Power of Networks

Posted by  GeoffBrown —May 30, 2012
Filed in Living Systems & Complexity, Uncategorized, Yes!And Improv

Manuel Lima, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world in this latest RSAnimate talk. After you watch this, make sure you read this paper on Networks by Meg Wheatley & Deb Frieze. They add a layer of Emergence to the Network idea.

I’ll get to the PUNCHLINE of Manuel’s talk first, and add the CONTEXT later …

A new type of thinking is emerging according to Manuel. A way of thinking where everything is interconnected and interdependent. Right at the end of the talk (and this is bit I liked), he points out that “it’s not enough anymore to be a specialist in 1 area … you need to know a little bit about everything … or at least create outbound ties so that you are able to learn from other disparate areas.”

As a facilitator, the “outbound tie” that has transformed my practice is Improvisational Theatre. Who would have thought that a bunch of mindsets and practices from actors on the stage could teach me so much about myself and working with groups?! AIN (The Applied Improvisational Network) is full of people from hundreds of disciplines who share a passionate belief that applying improv can change hearts and minds, bring us closer together and create the conditions for innovative partnerships. This mental shift toward a networked view of the world (that Manuel points to) must be accompanied by principles and practices, to guide us through uncertainty and when the script doesn’t even exist. The ability to respond when the way forward is unclear is a key skill for business success during times of uncertainty and change.

So how’s this for a provocative proposition! Every field of practice and every discipline on earth needs to know a little bit about Improvisational Theatre and add it as an “outbound tie”!

And for those in Melbourne on July 12 & 13, you are invited to learn how to apply improv to your practice. The conference is called Thriving in Uncertainty and is hosted by The Applied Improvisational Network and Melbourne Playback Theatre. Click here to find out more.

For those in Montreal, you should get in touch with the monthly Thrivability Montreal conversations. They are connecting with real businesses who are serious about a networked and living systems view of their business.

CONTEXT … the first parts of Manuel’s talk

Manuel’s talk is about the power of Networks and the challenge of mapping an increasingly complex world. He starts with a historical look at the metaphor of the structure of a Tree and how it has dominated our idea of how the world works. The tree has been a religious symbol and was used to tell biblical stories. The branch structure of the tree has been used as a knowledge classification system in blood ties between people, animal species and in other areas of science.

Manual points out that the Tree structure branches off with no connections or ties between them. The tree, he says, expresses our desire for order, hierarchy, balance, unity and a need for a simple way of looking at the world. Our social and organisational structures reflect this view and so emerged top-down hierarchies and organisational charts. In my experience, even our local community groups suffer from too much of this type of structure.

He urges that we are at a turning point, where the tree metaphor is no longer able to communicate the inherent complexities of the modern world. The internet has shown our connections to be a network like a web … not like the hierarchy of a tree structure. We now understand our eco systems in much more connected, complex and sophisticated way. We know that the brain is no longer a compartmentalised centre, instead it’s a complex network more akin to a symphony being played by hundreds of thousand of instruments. Even human endeavor has created Wikipedia which shows the interconnections which binds and ties disparate fields of knowledge together.

Enjoy the animation too!


  1. Love this, Geoff! Thanks for the mention of Thrivability Montreal. Your post makes me think that we need to expand our understanding of trees. Have you seen how your neighbors, the Maori in New Zealand, help organizations using a complex, dynamic version of the tree metaphor, including the mycelium, the birds, life and even pests? http://www.tipuake.org.nz/index.php. I wrote an article about it last summer: http://solarium.cambiumconsulting.com/content/blueberries-and-becoming-indigenous

  2. GeoffBrown says:

    Thanks Michelle.

    Your post points to a far richer and complex metaphor than the “structural” tree diagrams that have dominated our thinking – I agree that our thinking needs to expand.

    I often use the tree metaphor (the one that includes the seed, soil, biosphere, symbiosis etc.) as a way of getting group to go deep into the interconnections that a tree has. Getting to draw the metaphor (in detail) in groups is nice … and then inviting them to apply the metaphor to a current problem/issue can help them to discover new ways of seeing the world.

    I also like the 5th Paradigm model (which I think came from Berkana or AoH) and this looks at the cross section of the tree trunk and growth rings expanding from a the centre (akin to the core purpose).

    Looking forward to chatting this week before your camp kicks off! Geoff

  3. […] (RSAnimate video) and a very cool Pecha Kucha presentation on Applied Improv from Belina Raffy – http://www.tangentconsulting.com.au/?p=2756   2. Michelle Holliday’s Tedx talk […]

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