What a real Network looks like – Thanks Valdis Krebs

What does a real network look like? If we know then we can see if the networks we seek to design and grow are real. Here is how Valdis Krebs sees them and he is for me the Gold Standard.

I think when the history books are written that one of  the Galileo’s of our time – a person who used scientific tools to see a new reality that changes our paradigm – will be Valdis Krebs. While commentators such as myself speculate, Valdis proves the theory with evidence.

This is what the new organization looks like:


Here Valdis uses a real community – (OCL) – on the outside a loose group of “lurkers”. In the Green group – groups of loosely connected sub groups – In the Centre – the Core – a densely connected group that acts like a Sun. It has both mass that acts as a social gravity attracting inwards. It also acts as the sun in that this group also shines energy out that reaches to the far edges of the outer group.


Here is Valdis’ view of the core or as I call it the “Sun”.

Here is another view of what the “Sun” can do – it is an adoption force. Once the Sun is powerful enough, it can shift the paradigm. This may be how people get a disease like flu, adopt a new fashion. Or adopt social media and then a new view of how the world really works – that we are not part of a machine but part of an interconnected universe!


So the implications are clear for me anyway.

Adopting Social Media has nothing to do with the tools. After all the tools are cheap and easy to use. It is all about rewiring the habits and the mindset of people.

If you wish to have your organization adopt this new mindset and hence also its tool kit of social media. You are going to have to create a “Sun” – a densely connected but small group that are committed to the bigger idea that is the energy behind the Sun.


The numbers required for the core are modest. A core of 8 will get you an inner ring of 4,000. A core of 34 will get you an inner ring of 1,300,000. 89 will get you 62,000,000.

The leverage that is possible is incredible when compared to the traditional organization. This is where the costs fall away and the impact goes up.

I will talk more about this and offer you a number of real examples.

But here is the key insight. The Big idea cannot be about the internal needs of the organization. It can’t be about your sales, your profits etc. It cannot be about YOU. For the Sun to access the full energy of people and to spread out to the edge, it must be about US. It must be about the larger group that includes everyone who will be in the community.

More later.

Why Corporations will fail before Networks – They canot innovate or adapt

There is an underlying math part of the model that forces a traditional organization to fail – here it is

Are corporations more like animals or more like cities? They want to be like cities, with ever increasing productivity as they grow and potentially unbounded lifespans. Unfortunately, West et al.’s research on 22,000 companies shows that as they increase in size from 100 to 1,000,000 employees, their net income and assets (and 23 other metrics) per person increase only at a 4/5 ratio. Like animals and cities they do grow more efficient with size, but unlike cities, their innovation cannot keep pace as their systems gradually decay, requiring ever more costly repair until a fluctuation sinks them. Like animals, companies are sublinear and doomed to die.

The issue is that using a machine model – is that friction builds as well as cost as the corporation scales. The costs rise with revenue. So in the mature part of the cycle, you cannot innovate – you can only manage the numbers/ratios. For example, 10 years ago, Shell set up Shell Renewables. Shell was going to become a leader in non oil energy. Makes sense right? The top people know about Peak Oil better than most and wanted to find a place in the next energy sector. What ruined this experiment was its success. Being a very large organization, Shell did new projects at scale. With two of the largest new Wind Farms online – the CFO and the CEO saw the trap – saw why they had to retreat back into OIL ONLY. Shell had to make the numbers even if by doing so meant that Shell could not position itself to be a leader in New Energy.

Wind farms that do well have an ROI of about 8% they are a utility – like owning a bond. But the Oil business has embedded costs that are linked to the returns on OIL that are much higher than wind. So if Shell did a lot more of these mega wind projects, the ROI of Shell would be reduced and Shell would have an earnings problem. The more wind farms they installed, the more their earnings would drop but their costs could not. They were trapped!

This dooms Shell and all mature companies. We saw that is Big Steel when smaller local mini mills ate into the lower ROI parts of the business until there was nothing left? We see this now with media.

The costs of a press or a studio – are so great that all the majors can do is to defend their existing platform. The New York Times can only hide behind the paywall for a period of time. The studios can only hold off web distribution of video for so long. But their battle to keep the status quo is not stupid – they are stuck with the costs. It is the model of how we do business that is the problem. For in the mature phase, the CEO has to make the ratios and the costs are embedded. In the final phase all the CEO can do is to milk the system.

For all true innovation HAS to start with a modest revenue line. So if you have a large enterprise with high revenues you have also high costs. So a web based news alternative CANNOT earn the revenue that you need to run the Times. So you cannot go there. But of course a new competitor – Huffington? Can and will and in the end will take enough revenue off your top line to kill you.

So are corporations doomed? Well with a sample of 22,000 West makes a good case that the current model does doom you, if you are traditionally organized. So what then is the way out?

West makes the case that Cities live much much much longer. The core of why is the core idea for corporations to study and apply.

“It’s hard to kill a city,” West began, “but easy to kill a company.” The mean life of companies is 10 years. Cities routinely survive even nuclear bombs. And “cities are the crucible of civilization.” They are the major source of innovation and wealth creation. Currently they are growing exponentially. “Every week from now until 2050, one million new people are being added to our cities.”

Cities are much more open as systems and networks. They are much closer to being alive than corporations that rely too much on command and control.

