posted 3 Nov 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 3
Book review: Living Networks by Ross Dawson
Patti Anklam reviews Living Networks: Leading Your Company, Customers and Partners in the Hyper-connected Economy by Ross Dawson.
Title: Living Networks
Author: Ross Dawson
Publishers: Financial Times Prentice Hall (2003)
We know we care about and leverage the networked aspect of the world. We use technology to create and sustain our personal and professional business networks. We leverage personal networks to make connections, solve problems and learn. But how can we go beyond merely leveraging to creating value and participating deeply in the new economy? Living Networks presents the challenges of working in a hyper-connected world of collaboration and integration; it also provides ideas and guidelines for moving forward.
Part one, ‘Evolving Networks’ describes what it feels like to live in our hyper-connected world: the rich (but too often dense) flow of information, the blurring of global boundaries, and the emergence of participative and interactive media. The second chapter provides a clear exposition of emerging technologies and standards. The descriptions of XML, web services, interoperability, and the implications of alignment with standards are among the most lucid I have read.
The second part addresses the organisation in the context of the network, and networks in the context of the organisation. Key themes include people working in networks via collaborative processes and systems, and the creation and management of intellectual property. Dawson draws on and uses real-life examples to elucidate opportunities and issues.
Part three focuses on strategy and how companies are positioning themselves, not within specific industries, but within a “deeply integrated lattice made up of many players”. Among the thorny topics he takes up are convergence, content distribution, rights management of intellectual assets and reframing professional services in a digital era.
Living Networks concludes with predictions on the future of business in the networks. All are thought provoking and context setting by posing a particular challenge for business leaders. For example: “Almost all value will stem from collaborative relationships.” Dawson makes the point that a business strategy must leverage available networked technology to build collaborative webs with partners and customers to co-create value. He cautions that the real challenge is in shifting organisational cultures and behaviours to support this business mentality.
There are two reasons why I might not have read this book. First, I have probably overdosed on recent literature that presents networks as the foundation for understanding connections among people and groups. Instead, Living Networks focuses on the outcomes of the networked nature of the world: the signs that the world has changed, and the implications for business leaders who have not yet embraced the change and begun the process of adaptive, evolutionary strategy setting.
Second, the intended audience might have put me off picking up this book. The subtitle didn’t speak to me (a KM consultant). But I had heard Dawson at a KM conference, and determined that he is one of those people who can sense and make sense: to take in events and trends, and articulate diverse inputs in a way that an individual can discover and learn. Living Networks does this on a couple of levels.
On a practical level, Dawson is first rate at explaining technologies, implications and adoption issues. He uses the right examples and doesn’t overstress them. He writes engagingly and sequences the book effectively. The design also integrates the thought processes.
On a contextual level, his ideas flow together in the same way, I presume, that Dawson looks at the entire topic of the hyper-connected ‘flow economy’: define the space in which you operate, find yourself in that space (what are your competencies and offerings? What elements can you provide or control? What relationships do you need to succeed?) and reposition. Technology, organisation, strategy and future, all come into play and must be continually re-examined.
The audience for Living Networks is business managers who have not yet articulated how their corporate strategy must shift based on the realities of the networked world. Dawson provides clear decision-making steps and criteria for developing network strategies, providing industry leadership, developing trust in organisations, and so on.
KM practitioners will also find nuggets, good examples and heuristics relating organisational networks to current business concerns. Living Networks provides business arguments for key KM programmes related to building communities and, in particular, external networks for the exchange and co-creation of knowledge.
KM aside, this is a great standalone book about businesses, organisations and networks. The chapter on professional services and networks of consultants resonated deeply with me; I’m sure others will find other sections relevant to their own situations.
One of the nuggets that I am mulling is: “Only if systems can share information and work together do they form a network.” Written in the context of networked computer systems, I want to apply this to the notion of networks of people: if the possibility for sharing does not exist, can there be a network? Living Networks links relationship of network technologies and people networks in a readable, useful way.
Patti Anklam is an independent knowledge-management consultant. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org