A Psychological Framework for Studying Social Networks

This is a short review of an article I found interesting.

Westaby, J.D., Pfaff, D.L. & Redding, N., (2014). Psychology and Social Networks: A Dynamic Network Theory Perspective, American Psychologist, 69, 269-284.

The authors note that a psychological perspective on social networks is rarely taken and advocate for more research.  They define 8 (psychological) roles that are thought to be played in these networks regarding goal achievement that they present as a framework to encourage more research.  The roles are:

  1. Goal Striving; directly attempting to achieve a specific goal.
  2. System Supporting; supporting those in goal pursuit.
  3. Goal Preventing; actively working to prevent goal achievement.
  4. Supportive Resisting; supporting goal preventeurs.
  5. System negating; responding with negative affect such as making fun of a person who is goal striving.
  6. System reacting; responding with negative affect toward those resisting goal pursuits.
  7. Interacting; People who can affect goals even though they do not intend to support or resist.
  8. Observing; People who only observe network activity, but nonetheless ca be involved in unintended effects.

This framework could make for an interesting analysis of networks and may have practical relevance for a wide variety of practices.  It may prove to be hard to disentangle the effects wrought by multiple or even conflicting goals in complex environments, or with fluid and changing alliances and more study is needed, however it may be interesting to follow.

Interesting article and claim by Kazem Chaharbaghi and Sandy Cripps  (2006). Intellectual Capital: Direction, not blind Faith, Journal of Intellectual Capital, 7 (#1) 29-42.

Intellectual capital (IC) has been touted as important to knowledge intensive situations and organizations, but these authors find that traditional management approaches can be self-defeating to the appropriate functioning of IC.  Organizational ecology should nurture IC shifting from directing to enabling exploration that seeks innovation and discovery.  It is somewhat similar to a recent HBR podcast featuring Robert Kaplan suggesting that leaders cannot possible know everything including the right questions to ask about their business.  Instead leaders need to seek out, enable, listen to, and appropriate the analysis of junior partners around them if they desire the best in analysis and direction.

The solution is to change management structures where necessary.  Jon Husband, writing at the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) makes this suggestion.

We need to revisit the fundamental principles of work design AND the basic rules used to configure hierarchical organizations in which the primary assumption is that knowledge is put to use in a vertical chain of decision-making.  I am not arguing that we need to replace hierarchy holus-bolus. Rather, I am suggesting that the capabilities of information systems combined with social computing capabilities and two decades of experience with team development and organizational development processes can permit centralization (read hierarchy) where and when necessary, and networked configurations where and when necessary … both centralization and decentralization.

The Real Relationship: An Idea to Support Collaborative Practice

Gelso, C.J. (2011). The Real Relationship in Psychotherapy: The Hidden Foundation of Change, Washington D.C.:APA (www.apa.org)

Most human practices, like management or education, have a social interactive foundation.  (Managers manage and collaborate with people and educators guide their development.)  Consequently the insights of psychotherapy, the most studied of all interactive processes, are usually very relevant; as is this book.  Gelso’s premise is that a tripartite relational foundation underlies successful therapeutic change: (1)The working relationship (agreements instrumental to completing the task at hand), (2) transference [“a client’s experience of the therapist that is shaped by the client’s own psychological (and social historical based) structure”] and counter-transference (the effect of the therapist’s psychological and social historical based structure), and (3) the real relationship.  He defines the real relationships as:

(T)he personal relationship existing between two or more persons as reflected in the degree to which each is genuine with the other and perceives and experiences the other in ways that befit the other.  . . . In the strongest real relationships persons communicator genuinely with one another, and are willing to let themselves be known deeply, and perceive and experience the other realistically, to an important extent (p. 58).  . . . the theory is bidirectional and represents a two person psychology (p.60).

This makes sense to me.  We have very nuanced relational capabilities and we need to seek collaborative relationships that maximize people’s potential, not seek simple command and control structures that have been shown to be inadequate.  This fits in with the ideas in the real relationship.

Gelso sees the strengthening of the real relationship as involving disclosure (he says relevance is more important than the amount of disclosure) and empathy.  The real relation is presented as critical, but it exist alongside the other two and does not necessarily subsume the other two.  To me this means that:

  1. You need to agree on and clarify your purpose for working together.
  2. You need to be careful regarding your own biases and what you project onto others.
  3. But, success in working with others may depend on putting together a deeper dialogue and relationship.