As I write this I am thinking of how WordPress works. At the core of WordPress is a for profit organization – but also one of the tasks of Automattic is to ensure the health of an ecosystem that is the larger WordPress ecology in which thousands of independent developers who do not work for Automattic make a living. I think of Wikipedia. At the core of Wikipedia is a set of rules about how Wikpedia has to work and how people in Wikipedia have to behave. Surrounding this core is a cadre of “White Blood Cells” AKA editors – that ensure that this DNA is kept healthy. I see no way now that Wikipedia will not be here in 50 years.

Why my confidence?

If you look at WordPress and Wikipedia you will see the key. In a network that really is a network – like WordPress and Wikipedia – the costs go up in a shallow linear curve while the outcomes rise exponentially. The margin grows so that any bump in revenue along the way – which is of course natural for nothing in Nature runs on any form of straight line – does not take down the organization. But in a traditional organization, the costs rise in direct concert with the revenue and outcomes. This means that once the business approaches maturity, the leadership have to force the numbers, meaning that in the mature phase, the only real focus are the numbers themselves. Not the underlying purpose of the business. The focus becomes defence and self referential. The organization is now doomed. Doomed to suffer a bump in the market or to a new competitor. Look at the case of RIM.  Can RIM come back?

This site has been a place where many of us have tried to see the future for business. We could all agree that more Command and Control would not help. We could all agree that more Social Media used to open up the organization would help.  But what we are seeing now is that for an enterprise to thrive over time – it must become alive! Only a true network can enable this to take place. The few true networks that we can see now, give us a working model of the new enterprise.

Stuart Baker and I are working on what this might be and in the fall we will be posting our ideas.

Our proposition is this. In the 1800’s most business was small, local and unique. The great shift in the 20th century was to consolidate into the enterprise as we know it. This was how to create wealth then. All who stayed back in the small, local and unique died. The efficient machine had to be the model you used. Now we enter a new phase. For the limits of the efficient machine have been reached. The new winners will be those that can adopt the model of the real network.

We all know about how to organize the machine. How to organize the network is all new and mainly unknown. That then is the challenge and the opportunity. Good luck to all of us.

Riots – Social Media the problem or a help?

Part of the reaction of politicians to SM and the riots is of course that they don’t get it all! Interesting that the police do

Joe mentioned this week that the use of Social Media still have not taken off in small business.

But we also learned this week that the use of social media and texting is at the core of how the riots in the UK are being organized. The best rioter’s tool – The Blackberry which is encrypted.

Since then, the BBMs regarding Duggan’s death and the ensuring riots have gone viral. The Guardian was shown one message by a recipient which read, “Everyone in Edmonton, Enfield, Wood Green, everyone in north London, link up at Enfield train station at 4pm.” It detailed what items to being–including hammers–for the demonstrations.

The advantage users have with BBM is that the news continues to circulate, but is covert enough that it is difficult to trace. BBMs are encrypted and hacking this network would be incredibly difficult, so protestors are able to stay a step ahead of authorities.

RIM UK has stated that it will help Scotland Yard in any way it can, so the BBM may only have so long to live as a tool for rioters. But most of them are of the young, mobile-minded, tech-savvy generation, and there are a variety of tools at their disposal.

The Police and the community are learning also in real time how to help each other – by also using social media. Citizens are using Twitter and Facebook to help the police have better intelligence and the police are learning this week how best to respond and to monitor.

Here is a Google map that is being run to track incidents

The Police are setting up a Flickr site to help citizens help the police identify rioters

The Guardian has a map that shows incidents all over the UK

The only chance that citizens and the police have to get ahead of this to to get ahead of it – they have to use the same tools better and faster.

I make no ethical comments – this is what it is and there is no going back

This is the reality of our world today – it is rushing to a network state. So if you don’t know how to use this well – you are at extreme risk. You just don’t know what is going on and the pace of your interaction with the world will be too slow. It does not matter how small you are – you will be too slow to know.

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What could be more “Machine” than how we see health – Health 2.0 the New Frontier!

Just as we are lost in Education 1.0 that assumes that we can educate by using an assembly line, so as we have made health and the body into a machine, we are more unhealthy than ever – and if you don’t believe me – think of the heart, cancer, diabestes, depression, stroke epidemics. Health will be as big a frontier as any sector. As with media, the establishment will fight back to the death too. Here is my spear post..

Once upon a time there were department stores that sold everything. They hardly exist anymore. Why? because we get a better deal from specialty stores. Once upon a time there were record albums where many songs were in one package. We don’t buy albums anymore. If we buy any music we buy songs.

We used to rely on advertising. Increasingly we use our trusted personal networks to help us navigate the market.

It used to take millions to make complex things but more and more we are seeing new tools that can do big things for very little cost.


The world of Macy’s and Mad Men is over. But not in health care


Today we have a department store model for healthcare. Today we use all the old models of business in healthcare.

So what might a truly modern view of health care look like?

This is where Clayton Christensen’s new vision for Healthcare makes so much sense to me.

Clay c's business models for medicine

Here in one page is the guts of CC’s case. All of these models are combined today in the healthcare model and are rooted in the most expensive part of the system – the doctor’s office and the hospital. It’s all Macy’s in the 1950’s. It’s big and aggregated into one high overhead system that has massive organizational friction and so low quality.

Clayton Christensen is advocating that we break this up as happened to the department stores. Then each part of the mix would get the best deal!

