The power (and fun) of extended networks
27 November 2007 by David Bott
Last week, within a day of one another, I received 2 e-mails. The first was from an old American colleague (old in the sense of I worked with him many years ago rather that he is old!). In addition the standard catch-up data on where out mutual friends were, he asked for some contacts as he was helping organise the Fall Conference of the Association of Industrial Metallisers, Coaters and Laminators AIMCAL. He had discovered the William Lee Innovation Centre and was asking if I had any specific contacts there – especially in the area of electroluminescent fibres.
The next day, I got an e-mail from Technitex about there proposal to send a mission to the US. It was the work of seconds to forward it to my ex-colleague and complete the loop. The nice note from Technitex was an added bonus!!
This all got me thinking about how networks work, and how knowledge is transferred. There was some fuss when the DTI rebuilt the Faraday Partnerships as Knowledge Transfer Networks, but their logic was strong. The Faraday Partnerships operated on a technology transfer model. The operation was very hands-on and a cadre of “technology translators” helped the movement of technologies from universities to companies and between companies. The problem was that there was never enough resource to help everyone and the networks became exclusive – if you didn’t know someone already inside, it was difficult to join. The new model, of knowledge transfer, builds a more inclusive community and then “churns” it – using a combination of meetings of important topics and more general meetings where unexpected connections can be made. The challenge with this model is measuring its effectiveness. Once you have built the community and mixed it up, you may not know if anything has happened for some time. My small experience of mixing a colleagues from 18 years ago with someone I only met 2 years ago – in wildly different circumstances – left me thinking that transferring knowledge is a game we can all play. It have also made me think harder about my e-mails!!