Managing Relationships, Supporting Performance

Interesting NY Times opinion piece today that extends my recent posts on validity and performance management.  It is entitled: Why Your Boss Is Wrong About You, By Samuel Culbert.  In that article he states:
In my years studying (performance) reviews, I’ve learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how “comfortable” a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results.
Samuel Culbert in this statement leads us to believe the problem with performance reviews is their subjective nature.  From a measurement perspective I believe this is incorrectly stated.  The problem is one of validity, that performance measurements typically measure the bosses level of  comfort with an employee, not their performance.  Greater objectivity will not help us if comfort is still the construct being measured.  Instead we must look at validity.
Culbert proposes a performance preview process as an alternative.
It’s something I call the performance preview. Instead of top-down reviews, both boss and subordinate are held responsible for setting goals and achieving results. . . . bosses are taught how to truly manage, and learn that it’s in their interest to listen to their subordinates to get the results . . . “Tell me your problems as they happen; we’re in it together and it’s my job to ensure results.” . . . . It encouraged supervisors to act as coaches and mentors.  . . . But understand that the performance review makes it nearly impossible to have the kind of trusting relationships in the workplace that make improvement possible.
This preview process may be a good idea in and of itself, but it does not logically get at the root problem.  Measurement within this new process can have just as many validity problems as the old process.  This is why validity is important.
Two additional things I’m thinking:
Culbert doesn’t quite get there, but I sense he is looking at something like Action Analytics, measurement tied to real-time feedback that can support performance while performance is still in formation.  Instead of measurement in the service of performance review it is measurement in the service of performance support.
The second thought is this.  The central point in Culbert’s process is trust between an employee and a boss, that is, a management relationship.  This is the central construct in successful management and it may be important to measure.
This leads me to an interesting final conclusion and maybe a management axiom:
In managing people, we management relationships, but support their performance.

Learning Beyond a Standardized Approach

Interesting post by Jay Cross that helpes me clarify my last post and explore some new directions.  In his post Jay says;

No more efficiency models, and no more Six Sigma. Forget that. We aren’t in a stable environment and won’t be in a stable environment. We have to have our people go out and experiment, innovate, and invent. Job descriptions, competency management systems, and all that legacy stuff are needless baggage.

So, a good first question to ask yourself is, “Is there evidence for functional stability in the environment”?  I mean functional in that, is there real stability, or are conservative forces trying to hang onto a fading paradigm.  If the answer is yes, than there may be a place for six sigma and other standardized programs.  But if the field is in flux, and there is a lot of flux today, than standardization can’t be your primary focus or strategy.

So if your area is in flux, how can you focus your strategy.  Jay also has some good suggestions for structuring learning processes and environments for a learning strategy.

(I)f you have an employee who is entering a new area . . .  and they have no framework, then formal learning is the way to get them up to speed—to learn the lay of the land, the technique, and the structure. But as soon as you form a complete tableau in your mind of that domain, then you are empowered to go out and fill in the pieces.

This country has missed one of the best opportunities for employee development and worker fulfillment by not asking the employee her life aspirations. Once you identify that and let the people you work with know that, you plan together to make it happen. . . . If you have a manager who isn’t willing to participate in making people better, then throw him out the door. Focus on the platform. The program stuff will get what they need if they have the right platform and things are hooked up. . . . establish an environment for learning—where you can focus specifically on your learning ecology and what will make it healthy and grow.

Some Factors that Support Creativity and Innovation

A couple articles relevant to my 12-6 post, which may also form the beginnings of a partial psychological explanation of Richard Forida’s Spikey World and Creative Class theories.  (Note – Florida’s data is primarily a correlative macro-analysis, however, these theories must also function and be analyzable at a micro level in a way that represents people’s everyday relationships.)

First, the opposite perspective – What will not help Education

Recent news is reporting on America’s falling test scores and the potential dire consequences if improvement is not found.  Now, I really can’t make a judgement without delving deep into the data, but I suspect that the most direct route to improving test scores will be some form of discipline and it will be exactly the opposite of what would help us devise a competitive advantage vis a vis the rest of the world.  Test scores are not the answer.  The answer is innovation for business and economic success.

How to Create Innovation and a 21st Century Economy: Play

I’ll examine 2 articles that make the case for the importance of play and a positive playful attitude for creation and innovation. Furthermore, read below the surface and you will find that this is not just for children.  A playful attitude is important wherever creativity is needed and today that is almost everywhere.

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving by Benedict Carey

Main point –

. . . people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused . . . positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.  . . . “It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”  “It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,”. . .