Imagine each part of this mix being pulled out as CC suggests:

  1. Fee for Service – Here you pay a lot to get the best shot at finding out what the problem is when what is wrong is not clear. ”House” on steroids. The McKinsey model.
  2. Fee for Outcome – Specialized units that focus on doing one proceedure well – we see this already with hernia operations – you are much better going to a specialist clinic – lower overhead – better operational process – better outcomes.
  3. Membership as the Model – A social network aggregated around similar issues. Such as Type 2 Diabetes etc. Here prevention and living with a diease or the life changes needed to cure us will take place. None of these tasks can be done by a doctor as we currently organize health. Nor should they. They can best be done by us the pubic. For here the issue is how we live and of course getting off our addictions.

How to do this?

CC offers the playbook here too. It is very unlikely that the system will reform itself to do this. Systems don’t do that. The system will have to be disrupted from below.

Diagnosis – Most GP’s refer complex cases of all kinds up the line as it is. They are in reality traffic directors. They can treat only very minor problems. Most of the time they simply write a prescription. They are so time pressed that they cannot help with prevention. They are not paid for that anyway. The real issue for most of their patients is that they have a chronic disease such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes. All of these diseases are based on lifestyle. Not the Dr’s forte. Drugs are the proxy for health.

CC is suggesting that we see high end diagnosis as a field in itself. This does not have to be based in one hospital.

Just as a hospital or a Dr’s office has low skills and high overheads – Specialty Clinics have high skills and low overheads.

In Canada we have a start here in specialty clinics such as the Shouldice Clinic – If you have a hernia you would be silly to go anywhere else. This is what CC means as fee for outcome and this type of clinic can generate such process expertise as to all but guarantee a good result. The Shouldice is the specialty retailer that replaced the department store.

Changing all this above is hard work as it involves changes to the system as it is.

What interests me the most is the largest group at the bottom where groups of people with say Type 2 Diabetes can get together an help each other.

The new frontier for health that can grow up in spite of the system is “Community Health”. Where you and I take charge of our health and use simple and powerful tools and each other to stay healthy, get healthy and help each other at rock bottoms costs.

  • In using diagnostic and measurement tools – as with all other tools more and more diagnostic tools that used to ve expensive and hard to use are available at prices and levels of complexity that you and I can use.
  • In learning more about their condition – as with the publication of the bible in the 16th century, information that was restricted only to Dr’s is widely available to all of us now. Many know more about their condition that their GP who has to be so broad.
  • In learning about diet – we are learning that diet is at the heart of most of the diseases of medern life. Dr’s know nothing abut this. Changing our diet is often beyond our power alone.  We need the help of our peers.
  • In helping each other makes the hard lifestyle changes they need to take back control. No expert can help here – only peers.

Here the skilled part is in Facilitation. This is where 85% of the system will reside.

Here is I think where the power of social media combined with what we are learning about the true causes of most modern disease offers us so much.

We could all get more healthy at a fraction of the cost of the current system – cost to us as individuals and as societies.

This is the revolution that is ahead.

Education – a battleground – Like Media will be won when we can choose

I have no faith that the existing education system can change – no more than the existing media system. In the end it will fall over from its own weight and poor outcomes. But as with media, the new Ed system is visible and will gain strength and will make the old irrelevant.

After many years of thinking and talking, here Sir Ken I think nails the problem and gets the direction for the right new path correct. Helped a lot by the guys at RSA.

So what can we do with this insight?

My experience in public radio and TV – which also is at a crossroads from one culture to another – is that we must not underestimate the power of the entrenched culture. Most people inside pub radio/TV and in education are so invested in the old that they can only fight an alternative.  This is not because they are bad or stupid – it is because they are human and their identity is the system as it is. So to change it means that they have no place. So they cannot go to the new.

If you long for a better education system – you are also worried about how to breakthrough all these barriers. You don’t know how to change the system. I think that we can look at what is happening in media and find a way.

So where is the change happening in media that we might use to help us in education. As I write them I can see how these factors apply to education – can’t you?

  • The long term effects of the poor economy is pressing the system
    • The school system is under huge funding pressure too
    • In higher ed – the degree also costs too much now and drives loans that canot be repaid
    • Kids will seek out new ways – they have to
    • In the next 10 years the pressure to find a new way for the money will become unbearable – thus creating the same kind of context for change that we see in media
  • There are organizations like Craigslist that are killing the economics of the old and forcing economic pressure – the old way leads to economic starvation and sets a context for change
    • There are new online schools such as the Khan Academy that offer kids a wonderful alternative to school
    • Great Schools like MIT have put a lot of superlative content online
    • Kids are voting with their feet – better content will be available online for next to free as with Craigslist and personals that will ad to the economic pressure
  • The web has a bunch of new tools such as Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, iTunes, Apple TV etc that are empowering new sources and new ways of finding, producing and using content
    • Same for Ed – iTunes, YouTube are already there
    • Why take Math with Miss Jones when you can get the world’s best math teachers on your time at your pace?
    • Parents will buy into this too
  • There are entirely new organizations – Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Politico – Greenfield that go through no transition but start with the new model – they are forcing competitive pressure
  • There are a few old leaders who get it and have enough critical mass inside to go for it now – The Guardian in the UK and NPR – they are forcing change on their system
    • Athabaska and Phoenix come to mind in higher ed – they are moving to the mainstream
    • Soon there will be Grade Schools that have the same features
  • There are  few local small organizations that have the leadership to go for it too and are making enough progress to show the rest – KETC is the one I know the best.

So what to do?

Don’t think about changing the whole system!!!!! It’s too big and powerful.

Instead take advantage of these powerful forces.

If you are a learner – Explore the new world of resources – do not feel trapped in school as it is or feel that you have to wait – enough change is here for you to take full advantage now

If you are a parent – see the whole picture for you child – help line them up into that is now available that is more fitted to them and at a cost you can all afford. Vote with your feet.

