to the world of digital content, I will restrict my scope to that of voluntary adoption by participants who have come into contact with the elements.
The two driving factors around virality relate to Viral Coefficient and Viral Cycle Time. They are mutually exclusive concepts, but once put together in a tight system within the context of product design for dissemination, it becomes a very powerful customer acquisition tool. However, this certainly does not mean that increased virality will lead to increased profits. We will touch upon this subject later on for in doing so we have to assess what profit means – in other words, the various components in the profit equation and whether virality has any consequence to the result. Introducing profit motive in a viral environment could, on the other hand, lead to counterfactual consequences and may depress the virality coefficient and entropy the network.
What is the Viral Coefficient?
You will often hear the Viral Coefficient referred to as K. For example, you start an application that you put out on the web as a private beta. You offer them the tool to invite their contacts to register for the application. For example, if you start off with 10 private beta testers, and each of them invites 10 friends and let us say 20% of the 10 friends actually convert to be a registered user. What does this mean mathematically as we step through the first cycle? Incrementally, that would mean 10*10*20% = 20 new users that will be generated by your initial ten users. So at the end of the first cycle, you would have 30 users. But bear in mind that this is the first cycle only. Now the 30 users have the Invite tool to send to 10 additional users of which 10% convert. What does that translate to? It would be 30*10*10% =30 additional people over the base of 30 of your current installed based. That means now you have a total of 60 users. So you have essentially sent out 100 invites and then another 300 invites for a total of 400 invites — you have converted 50 users out of the 400 invites which translates to a 12.5% conversion rate through the second cycle. In general, you will find that as you step through more cycles, your conversion percentage will actually decay. In the first cycle, the viral coefficient (K) = 2 (Number of Invites (10) * conversion percentage (20%)), and through the incremental second cycle (K) = 10% (Number of Invites (10) * conversion percentage (10%)), and the total viral coefficient (K) is 1. If the K < 1, the system lends itself to decay … the pace of decay being a function of how low the viral coefficient is. On the other hand if you have K>1 or 100%, then your system will grow fairly quickly. The actual growth will be based on you starting base. A large starting base with K>1 is a fairly compelling model for growth.
The Viral Cycle Time:
This is the response time of a recipient to act upon an invite and send it out to their connection. In other words, using the above example, when your 10 users send out 10 invites and they are immediately acted upon ( for modeling simplicity, immediate means getting the invite and turning it around and send additional invites immediately and so on and on), that constitutes the velocity of the viral cycle otherwise known as Viral Cycle time. The growth and adoption of your product is a function of the viral cycle time. In other words, the longer the viral cycle time, the growth is significantly lower than a shorter viral cycle time. For example if you reduce viral cycle time by ½, you may experience 100X+ growth. Thus, it is another important lever to manage the growth and adoption of the application.
So when one speaks of Virality, we have to consider the Virality Coefficient and the Viral Cycle Time. These are the key components and the drivers to these components may have dependencies, but there could be some mutually exclusive underlying value drivers. Virality hence must be built into the product. It is often common to think that marketing creates virality. I believe that marketing certainly does influence virality but it is more important, if and when possible, to design the product with the viral hooks.
When you seed another social network into an ecosystem, you are, for the lack of a better word, embracing the tenets of a standing ovation model. The standing ovation model has become, as of late, the fundamental rubric upon which several key principles associated with content, virality, emulation, cognitive psychology, location principles, social status and behavioral impulse coalesce together in various mixes to produce what would be the diffusion of the social network principles as it ripples through the population it contacts. Please keep in mind that this model provides the highest level perspective that fields the trajectory of the social network dynamics. There are however a number of other models that are more tactical and borrowed from the fields of epidemiology and growth economics that will address important elements like the tipping points that generally play a large role in essentially creating that critical mass of crowdswell, which once attained is difficult to reverse, unless of course there are legislative and technology reversals that may defeat the dynamics.
So I will focus, in this post, the importance of standing ovation model. The basic SOP (Standing Ovation problem) can be simply stated as: A lecture or content display in an audience ends and the audience starts to applaud. The applause builds and tentatively, a few audience may members may or may not decide to stand. This could be abstracted in our world as an audience that is a passive user versus an active user in the ecosystem. The question that emerges is whether a standing ovation ensues or does the enthusiasm fizzle. SOP problems were first studied by Schelling.
In the simplest form of the model, when a performance or content consumption ends, an audience member must decide whether or not to stand. Now if the decision to stand is made without any consideration of the dynamics of the other people in the audience, then there is no problem per se and the SOP model does not come into play. However, if the random person is on the fence or is reluctant or may not have enjoyed the content … would the behavioral and location dynamics of the other participants in the audience influence him enough to stand even against his better judgment. The latter case is an example of information cascade or what is often called the “following the herd” mentality which essentially means that the individuals abnegates his position in favor of the collective judgment of the people around him. So this model and its application to social networks is best explained by looking at the following elements:
1. Group Response: If you are part of a group and you have your set of judgments governing your decision to stand up, then are you willing to reserve those judgments to be part of group behavior. At what point is a person willing to seed doubt and play along with a larger response. This has important implications. For example, if you are in an audience and a member of a group that you know well, and a certain threshold quantity in the group responds favorably to the content, there may be some likelihood that you would follow along. On the other hand, if you are an individual in an audience, albeit not connected to a group, there is still some chance of you to follow along as long as it meets some threshold for example – if I can see about people stand, I will follow along. In a known group which may constitute you being a participant among five people, even if 3 people stand, you may stand up even though it does not meet your random 10 people formula. This has important implications in cohorts, building groups, providing tools and computational agents in social networks and dynamics to incline a passive consumer to an active consumer.
2. Visibility to the Group: Location is an important piece of the SOP. Imagine a theater. If you are the first one in the center of all rows, you will, unless you turn back, not be cognizant of people’s reactions. Thus, your response to the content will be preliminarily fed by the intensity of your reaction to the content. On the other hand, if you are seated behind, you will have a broader perspective and you may respond to the dynamics of how the others respond to the content. What does this mean in social dynamics and introducing more active participation? Simply that you have to again provide the underlying mechanisms that allow people to respond at a temporal level ( a short time frame) to how a threshold mass of people have responded. Affording that one person visibility that would follow up with a desired response would create the information cascade that would culminate in a large standing ovation.
3. Beachhead Response: An audience will have bias. That is another presumption in the model. They will carry certain judgments prior to a show – one of which is that the people in front who have bought the expensive seats are influential and have “celebrity” status. Now depending on the weight of this bias, a random person, in spite a positive audience response, may not respond positively if the front rows do not respond positively. Thus, he is heavily inclined to discounting the general audience threshold toward a threshold associated with a select group that could result in different behavior. However, it is also possible that if the beachhead responds positively and not the audience, the random person may react positively despite the general threshold dynamics. So the point being that designing and developing products in a social environment have to be able to measure such biases, see responses and then introduce computational agents to create fuller participation.
Thus, the SOP is the fundamental crux around which a product design has to be considered. In that, to the extent possible, you bring in a person who belongs to a group, has the spatial visibility, and responds accordingly would thus make for an enduring response to content. Of course, the content is a critical component as well for poor content, regardless of all ovation agents introduced, may not trigger a desired response. So content is as much an important pillar as is the placing of the random person with their thresholds of reaction. So build the content, design the audience, and design the placement of the random person in order that all three coalesce to make an active participant result out of a passive audience.