Saturday, August 7, 2010


The Economist has a article "In Search of Serendipity" that reviews the book "The Power of Pull". "The power of Pull" highlights how modern business relies increasingly on fortuitous connections and loose networks of people in order to make decisions and/or connections.

The article make a few interesting points. Foremost, it goes into details concerning what specific things you should do to increase your "pulling power". It also contrast the decentralized "pull style" company to the conventional "command style" company. Lastly, it goes over the specific steps involved in "pulling". All these subjects are interesting, but I am not going to discus them here.

My whole concern with the "Power of Pull" system in general is its reliance on building and causing fortuitous connections in a "high quality network" of people.

My basic problem with the system is that it can be stated as such. "You can significantly increase your chance of a fortuitous connection by connecting to more people in a network, provided the network is a good one". Problem is, it is very difficult to determine when a network is good. We are human, we don't rationalize things at a purely statistical level. I am more likely to want to pick a cool network. I am more likely to want to stick with a network in which I have friends. Worse, once I am in a network, I am likely to adopt the attitudes and beliefs of the people within the network. These factors make me a terribly biased judge as to what is a "good" network.

I am not faulting the system, but I do not see how someone can easily determine quality of a network. I do not really see how you can be aware of the quality of a network before actually joining said network. Finally, once you actually join a network, you will likely become biased towards that network. At that point, you are probably one of the worst persons to ask "Should I join your network?"

I am also curious as to whether a survivorship bias has been accounted for here. The book points out that successful people often have large networks, both in size and number of networks. People who span large or multiple networks are most likely the successful ones. But a great deal more people join and then leave a network without anyone noticing. Are we sure that the net effect of being within a network is on average positive? More importantly, what is the distribution? If it is the case that the benefits are on average positive, and the distribution is normal, the I suppose the average person should join a network. But it could just as soon be a power distribution, where the most connected get great benefits from these networks (kings), many people get some (nobles), and the rest of the network actually derives a negative net benefit from a given network (peasants).

To restate, I think their conclusion is correct. I do believe that modern tools and analysis can be used expand the size of your network. However, my main concern is their reliance on having a quality network, on separating the actionable information from the mundane chatter.

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