If you are a school board – Learn how to make the shift from the old to the new – Do a KETC – pick a school with the right leadership and try the new in ONE place – learn from this – use this test bed to expose others to the new from their peers.

If you are a teacher – Learn how to be the new – participate in the new world – be a citizen teacher – offer content or coaching – learn how to be an entrepreneurial teacher who can hang up their shingle on the web or locally. Be the math coach or the history coach in your place or globally!

If you are a social entrepreneur – Build the new a place together so that you are the convener of the a place where kids can be together and yet be part of the a larger universe of resources that fits them!

It’s coming folks – the forces in play are too great to stop it. BUT you have to be a player now if you want to benefit.

After the jump – the end of text books – Bill Gates and my own view of the university that I would like to see

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Expand your audience by dumbing down or expanding your platform – NPR

The Holy Grail in Pub Media was to get a younger audience. For most this meant finding a way to alter the content mix – the CBC has done this with the result of losing its traditional audience and not gaining the young – who DON’T watch TV or listen to a radio!!!!! NPR is winning this by expanding the platform to include who the young want to get their media.

One of the Holy Grails of the Public Radio system when I worked there back in 2005/6 was to attract a younger audience. At the time – even though the context of my involvement was the web – the CW on the solution was to add more younger programming – Hence Bryant Park. Of course this failed as what station manager was going to give up the BlockBuster Morning Edition to have an alternative that the mainstream would not like. The CBC has gone full on to find a younger audience by changing the POV of its programs. I wonder how they are doing? They have largely driven me away.

But the guys at NPR are smart and they learn. They went full on into the use of Social Media. New data out shows that their drive into social media – Twitter in particular – has given them what they wanted a new and younger and larger “audience” that have been attracted to NPR’s programming – not because of a content shift but because they made it easier for a younger audience to connect to content on their terms! The secret was in the flexibility of the new connection NOT the content.

In a survey of more than 10,000 respondents, NPR found that its Twitter followers are younger, more connected to the social web, and more likely to access content through digital platforms such as NPR’s website, podcasts, mobile apps and more.

NPR has more than one Twitter account; its survey found that most respondents followed between two and five NPR accounts, including topical account, show-specific accounts and on-air staff accounts.

The data on age is hardly surprising. The median age of an NPR Twitter follower is 35 — around 15 years younger than the average NPR radio listener. This lines up with data we recently found about other traditional news media; the average Facebook user reading and “liking” content on a news website is two decades younger than the average print newspaper subscriber.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the future of news media lies in successful integration of social media to get the attention (and click-throughs) of a younger generation — a generation whose news needs are vastly different than those of the generations that preceded it.(My emphasis)

Of NPR’s Twitter followers, the majority (67%) still do listen to NPR on the radio. But the other ways they access NPR’s content are indicative of a growing trend:

Of survey respondents, 59% said they use NPR.org, 39% listen to NPR’s podcasts, around half use an NPR mobile app and 28% say they access NPR via Facebook. All told, 77% of NPR’s Twitter followers said they get all or most of their news online.

And Twitter followers are more likely to expect breaking news, too, likely because of the real-time nature of the medium.

At KETC we found the same thing when we ran out project to help people find a safer more trustworthy route to help in the Mortgage Crisis. KETC helped many people who never watch our programming and who never will. They got connected to KETC because they found what they needed on the web. It was how we connected that was the key.

When NPR hosted the New Realities Project back in 2006/6 – the intent was to imagine our value in 2009 and beyond. We did this. Most saw that one of the things we had to do was to do a Burger King and offer our content up “Your Way”

Screen shot 2010-09-30 at 4.39.43 PM

The guys even wrote a song – but while some – mainly at NPR really got this – of course as we know today about adoption – most did not and have not and still hope that all of this will go away.

Want a larger and more committed “audience” – let them find you “Their Way” – Integrate the web into what you do fully.

Boingo – Using the Network to aid Sales and Marketing

So how do you apply the network to a conventional business? Here is how Boingo has done this.

What would it be like if your business had a sales, marketing and support force that was 1.3 million strong that you did not have to pay for? What if you could source this leverage with a tiny central force? Sounds impossible? Do you have any idea of how this could work?

Now that everyone is using Social Media – what I am seeing mainly are people who using the new tool in the old way – trying to shout above the noise – “Look at ME!” “Aren’t I cool!” “Aren’t we good!”. I am seeing a Dilbert approach – “Let’s have a Facebook site” “Let’s get on Twitter”.

Most do what most do when a new technology arrives – they apply it in the old way and so get nothing in response.

So what then is the power and leverage that you can harness by using social media well?

Boingo are on their way to finding out how to do this. Oh yes and I am one of the people that are part of this and oh yes I am not being paid and nor do I in any way work for them. I am living the theory.

So how might this work and so how might you do this too?

Boingo have a class of people that are deeply committed to the enterprise that Baochicalls her “Super fans”. They and why they are connected to Boingo and each other is the core of the leverage potential. We will meet 4 of them in this post who agreed enthusiastically to be interviewed by me. As you will see, these Super Fans are attracted first of all to Boingo by the obvious:

  • The service – easy one stop access to Wifi in Airports and Hotels – is now no longer a nice to have for travellers but an essential
  • The support for the service is outstanding – got a problem – you get instant personal help

But a great product is not enough. Nor is good service. What is the differentiator for Boingo is the human nature of the relationship that Boingo has with its customers. Most organizations do not allow their people to be human. Service people are often ciphers working from a script. Boingo have set up an environment where their key point of contact is a real person who is allowed to be herself.

