December 22, 2012
Education and Structured Networking

Jeffrey Pfeffer is Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University business school. He has written extensively on structured networks. Here is an interesting insight from his 1992 paper, Understanding Power in Organizations:

Lessons to be Unlearned—Our ambivalence about power also comes from lessons we learn in school. The first lesson is that life is a matter of individual effort, ability, and achievement. After all, in school, if you have mastered the intricacies of cost accounting, or calculus, or electrical engineering, and the people sitting on either side of you haven’t, their failure will not affect your performance—unless, that is, you had intended to copy from their papers. In the classroom setting, interdependence is minimized. It is you versus the material, and as long as you have mastered the material, you have achieved what is expected. Cooperation may even be considered cheating.

Such is not the case in organizations. lf you know your organization’s strategy but your colleagues do not, you will have difficulty accomplishing anything. The private knowledge and private skill that are so useful in the classroom are insufficient in organizations. Individual success in organizations is quite frequently a matter of working with and through other people, and organizational success is often a function of how successfully individuals can coordinate their activities. Most situations in organizations resemble football more than golf, which is why companies often scan resumes to find not only evidence of individual achievement but also signs that the person is skilled at working as part of a team.

In achieving success in organizations, ‘power transforms individual interests into coordinated activities that accomplish valuable ends.””

It is a pity that most of us are taught to function only as individuals and not taught how to create and work within networks. Perhaps the very thought of training and sending out a generation of people who wouldn’t need or even want to fit into a hierarchy is too frightening to the educator’s mind? Or too threatening to those who run our societies?

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