Network Boneheads

In 1974 half the incoming freshmen at UC Berkeley flunked a basic English composition test. Other major US universities reported similar failures. One English department head remarked about the matriculates, “Students can’t carry through an idea in writing; they have no idea what a paragraph is; they are unable to string details together in a logical sequence. They’re just sort of vapid.”

Students were required to enroll immediately in a remedial English composition course. It was popularly known around the campus and around the world as “Bonehead English.”




Three decades into the Network Age, we are facing a similar crisis. Basic network comprehension of business leaders is nil. Worse, so called network experts don’t understand networks either. Leadership lacks a network mindset. There are a lot of Network Boneheads.

Today’s network comprehension is anecdotal and vicarious. This is dangerous. It hurts performance. Like the ‘74 freshmen, the Network Boneheads have no clue of their utter incompetence. Unlike the Berkeley freshman, they are doing real damage.

Here are few examples collected just from the last ten days. Names omitted and scenarios adjusted to protect the innocent guilty.

“We MUST focus on our strong ties in the social graph. Strong ties are where all our business is; it’s our gold mine. The future of our business depends on the strong ties of the social graph.”

Wow! This person is way out of their depth. A real Network Bonehead. Economic activity and wealth creation inhabit absent and weak ties. On average people have about 10-12 strong ties. They require a lot of energy to maintain. They produce no economic benefit. On the contrary, people have hundreds and more weak ties. Weak ties and absent ties produce virtually all economic activity, growth and prosperity.

“First in importance is for us is to start to build and manage our networks.”

Sound the Network Bonehead alert! Social networks are omnipresent and eternal. They have no start or end. Networks are not built like a model airplane or house. It is impossible to manage or control networks. Networks are not possessions.

Rather, networks are revealed. Networks are served. Social networks are emergent. Order and purpose originates from interaction not control. There are no vicarious networks. Note: pruning nodes and grafting links is not managing a network; it’s data administration.

“It’s very important to have the biggest social network possible. Always strive to add your network. The bigger your social network the better.”

Oh boy, time to remediate this complete Network Bonehead. First, nodes in a social network are not the same in a computer network. Nodes are not little routers. Rather, they are people. They are diverse and complex. Effective networks are purposeful. Optimal networks and outcomes are achieved through collaboration not size. Optimal networks are fluid and emergent. They have an ebb and flow. They do not have perpetual growth. Size does matter and optimal networks are best.


Sadly, all these remarks were from self-appointed experts. They claim to know social networks. Some have written blogs and even books on networks! It is disgraceful. If you don’t know about centrality or betweenness, please do not write books or blogs on social networks. If you don’t know what scale-free or small-world means don’t preach. In short, please, please don’t be a Network Bonehead.


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