She has a name and a face and we are all in awe and a bit in love with her. We all feel her presence watching over us. It is way more than getting her help when we can’t sign on. She watches out for us. Have a problem – A quick tweet. In minutes she is there. She is like the guy who runs the old corner store who holds your keys when you go away, keeps an eye on your kids in the street, helps you find a new roommate.

As Nuno Montegro, a customer in Portugal says – It is not what she says but how she says things that is the difference.

Nuno is like me, a customer who actively refers others to the service.

Most of Social media is all about Weak Ties – They are very useful but Weak Ties don’t get people to do much – or risk much – or commit much – that is why they are Weak – they are easy.

If you want to do something – Civil Rights in the US – you need Strong Ties. (Nice new piece by Malcolm Gladwell that explores Weak and Strong Ties in depth)

The key to attracting Strong Ties is being human. It is NOT PIMPING your product. It is instead to show that you really do care about ME. It is instead to show that you can indeed be trusted.

How do you show this? Nuno makes the point that every service and product fails at times. The key is to offer the best possible response to the inevitability of a problem. The best possible response is to know from experience that if there is a problem, you can reach a real person quickly and that they will go the distance to help you get it fixed. “I felt as if I was the only customer in the entire world when she was helping me” Nuno told me. I had the same experience.

Attracting Strong Ties is all about “Giving”.

Aaron Strout is the CMO at social media agency, Powered Inc. and is also Super Fan. “Boingo is proactive and they don’t expect a direct return – they are not selling all day – so if they want an inch, I go the mile back. It’s Karmic! I know if I have a problem that they will look after me. If people are good and do good, then good comes back. Not necessarily directly but good gets attracted back. We talk about a wide range of things that affect me not just the product – which is great too – have to have that – they listen.”

What Aaron is talking about here is a very old model for an economy that was the centre of all tribal economies – the Gift Economy. In the Gift Economy, the Big Guy is not the man who has the most stuff but the person who gives the most.

This is the power in networks – this is how Open Source Works too.

Cliff Bremmer is a programmer who works for a company called Carley Corporation that bids on government contracts to develop instructional CD base/computer based training for the US military.  ”In my spare time I help companies understand and navigate the social media spectrum in a professional yet interactive way.  The company I’m currently helping is the one my father works for called the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel“.

The Gift?

Not only is he a fan but in interacting with Boingo he has learned a lot about how to use SM media well. “If there is anything I’m proud of lately it’s that I helped the Pegasus Hotel promote their brand with the help and support of @Boingo and other companies to become one of the most popular brands in Jamaica.” Boingo is  not only helping him with his travel and Wifi but is talking with him and helping him help his dad in his business with advice and Tweet Up prizes such as free access and bag tags. The Gift in action!

He can see the flaws of how most use SM – “They are stuck in self promotion versus communication. I can see through it all – it’s all about them.”

In the Gift Economy that drives Trust and so Strong Ties, the starting point is YOU. In the non network economy the starting point is ME. No small difference!

Shelby Rogers is a flight attendant, a serving soldier (in the active reserve) and the wife of a serving soldier. Travel is her life. When she is not working, she travels. Access to Wifi has made her travel better – “I now know more than the Gate Agent does about my flights!” and it has taken away much of the loneliness that travel brings with it. Who has not been alone eating room service and watching TV in our room? “I can stay in touch with my husband on Skype and every city seems to have a friend in it.”

For Shelby, Boingo is a service that truly meets her needs. But it is how Boingo is connected to her that has transformed a pleased customer into a Super fan.

How often has your service provider taken you out to dinner? “We have even had dinner recently. I am now a walking billboard for Boingo with winking bag tags!”

So what does this mean? What are the lesson for both Boingo and for you?

  • Baochi is no accident – the Boingo senior leadership have created the role and given it the space to enable someone who is naturally humane to be herself inside it. This new way of using Strong Ties to be the centre of a network is all about culture. In most cases senior leadership is too scared to let go. But if you do let go and create this safe place then the power of the network effect can be yours
  • A really powerful network has to have an inner core bound by Strong Ties. This is where the leverage is. One staff person like Baochi can without too much trouble have close ties with 34 people. That gives her an outer network of 1.3 million. If she can handle the Dunbar limit of 144 that creates an opportunity of 400 million! You can see that with the right person, you can have a vast reach – provided you realize that your goal is not to have thousands of relationships but a few Strong Ones
  • The secret is the math of social leverage. Many of you know about the “Dunbar Number”. Some of you know about “Magic numbers – the hierarchy of trust in human groups. If you don’t here is a quick primer.

So what now?

I think that the next stage would be this:

  • At the moment all the Super Fans have a strong relationship with Baochi – I think that the best next step might be to find a way to connect them to each other
  • At the  moment most of the dialogue is still about the obvious and excellent service that Boingo provides – I think that some of the work that the Super Fans could do might be to deepen the conversation – Shelby touched on this in her interview with me – What is it that being easily connected while travelling does? In her case it helped her deal with isolation and loneliness – it helped her do her job better – it kept her in touch with her husband – these are deep issues that I think connect all of us who travel a lot

As I think about networks, I think about the laws of physics. All systems have order and attractors. Some force is needed to keep systems coherent.