Those whose brains show a particular signature of preparatory activity, one that is strongly correlated with positive moods, turn out to be more likely to solve the puzzles with sudden insight than with trial and error . . . “At this point we have strong circumstantial evidence that this resting state predicts how you solve problems later on,” Dr. Kounios said, “and that it may in fact vary by individual.”

The second article is from Fast Company’s Design Blog; Frog Design: The Four Secrets of Playtime That Foster Creative Kids

There is a myth, common in American culture, that work and play are entirely separate activities. I believe they are more entwined than ever before. As the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.” A playful mind thrives on ambiguity, complexity, and improvisation—the very things needed to innovate and come up with creative solutions to the massive global challenges in economics, the environment, education, and more. . . . How then can we get our youngest generation to embrace the role of designer rather than (game) player? Fundamentally, it starts by letting children be the inventors of play.

The article recommends 4 ways to make this happen.

  1. Open Environments – open environments are those in which the child gets to be the author and the medium is open to interpretation.
  2. Flexible Tools – Part of being open is being flexible. Technology has given us a whole new set of tools, though they’re being used in ways not necessarily planned for.
  3. Modifiable Rules – Being open and flexible within parameters is necessary and even helpful, but what happens when the parameters themselves no longer fit our needs?
  4. Superpowers – the physical and mental skills that we develop to adapt and thrive in a complex world while exploring the creative opportunities made possible by global progress.  . . . It’s crucial to understand that we aren’t born with playful minds, we create them.  . . . When 85 percent of today’s companies searching for creative talent can’t find it, will more focus on standardized curriculum, testing, and memorization provide the skills an emergent workforce needs? Not likely. Play is our greatest natural resource. In the end, it comes down to playing with our capacity for human potential. Why would we ever want to limit it? In the future, economies won’t just be driven by financial capital, but by play capital as well.  (Emphasis added)

The Play Ethic

In the Afterword to the book Education in the Creative Economy (Play, the Net, and the Perils of Educating for the Creative Economy) Pat Kane speaks of a new basis for work informed by the play ethic (and a new common sense):

(A)fter the obsolescence of the work ethic . . . (t)he play ethic is an alternative belief-system that asserts that in an age of mass higher education, continuing advances in personal and social autonomy, and ubiquitous digital networks (and their associated devices), there exists a surplus of human potential and energy that will not be satisfied by the old workplace routines of duty and submission.

Kane calls neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal) the basis of our biological non-specialization that allows us to respond uniquely to unusual circumstances.

(W)e are not determined by our environment, but make and construct our worlds? This is mirrored by the “permanent precarity of jobs,” where we wander nomadically from one cloud in the nebulous world of labor markets to another.

While this state has the potential to produce anxiety, it also holds the possibility to unleash the “constitutive power of play” that can be productively used, especially if we can wed it to a resilience and supportive infrastructure

