"Nothing is more practical than a good theory."
So says Duncan Watts in a wonderful documentary on the new science of networks. "Connected: The Real Matrix" airs Sunday night at 9pm on the Discovery Channel in the US. The promo (see below) is enough to get us excited as it features Watts and Albert Laszlo Barabasi, who represent the two great streams of advances in network science in the last decade: small worlds (Watts) and scale-free networks (Barabasi). It was Barabasi's work that inspired us to apply the new network science to organizations, a subject we have been studying for almost three decades (see our Library). From that early investigation came our OrgScope tool that maps and analyzes organizations as networks. We've let Barabasi know how influential his work has been on ours and we're excited that this show will be on TV.
What's the "new" in the "new network science?" Two things: an unexpected discovery and a resolution to an old problem. Barabasi led the team that discovered "scale-free networks," non-random configurations with sparse but many-linked "hubs" that turn out to be key nodes in networks. With Steven Strogatz, Watts finally solved the "six-degrees of separation" conundrum by showing how a few "shortcuts" could dramatically decrease average communication distance.
These final two advances enlarged traditional ("old") network science (known as "graph theory") that underlies social network analysis (SNA) and created a remarkable general-purpose network paradigm that is immediately applicable to both people and organizations. Listen closely, and you will hear news in the program about a "general network theory," a mathematically-rooted, experimentally demonstrated, and highly practical theory that applies across physical, biological, and human domains. Our work shows that this same general network theory applies directly to networked organizations (see, for example, our paper, "Principles for Reorganization").
On Monday, February 16, we'll release "Revolution in Networks: Applying the New Science of Networks to Organizations," the next in our NetAge Working Papers series. There, we tell the story and examine the work of both Barabasi and Watts, elegantly platformed by the upcoming documentary.
Check out what's in store on the documentary:
-- Jeff Stamps