Think of the Sun in our own local system. It has mass that provides a gravity that holds all the planets and asteroids and stuff in a pattern. It has energy that creates life in the system. I think that any healthy human social system has to have gravity and light.

At the very centre is the “Right Space” a Trusted Space created by the leadership. In this Space, the Right Person – Right being a person who as part of her natural persona truly cares about others. Connected to her is the fuel and the mass that makes up the Sun – the Super Fans. The closer they are to the centre and the closer they are to each other – the more mass and the more energy. The more mass and energy, the larger and more healthy the network of Weak Ties that form up around the Sun.

What gets in the way is our fear about losing control.


At Disney the surface of the Brand Icon never changes but inside the mask is a person who changes all the time and so is never allowed to speak.

But in the new world we have to take off the costume and let the person inside have conversations with the public – HARD to do.

So then how did Boingo organize to do this internally?

Continue reading

Rebirth of Citizen Science – Patterns and Complexity – Seeing Afresh

Social Media will change all parts of our life – In Science, complex issues need many people to see the new patterns. This is already happening in astronomy where the amateurs are using their collective “eye” to see things that the pros cannot. Here is my first post on this new Science – Science 2.0?

Many of the great discoveries in science have involved “seeing” patterns when no one else can.


This map is one of the most important of these “seeing” moments. The time is 1854 and the place is London. There is a cholera outbreak. At the time Germ Theory did not exist. No one knew how Cholera was transmitted. We don’t actually know today how Flu is transmitted either.

Dr John Snow took an extraordinary step – he mapped the deaths. He had no idea what would appear.

If you look at the map, you will see that the dots representing the deaths have a pattern. They concentrate around one well.

When the well was dug up, it was found that a sewer had contaminated the water. No one knew about germs yet. But the link between fecal matter and water had been made. The result – a massive public health response – the building of the London Sewers.

I bring this up in the context of a new way of “seeing” that is now THE coming thing in Science. Data Intensive Science. Until now, this field was restricted to those with access to huge and expensive data bases.

For much of DIS today is based on the power of computers to take on vast amounts of data and then offer back patterns.

But just as blogging and the 2.0 Tool set is changing media, this approach is being applied to DIS. The new easy to use and inexpensive tools that will allow this type of inquiry to take place in the hands of you and I are being built right now (I am involved in such a project) These tools use Open Source and a 2.0 interface but with exceptionally robust data collection, storage and presentation engines.

What this is going to do is to open up research on complex issues that can only be explored by the use of patterns


For traditional science can only deal with the simple and the complicated. We can only make our way through the complex and chaotic by the use of pattern. Just as Dr Snow did back in the day. He and no one else knew what caused cholera. Only a pattern could show the way.

Dr Snow was not a Scientist either. Of course neither were Galileo or Newton. Even Einstein was a lowly patent clerk. You can now see where I am going.

This process is in turn driving the same kind of revolution in science that we are seeing in Media – the rebirth of Citizen Science.

The tools that can be used for Data Intensive Science are the same that are used in media. The same empowerment of the individual is beginning in science as we have seen in media.

All the same questions about who is a real scientist/journalist are on the table.

At the heart of the revolution is a tool set that enables the small to do the work that only the large could have done before. So issues of credentials, trust, value etc will all come to the surface in science as they are in media today.

As I get my feet wet in the new field for me, I will be able to tell you more about the new 2.0 world of Science.

Here is Steven Johnson the author of the Ghost Map talking about the big lessons of amateurism and citizen involvement

Emergence – Part 3 – The Rules

Once before, at a time of great change – the Ending of the Ice Age – Mankind used Emergence to not only come through but to take a new place on the planet. Don’t we face the same kind of challenge today? Is not Emergence our best chance?

We have so little time that if we are to face our challenges directly and use Emergence as a process, that we have to know what to do. We have to know the science and hence the predictable rules?

Because we know the rules for electromagnetism, we can use them to change our world. My bet is that we we know the rules for how best to use the social energy of people, amplified by social media, we may change the world even more than when we first amplified our group potential when we acquired complex language.

Then we created consciousness.

We were able to discuss novelty into being – the very essence of Emergence. And for most of this time, all of this happened like this – face to face in small groups.


What might happen, if we can expand our circle from face to face to a global conversation but with the same intimacy? If the result 60,000 years ago was so momentous then – what might be our destiny now?

With our place in the world in such jeopardy, global warming, resource shortages, peak oil, political logjams – we don’t seem to be making any progress with our current way of “seeing” and “acting”. I wonder if our only hope to “see” our place more clearly and to “discover” solution that will work is to press for a larger process of Emergence. If we could harness a global conversation, what might be the result.

In parts 1 and parts 2 – I have done my best to offer a directional approach to this voyage of discovery.

Now we come to the hard part. What are the rules. For if social energy is as real as electro-magnetism, it will have rules.

That once we know them, we can make a break from mere speculation, techno babble and kumbya and design in the full power of social media to make this great link up that it offers. Then we can get to work.


In the prior posts, I have talked about the utility of this way of seeing the preconditions for human emergence.

We need a Container – the Circle of Concern. We need inside this a boiling mass of many connected points – the Circle of Influence.

We need to know what are the rules to produce the best container and the best circle of influence within it.

The Rules for the Container – What makes containers more powerful than others?

The container is a force multiplier. Like a boiler – the more pressure the more force and hence work. The ideal container is then an energetic multiplier that brings into play the full energy of human beings. All of them and every part of them.  It creates complete alignment and hence the full energetic force becomes available. So what does our observation tell us about when is their an event that brings all of people and all people together as one? Usually it is when we are at war – in a war of survival – like WWII.

