Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

September 25, 2008

The Business Angle

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lisa M Lane @ 8:57 am

While listening to George’s Introduction to Networks and Valdis Krebs’ presentation Wednesday morning in Elluminate, I recalled Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. In the book, not only does he discuss strong and weak ties, but he denotes three kinds of people who spread “word-of-mouth epidemics”: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

I found the book to be a very interesting discussion of the way ideas spread, and my particular interest in reading it was my realization that a great deal of our understanding about networks comes from people in marketing. At the same time as I read this book, I was also reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, which, although I was reading it to help my teaching, certainly noted many marketing examples.

Determining customer’s desires is what most companies do, in order, of course, to sell stuff. They also want to go beyond that to create demand where there wasn’t any. A great deal of the development of ideas about “networking” is associated with business: in fact, the word itself first became popular in a business context.

I don’t know whether that’s why I’m having trouble applying it to education? Certainly, whenever college professors are subjected to business models (I recall the Total Quality Management movement of the last decade), we wince and insist that what we’re doing is not commercial, and should not be subject to business motives, structures, or accountability. By “accountability” we mean the immediate quantifying justification of teaching, the inability of many people to realize what they’ve learned in college until many years later, and the difficulty in quantifying it even then.

So now we have an entire course that relates learning to networks, and thus by extension to business models, although I know that this is not the focus of research for folks like Siemens and Downes. But with Krebs, certainly, and the focus on six degrees and such, I see the spectre of TQM hovering in the background. I suspect a number of “the 2000” joining us here are business people, seeking to sell me not only products, but also ideas. Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but I think I’ll just review the Week 3 ideas for now. The main attributes of network are:

  • Small Worlds (like six degrees of separation)
  • Hubs: highly connected nodes (like Google, or the secretary’s desk at a school)
  • Power laws: ideas of power being distributed fairly or unfairly, but usually unevenly
  • Scale free: a large number of notes does not denote better connections
  • Connectors: as in Gladwell’s book, people who spread trends through weak ties, although Watts and Dodds says that may happen more through people who are easily influenced
  • Weak ties: I prefer shallow and deep to weak and strong, but the idea that people with whom you have a connection in only one area may be quite meaningful

Again, I can see all of these in business, and many of them socially. I’ll work on applying them as we go along.



  1. I would suggest the problem with using business language in other areas has to do with the dominance of commerce in our society. Here’s an example. There is a room in a house that contains files, a computer, books, a desk and maybe 3 chairs. What is that room called? If one calls it an office, there are expectations that the person in that room has mastered the productivity techniques of the business gurus and will be efficiently engaged in activity when you enter the room. If that very same room is called a study rather than an office, than a priest doesn’t have to make excuses when a businessman enters and finds him praying, reading his Bible, studying. At this year’s Lambeth Conference in England, there were large hunks of each day devoted to Bible Study and sharing in small groups designed to remind the Bishops that the Corporate model and the Church model of leadership each have their own pace and value system. The University is caught somewhere in the middle. In my day, Professors had sad little offices on campus with posted student contact hours and absolutely gorgeous studies where they read, wrote and recharged themselves at home.

    Comment by ruthdemitroff — September 25, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  2. I’m one of the business people. But, I get frustrated that marketing seems to be way out ahead in talking about networks, communities, etc. It seems like something so logical and important for education. Business nowadays happens globally at the speed of light; once can’t afford the information to be stuck in silos. Figuring out who ought to be talking to each other, and who the experts are, and connecting those networks seems like a perfect way to make business processes happen in a more seamless fashion.

    Comment by gminks — September 27, 2008 @ 10:27 am

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