Learning: From Content to Capabilities

There are two major trends that I think will shape the future of educational theory.  One is the shift to peer networks as the organizing structure of tomorrow’s learning platforms (and away from the sage / university).  The reason for the shift to networks (discussed in greater detail here) is the need for learning is distributed across a person’s lifespan and the source for learning is distribute throughout the peer population.  The second shift is from knowledge content to capability.   In this post I would like to address in detail the second shift, from knowledge to capability and ultimately linking it to performance.
The links between the knowledge gained at school and later performance have always been tenuous at best.  This is not surprising in light of what we know about performance.  Think of it this way.  If you talk with an expert, the first thing you notice is that they have a wealth of content knowledge.  That knowledge, accumulated through participation in activity, is necessary for practice.  The problem is, you can’t create an expert by teaching knowledge as simple content the way that most schooling is conducted.  Knowledge and performance are related in complex ways in expert practice.  As Sawyer puts it:
Studies of knowledge workers show that they almost always apply their expertise in complex social settings, . . . where knowledge is not just a static mental structure inside the learner’s head; instead, knowing is a process that involves the person, the tools and other people in the environment, and the activities in which that knowledge is being applied. . . .  in addition to acquiring content, what happens during learning is that patterns of participation in collaborative activity change over time (Sawyer, 2007, p. ).
My analysis is simple.  If we want to improve performance, don’t measure knowledge, measure and focus on the construct of capability.  (I am not yet making a distinction between terms like capability, capacity or skill.  All terms are used in the literature, often in interchangeable ways.)  Capabilities can be analyzed at an individual, group organizational, regional or even at the national level.  Capabilities are social to the extent that most work is completed in collaboration with others and it is often necessary to build teams around people that have diverse, but complimentary capabilities.  From an educational standpoint I will raise two concerns.
  1. Capabilities are flexible and always need to be in developed in anticipation of future opportunities.
  2. No team enters a problem space with all the capabilities they will need.  All work involves the need to learn and the need to add to the team’s and to each individual member’s capabilities portfolios.
We want to do 4 things at the organizational level as a prelude to bring capability development into the organization.
  1. Define the core capabilities that are needed.
  2. Develop appropriate measures of these capabilities
  3. Understand the educational methods to develop more or stronger capabilities
  4. Understand how capabilities are distributed across the organization
There is a possible endless list of capabilities, but we need to find the aspects of this construct that correlate with performance and performance measures.  Some competencies are harder to measure (like crafting relationships, trust and legitimacy) than others (like technical or logistical skills), but I begin with the idea of performance and work back from there.  Baser et al lists the following five as their core capabilities and I will use these as a place to begin.
  1. The capability to commit and engage  – This includes drive, confidence, ambition, self-perception and the attitude to persist in the face of opposition.  This can include hiring the right people and having the right strategy and expectations, but it must also involve development and empowerment.
  2. The capability to adapt and renew – To respond appropriately and strategically to rapid or even destabilizing change by fostering dialogue and by calling on the agility to reposition or reconfigure the organization.  Most research concerns the construct of resilience, both for individuals and for organizations.
  3. The capability to balance diversity and coherence, to have a variety of perspectives while resisting fragmentation, to encourage both stability and innovation.  Includes strong communication and relationship abilities as well as the ability to manage paradox and tension.
  4. The capability to relate and to attract – the ability to craft, manage and sustain key relationships and the ability to build trust and sustain credibility within those relationships.
  5. The capability to carry out ethnical, service delivery and logistical tasks – The emphasis is on functional, instrumental ways of meeting a set of objectives and fulfilling a mandate (i.e. business analytics, financial management, project management etc. . . .).
This is just a beginning.  I’ll need to explore methods for capability development as well as addressing measurement concerns, but that is for a later date.
Bases, H., Morgan, P., Bolger, J., Brinkerhoff, D., Land, A., Taschereau, S., Watson, D. and Zinke, J. Capacity, Change and Performance: Study Report, European Center for Development Ploicy Management. File Accessed June 2010 at http://www.ecdpm.org/Web_ECDPM/Web/Content/Download.nsf/0/5E619EA3431DE022C12575990029E824/$FILE/PMB22_e_CDapproaches-capacitystudy.pdf
R.K. Sawyer (2007). Optimising Learning: Implication of Learning Science Research, in Center for Educational Research and Innovation, Models of Learning and Innovation: Draft Report accessed 6/17/2010 at http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2007doc.nsf/3dce6d82b533cf6ec125685d005300b4/47769468f4f5abf5c125738d004123d8/$FILE/JT03235431.PDF

How to Succeed in Business (While Really Trying): The Needs for New Institutions of Lifelong Learning

This post begins with an article review about topical trends in I/O Psychology and concludes that new institutions of learning and research are needed to support business.

Article Review

Cascio, W.F. & Aguinis, H. (2008). Research in Industrial and Organizational Psychology From 1963 to 2007: Changes, Choices, and Trends, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93 (#5), 1062-1081.

Primary Conclusion: Industrial Organizational Psychology is at risk of being irreverent to business because it does not focus on the concerns of todays practitioners.  13 areas of research are suggested that are important to practitioners.  These are the 5 areas they list that also interest me:

Research Needs in Business

  1. Leadership development: How might an organization identify and develop ambidextrous leaders who can inspire and motivate both older and younger generations of workers? What approaches to training can help organizational members acquire these leadership skills?
  2. Talent management: In the quest to maximize performance, some argue that talent is most important; others say that management systems enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Can I–O psychology disentangle the relative contributions of people and systems to effective performance?
  3. Culture transformation: How do transformational processes differ in bottom-up versus top-down approaches to culture transformation? Can an existing senior- management team refloat the boat?
  4. Managing change: How can we teach people to embrace change? What is the role of change management in the innovation process? How can leaders accelerate the change-management process?
  5. Increasing diversity: How can we link the broad concept of diversity (e.g., of thought, of approaches to innovation and change, of orientation toward teamwork) to improved performance at the individual, team, and organizational levels?

What’s to be Done

How do we bring this knowledge to light and provide better support to business leaders?  The main suggestions in this article were to make research topics in I/O Psychology more relevant to everyday business, to get academics out into the field with practitioners (business sabbaticals for academics), and to get senior business leaders into academia (academic sabbaticals for business leaders).  I , however, would suggest that academic institutions can not be all things to all people.  Today, because of the need for agile leadership and lifelong learning, new types of learning and research institutions are needed to support businesses. The functional aspects of business networks and communities of practice need to be fully understood and their functional requirements institutionalized.