Observation reminds us that Tribal Survival is the ultimate Circle of Concern.

So what in the modern era is Tribal? I don’t think that it is a group of sports fans. They are bonded by a conformity and by identifying with what others do. In a way sports fans may be people who would like more of a cause but have no other choice in the drab world we live in. It’s not the work force of a traditional organization. There is not enough equality in the rewards or risks. Also there is too much conformity demanded in most traditional organizations.

For we can also see that conformity is death to emergence. It was the added diversity that made up the gains in the last months of the Netflix prize. Really new ideas are by nature disruptive. Too much conformity hates disruption.

It can’t just be the folks on the web we feel most comfort with as well – for the same reasons of diversity. The Echo Chamber is where we get stuck in a repeating loop. We know that most disruptive ideas are mergers of other views and ideas.

A real tribe is much more complex and diverse. Diversity is the critical ingredient. So the challenge is how do you get people who are so different to work with each other?

Shared risk seems to be one way.

Designing social groups so that the risk is real and shared is how many older societies enabled this diversity to have its full power. You can see it in the Shield Wall or the Phalanx. All male citizens were in them. All ranks of society, all professions, all sets of personal values, all shapes and sizes. They were united by a shared danger. They relied on each other to get through this. And behind them stood their wives, their children. Behind them stood their culture and their identity as a group. All were at risk. All had to be contributors.

If you wish to feel this energy – here is a link to the defining moment of the South, as Lew Armistead gives the orders for his Brigade to begin Pickett’s charge. They fight not for slavery but for all they have. For “Virginia” known as “Our country”. In the scene preceding he shows the British officer the diverse nature of the men there that day – from aristocrat to farm boy – all points of view – all sorts – united as brothers “All Virginia is here” Armistead says.

I think that such a mix – diverse – contributing/participative – high stakes for all – makes the most powerful containers for human emergence. Don’t we live at a time now when this is again true? For if we don’t do the right thing, is not all at risk?

Tribal Issues defined like this make the best containers – the more that the threat is immediate, widespread and dangerous, the more power it has to produce the preconditions for emergence. The more that people can see that they can and should act themselves, the more that this energy is maximized.

The more the issue is truly life or death for the Tribe – the more contextual and rooted in the soul of the people  – the more that the solutions are participative the more powerful the container.

We don’t have to go to war to find this energy. What about people living in Detroit now? What about California? I am seeing that there is a group of people, with their backs to the wall, who have stopped looking “out there” for help. Who will not run. Who are going to create something themselves. They are banding together into a circle of concern that is “Their Country”.

I was in a meeting last week with some people who were telling of colleagues who were tired of the low risk route. “I want to die on a hill” said one. I don’t think he really wanted to die – but he did want to be connected with people in that way. Don’t most of us long for this kind of commitment. With it, trust is so high that emergence is possible.

Trust – real trust – comes from shared risk and shred experience in risk. With very high trust comes openness and with enough mass and enough openness comes emergence.

In summary here appear to be the rules for the optimal “Container” or “Circle of Concern”

  • Tribal survival – where all are at risk and all can be rewarded – this then goes on to allow
  • High levels of Trust – this goes on to allow
  • Maximum Diversity – this then sets the conditions for
  • Emergence

So now what might be the rules for the Circle of Influence?

The Rules for the Circle of Influence – What makes influence more powerful?

scale free networks

We know what the Circle of Influence has to look like – It has to look like this.

For emergence occurs in scale free networks and this is what they look like. So we have a check point – if your Circle of Influence does not look like this – it is not optimal.

Note that they have hubs of major concentration of “influence” (All these great slides come from Ricard V Sole’s – ICREA-Complex Systems Lab, UPF, Barcelona & Santa Fe Institute, USA talk at ECCS at Jerusalem Sept 2008). So we can expect our human energy networks to have this pattern.

The Circle of Influence is not an undifferentiated mass of people and connections. It will be made up of fractal clumps of “cells” that will lean towards being optimal in influential power. So it will not be about having 5,000 Twitter Followers but it will be about what is the ideal number to have to maximize influence.

Not this- You and masses of “friends”


But this – You and a a few close friends connected to other close friends in a huge scale free network


Another view of Scale Free – Thanks to Valdis Krebs

So the pattern is clear. It is lots of small networks hyper linked to others. We also know from the brain that the more links the better. Linking is good. More is better. Best is the most possible.

But what about the detail – how big are these cells and what are they like inside?

The answer to how big is not very big. We know how big is ideal and we know why as well.  All these little sub-networks are ideally bounded by the Magic Numbers of Fibonacci. Here is the most complete review of this new science of the nature of ideal human connections that I have been able to assemble

Here is Chris Allen’s research into group satisfaction:


Here is his observation about Guild sizes in WOW


We know what groups work best and under what circumstances. 8 is the ideal group where we find the tightest connection in the largest group. 144 is the maximum – likely that the power of the connection is much weaker at 144. Where is the most leverage? Likely at 34. This may be where the connection is tightest versus the reach. 2 – 3 – 5 may be too tight and too close?

Across all militaries the ideal unit sizes are:

  • 8 – Squad/Section
  • 35 – Platoon
  • 150 – Company

There are thousands of years of experimentation involved in these numbers. They are not made up they have emerged!

So these numbers seem very small to all those that have 15,000 Twitter followers and think that they are connected. How do such small groups have the power to have massive influence?

