Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Breaking a network: first kill the cadets

I think there are lessons here for corporate downsizing as well as for fighting insurgents. If you want to destroy a cooperative, don't focus on the leaders. Take out the communicators that cross boundaries:
WIRED Blogs: Danger Room

... "Networks are hard to break," Lieutenant Colonel John Graham announced. Then he smiled and said he was going to show us how.

... there are three major vulnerabilities in networks:

1) Density nodes: people with many immediate connections, e.g. leaders
2) Centrality nodes: people with fewer immediate connections but who serve as crossroads in many relationships, e.g. financiers
3) Boundary spanners: people with few (maybe just two) connections but who span long gaps between chunks of the network, e.g. liaisons or messengers

Assuming your resources for attacking a network are limited -- and in the real world, they always are -- who do you hit? Graham asked. Using his own department as an example, he advocated killing just three of the dozens of members. Surprisingly, none were examples of density or centrality, since those were all situated in the meaty middle of the network. The network had enough redundant connections to quickly repair itself after their demise. What Graham wanted to do was hit the network where there were no redundancies, so all of his targets were boundary spanners. By taking out three spanners, Graham showed how you could isolate relatively homogeneous chunks of the network, rendering it stupider and less adaptive than before.

Funny thing is, the spanners in Graham's department's network were mostly low-ranking members such as cadets...
When corporations downsize, I suspect they get rid of a lot of their "spanners". Not intentionally, but because they don't know who they are. They then founder, but never understand why ...

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