fishnet network

So far in previewing the book Change: How to Make Big Things Happen, I’ve stuck to Damon Centola’s main thesis about creating social networks that can foster major social changes. But that’s not the only thing social networks can do. In his book, he also discusses creating networks that can foster innovation.

Interestingly, an optimized social network for societal change doesn’t look all that different from an optimized social network for innovation. If you create dots representing people and connect the dots, the optimized pattern in both cases will look like a fishing net, where multiple people are connected to multiple other people. It will look something like the image above.

This is in contrast to what he calls a fireworks pattern, where one person can connect to hundreds of others, and one person from that group can connect to hundreds of others. This is the simple contagion I referred to in my post How to Go Viral and Spread Social Change. The fireworks pattern is great for spreading COVID-19, but not so good for spreading real social change or fostering innovation.

Here’s what Centola writes about teams structured in the fishing-net pattern. He explains that this pattern is highly productive in generating new ideas:

“In well-designed teams, team members are protected enough to preserve informational diversity. This enables them to explore unlikely terrain in sufficient depth to discover something unexpected. But it leaves them connected enough that innovative ideas can be reinforced once they are discovered.”

In other words, if you want to foster innovation, have people communicate with each other a lot . . . but not too much. A healthy amount of communication tends to result in innovation. Too little communication tends to result in ideas withering in isolation. Too much communication tends to result in an authoritarian takeover of a single idea.

Once again, wisdom follows the Goldilocks path.

Do you share ideas with a lot of people . . . but not too many?