Close Encounters, Too Close?

Bumped into this interesting article in Wired (Aug. 2008) by Clive Thompson, "Close Encounters". Clive points to interesting research done on how groups interact socially. And what the role of managers and employees is in this process.
Almost every time he analyzes a group, Waber discovers that the super-connector — the crucial person who routes news among team members — isn't the manager. "The manager is almost always peripheral," Waber says. "It's some random guy." And that person is usually overworked and overstressed. He isn't given enough support to fulfill his role, because nobody in the firm knows he's doing it in the first place. If you study the org chart, the higher-ups are in control. But if you study reality, those same managers barely know what's going on.
This results have been found in an interesting way:
This type of research has evolved into a new field called reality mining. By tracking people using location-aware devices like mobile phones or electronic badges, scientists are revolutionizing our understanding of how social networks function.
This research also compares how groups interact socially digitally and live:
On the Web, the best way to solve a problem is to engage an extensive network; the person who provides information, advice, or answers is often someone you know only vaguely — a weak link.
In the face-to-face world, though, Waber says, groups are more productive when the team members know each other well, sharing extremely strong links. That's because face-to-face teamwork requires intimacy, he says, and "when you're among friends you can really capitalize on preexisting protocols" — nods, grunts, in-jokes — for talking and listening.
Even more interesting is the fact that this research can 'predict' collaboration and tell when collaboration is good:
Reality mining can also spot when a group is in a groove. Sandy Pentland, the MIT professor who heads up the lab where Waber works, has discovered that highly creative teams socialize in a "pulsing star" pattern: They fan out to gather information, then regroup. "People explore during the day," Pentland says, "and then later get very tight and inbred, with everybody talking to everybody.
If you have enough data about commonplace conversations, you can even predict when those conversations are going to take place. Working with Pentland, Nathan Eagle tracked the physical interactions of 100 MIT students over an academic year, using their cell phones. After a few months, Eagle could deduce likely future meetings with impressive accuracy. "So if we know that," he says, "why not design our calendars to sync up?
I'm not saying we should all be tracked and traced at all time. Although I do agree with Clive that we are slowly moving that way anyway. What I like is the fact that these research results can give us deeper understand of social human behavior and collaboration patterns.

What do you think? Will tracking and tracing of all lives increase? And is that OK with you? Furthermore, what do you think of the research results? How can we use that for the companies we work for?


  1. Interesting stuff - thanks for pointing! In case you have time for the original paper, it's at

  2. Ah, thanks, Lilia, didn't look this up yet. Now get back to the cake you birthday girl! ;-)


Post a Comment

Please leave a comment! Just log in using one of the formats and if you want me to get back to you. Otherwise comment anonymously.

Popular posts

Keep the Intranet Small

Enterprise 2.0 Research

Innovation in Turbulent Times