A Lifelong High Level Learning Platform: Some Initial Thoughts

A friend was involved with a professional network, GPSEG (The Greater Philadelphia Senior Executives Group) in the Philadelphia area.   It is a group for professional networking.  There are approximately 1100 individuals registered with the group.  Membership can connect with other members for coffee meetings and there are many sub-groupings and meetings organized by locale or by industry.  Many people use the group to network for jobs, but they are encouraged to (and many do) remain with the group and continue to network after finding employment.

When describing his activities with the group, the words “learning platform” kept coming to mind as a primary goal and function of his activity.  I don’t really know much about the group and hope to learn more in the future, but just the idea began sparking my imagination.  One of the greatest educational needs for the future is for institutions that can support and actualize adult lifelong learning in ways that is functional for their everyday learning needs. The term “knowledge age” may not be sufficient to the task, but let’s at least say that learning is an imperative for everyone these days.  Prepackaged courses and curriculum will not cut it.  Networked learning is all the rage, but networks have to start and end with people.  It is important that any network be technologically enabled, but it can’t be dominated by IT thinking.  I believe it needs to have a local component and a face to face component that is primary.

This group is billed as senior executives, and I think this is a very good foundation, but I will put on my educational hat and speculate about who else could potential be served a group like this.

High Potentials – A recent Harvard Business Ideacast (Keep Your Top Talent from Defecting) reviewed the work of Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt who authored the article How to Keep Your Top Talent in HBR (subscription required).  What struck me was their figure that 70% of today’s high performers lack critical attributes essential to their success in future roles.  What a need for education, but its got to be realtime and relevant learning in real contexts.  You can’t have the training department design a course or curriculum to fix this problem.  The learning needs are too diverse and unpredictable. Development is also spoken of in this article as an engaging and motivating force for this group.  Management may not want to expose their top talent to individuals in other organizations, but these authors say that top talent already knows their value and their place in market forces very well.

Entrepreneurs – Most cities have an entrepreneurs development and support organization.  In Cleveland it’s call Jump Start.  This type of organization could serve as a great screener of people who may not have a job history as a senior executive, but would have such potential.  For projects supported by these organizations, a learning platform is exactly the type of support entrepreneurs need as they and their companies grow and develop.  Jumpstart has advisors and networking, but I bet it does not alway function as a true learning platform like I’m envisioning.

Academics – I don’t know exactly how this would shake out, but academics and the higher education business model needs to get out of class and out of the insular world of researching order to work and interact with this type of group.  Academic models need to change and it can only happen with experience and experimentation.

I’m sure there more possibilities I should consider, but I’ll leave it there for now and allow more time for my thoughts to develop.

Professional Networks as Learning Platforms: A Idea for Lifelong Learning

Two related ideas, one on learning in educational settings and one for learning in business.

1. Learning in educational settings should only be considered successful if you both learn how to learn and if you are provided with the resources to learn into the future.  Most post secondary education is organized around courses that have a beginning and an end with a bounded set of knowledge, but this does not square with the idea of lifelong learning and with the learning demands modern society places upon us.  Society is still set up so that first you learn to do and then you are expected to go forth and do, but we are understanding more and more how doing and learning are inexplicability bounded together with one another.  It seems to me that courses should end not with an examination, but with a path forward that points out what you don’t yet know and an introduction to a society where that learning can take place.  A degree should not give you a bounded set of knowledge, but with an introduction to the flexible outlines of a path and the means to pursue that path.

2. Knowledge is more distributed than we have ever acknowledged and knowledge networks are a key in knowledge development.  Business once developed around the idea of a cooperative advantage that comes from locking up and exploiting resources including people and knowledge.  Knowledge’s half life continues to stink daily and I’m not sure that the super smart people really ever existed beyond the hype.  Today’s  business imperative is learning and to do that you must be tapped into broad knowledge and idea flows that only exist in networks.  It’s the idea that we are all smarter together than anyone of us individually and we can actualize this intelligence through networks.  We are not talking mobs and mob mentality, but we are talking networks where the nodes are smart people full of knowledge, ideas and experience.

These ideas are related in this way; if we want our students to have a next generation education, it will require that we put them on a path for lifelong learning, not through courses that never stop, but through learning that is embedded in everyday activities.  That takes a different type of resource then we find in the university system.  The closest thing we have to that resource are professional networks that are set up to function as learning platforms.