Of The Network

Last night the Point People hosted an event about networks and systems change.

“The Point People was set up in 2010 because the group of founders wanted to explore how to work as a network, wanted to learn how to have more impact through using their networks, and wanted to build the profile of how important a networked person and mindset is when trying to affect change. Seven years on and we have learned quite a lot. We’ve also had some new people join us and they bring a new set of questions and network geekery to the table.”

Good questions

At our last monthly Point People meeting two of the old timers (myself and Ella) found ourselves in conversation with two newer members, Abby and Victoria. Abby and Victoria started asking us some great questions… “what is systems change..?” ….“What does it mean to be networked?” ….“What does it mean to design systemically?”… “to think in networks and systems?”….”what about collective power?”

Over the next two hours Ella and I shared our thoughts, starting with the inspiration for, and history of, the Point People and we listened to how Abby and Victoria had been doing their own versions of that kind of work. We’d all, in different ways and contexts, been “Of The Network.” I use that phrase because I work with people who talk about being “Of The Internet” or an “Internet Person” and somehow being “Of The Network” has made more sense to me. The conversation that night was so exuberant and unfinished that we decided to host an event and see who else might want to join in, with the help of other Point People like Jennie and Cat too.

Abby’s notebook from our conversation.

A networked mindset?

We will be writing up more from the event over the next few days but I wanted to share with you the short provocation I gave. I looked back on the ways we had all been working (the 16 Point People), thought back to the types of people we originally curated to be in the group, and tried to pull together a first version of 8 qualities that make up what we’re calling, a networked mindset.

1) Focusses on the collective outcomes and what is needed to have impact

Any kind of change work pulls people in many directions. People who work through networks are good at reminding people and organisations of what the network or collective are trying to do together.

2) Notices patterns, and understands and sees the connections between things

A person with a networked mindset sees everything as being in relationship. They don’t only see how things are connected but they understand why things are connected too. In being able to see these connections they are also good at noticing patterns.

3) Works with the “Third Entity.”

This is an idea that is used a lot in systems or relationships coaching. The third entity is the sum that all the parts are made up of. The Point People’s first tag line was a play on“The sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and this skill of assembling many different parts together and working with that as a whole, is part of a networked mindset.

The Third Entity is the outer ring, the container.

4) Aware of where power is and cares about creating power together

Seeing everything as connected means people with a networked mindset have a wider and more joined up perspective on where power is in a system. They actively care about making that power useful to the intention of the collective.

5) Designs for the collective rather than the individual

Whenever design decisions are made (whether that’s how an event is designed, a new programme is set up, a public service is delivered or an organisation is designed), a person with a networked mindset is first and foremost designing for the collective rather than the individual. *

Image by Redmond CC

6. Looks for and sees assets rather than deficits

If you see and understand the connection between things, it’s also helpful to know where opportunities lie and how to create value. A networked mindset is skilled at facilitating value to emerge from messy, complex networks of ideas, people and organisations.

7. Has peripheral vision — sees what’s at the edges

When we first set up the Point People we noticed how different we were acting in the world from the lone entrepreneurs, growing their own businesses. They were focussed on the path ahead, and although that was never linear, they needed to have a single focus to build their thing. Whilst they were looking ahead we were often looking laterally and peripherally, making sense of what was happening all around and on the horizon. People with a networked mindset are skilled at gathering intelligence about what is happening , where, and making that useful to the wider system.

8. Is comfortable working with plurality

This may seem obvious given we are talking about networks and systems and collective things, but it’s not a comfortable or natural place for people who are used to designing for individual user needs, shy away at the word “emergence” or who like putting things in metaphorical boxes. Someone with a networked mindset can hold many strands or relationships and feels that is vital for any change work to have authenticity.

So that’s our first attempt at thinking through what it means to have a networked mindset. We know it’s all a bit wordy. We would love your feedback and thoughts.

“The systems intelligence needed to deal with the challenges we face as the industrial age is ending is collective and must be built through working together at many levels, within and beyond organisations, in teams and networks that span industries, communities and global supply chains.”
Peter Senge.

In my next post I’ll write about what it means to be a networked organisation and why that matters. At the event we asked people to raise their hands if they thought a “networked mindset” was a thing. Everyone raised their hands. We know the room was full of network and systems change geeks like us, but we do think there is something in this. We had 48 people sign up for the event and are going to do some regular meetups now, exploring networks, systems change and collective intelligence.

  • We’re developing some design principles, with Snook and the International Futures Forum for community and collective power. If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email.