Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Social Networks and Serendipity: "Luck favors the prepared, darling."

By Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.

Luis Suarez recently commented on the importance of serendipity in a situation where he chanced upon someone in a taxi line who tipped him to an important “enterprise 2.0” video  concerning Intellipedia.

My response to Luis was to remember what Edna Mode said in Pixar’s The Incredibles: “Luck favors the prepared, darling.”

Anyone who studies scientific communication, creativity, and innovation will understand the value of “being in the right place at the right time.” This is one reason that very narrow views of social networks that see them primarily as one-way message transmission channels miss the boat. Engagement in multiple networks may not pay off immediately, but engagement over time increases the likelihood that both you and your fellow network members will benefit. That’s the reason for the old adage about networking and jobseeking: don’t wait till you lose your job to start networking!

Engagement in networks also influences the price of a billable hour, as researchers have shown in connection with legal services:

The greater the proportion of informal relationships a firm enjoys with clients, the lower the fee the firm charges for complex legal work.

So why is it so hard to convince some people about the value of using social networks to improve organizational processes and customer communication? Part of the reason may be that that’s just not the right way to frame the problem.

It’s one thing to evangelize a general solution to many different problems; often this devolves into “a hammer looking for nails to pound.” It’s quite another to look at a problem from the inside and to weigh all the resources and approaches to solving the problem, social networking (and its supporting technology) being only one resource to consider.

Such a perspective is nothing new. Experienced executives, project managers, and management consultants know that often the hardest thing about managing change is managing the people and their motivations and perspectives. This is why much about change management and project communication involves selling. To sell effectively you need to understand the problem from the customer’s perspective, and this takes time.

Figuring out in advance how receptive people are to change, to making improvement, to being open to serendipitous ideas and events, and to tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, is a good start.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald

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