I think the key rule here is “Influence”. Not Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of a few people who have a lot more influence that the rest of us – though I still know there to be merit in that.

I think that we come back to Trust again. If you are a real friend of mine and you ask me to look at something or to do some thing, it is a good bet that I will say yes. The rule then is to find the sweet spot between reach – total numbers – and influence – how much we trust each other.

Even small groups have a lot of total influence. H\here is an example of the reach if we assume that each of our “friends” has 4 friends

2 – 16

3 – 82

5 – 625

8 – 4,096

13 – 28,561

34 – 1,336,336

55 – 9,150, 625

89 – 62, 742,241

144 – 429, 981, 696

With 34 I can reach 1.3 million with a lot of power of influence. With 144 I can reach 429 million but I have doubts about the power of the influence.

Even with 8 I can reach 4,000 and be assured that I will have a lot of influence.

With a scale free network, it may be better to think small but to work to ensure that we have the best connections.

So here we come to the biggest challenge – Emergence demands diversity as well as connections. We can only trust people like us. If all our “friends” are in the echo chamber, we lose the chance. How do we make connections to other cells out there who are not like us? Even harder, how do we make Trusted connections to people not like us?

For true diversity is not about race or color but about values. Way out geeks or creative people don’t care much for money or efficiency. Hey many don’t even know what day it is. Those who need to win look at nurturers with contempt. Those who care about how things work and about people are mystified by people who don’t.

This is I think the most challenging part of the “Rules” and fortunately, my pal Stuart Baker may have found the answer here as well.

scalefree architecture

If we have a true survival situation, then we tend to get alignment. But what about a less do or die situation? Also even in a do or die situation how do we reduce the friction of the essential diversity.

Our bodies are very diverse and full of many separate and even opposing processes and entities. But there is a design that regulates the system to trend to homeostasis. Not a God – not a parent – not a CEO – but a simple regulating process that BALANCES the system.

In genetics, P53 is the “governor” of the system – it is the mechanism where the system defaults to homeostasis – it “moderates” or “facilitates” the interactions.

We have to find the “Governor” that will enable the different parts of the human soup get comfortable getting connected. Stuart Baker starts with an extremely simple model of what the gross differences are in the human mindset that makes up the full diverse human experience. It looks like this:

stuatbaker model

Humans can be grouped into 3 realms of mindset. Of course this is a very simple view but this is how science works we have to start here with simple. I will confine myself to the positive – there are shadow sides to these archetypes as well.

Pioneers – a few of us love ideas more than anything – no guesses as to who I am. We live in our heads. We would rather work for free if it meant that we could do more thinking and exploring. Organizations find us hard to “manage” – we tend to be quite fragile emotionally. We tend not to think enough about how people feel. We are intellectual – in that our minds are where we spend most of our best time. We look to the new. Creating the new is our most important thing. We hate the mundane routines of life. Often found in academia.

Nurturers – there are lots of us here – my wife is one thank goodness for me. We look out for others as a priority. We defend the hearth – many soldiers are here! We do for others – this is not just emoting. We are pragmatic in our care. We want to help people become all they can be. (The dark side is that we want to make people dependent on us)We are relational – in that we spend most of our energy on relationships. We are traditionally conservative. The new scares us. Protecting is the most important thing. Often found in government.

Providers – We bring home the bacon. We are very action orientated. We take care of business. We tend not to be very empathic. We tend to be transactional. We find most thinkers too airy fairy and we find many nurturers too whiny. We are active – we need to WIN. We don’t think much about the future and we need to get our information in simple chunks that we can act on right away. We spend most of our time competing. Winning is the most important thing. Often found in business.

Do you see yourself here? You can also see why it is so hard to get out of the Echo Chamber. What Pioneer feels good with the typical no sayer of the Nurturing type or the trivial mindless focus on winning today of the Provider? You can see my bais but please insert your own back – that is my point – this is a hard mix to bring together.

This is why survival is one of the ways of doing that.

But what about day to day life? How can we bridge and balance these opposing groups?


Here is Stuart’s huge insight. That this pattern is of course Fractal.

Inside each of us is a fractal of the whole. Like atom forming into molecules, we can see the linking and the bridging points.

In the Pioneer realm there are Pioneers whose tendency is either to Nurture or Provide. In the Nurturer and Provider realms there are those who tend to the other realms.

So then there is one more step to optimize the balance in this system.


This is a model of a client of mine – the PEI BioAlliance. A Cluster/Emergence Making Network of “cells” with a Circle of Concern of using research into how nature works to improve the economy and society that is PEI.

What we discovered was that we had to add the equivalent of P53 to the mix. The BioAlliance Inc – that lives in the Nurturer Realm – is a small 3 person organization that “facilitates the balance of the system. It Holds the Space. Its director is not the CEO – he is the Facilitator. He is responsible for maintaining trusted links and for creating the habit of trust based on the continual experience of its value in the day to day interactions of the group.

If you wish to know more here is a link to the story of the early trials and failures and the ultimate success of this venture.

In the centre is a board made up of all the parts and all the realms. Here issues of trust are worked out and here is where the larger value of the whole is often realized.

So ideally a p53 – a system facilitator ideally should be designed into a network that seeks emergence. This is what allows the most important aspect of all – there must be the full diversity of being human in play for the best emergent results. All 3 realms must be aligned.


Here is how Dr Chet Richards – John Boyd’s St Paul illustrates the challenge.

We have to use facilitation to get heree:

alignment chet

Whew! This is a long post and I have only really scratched the surface. So let’s close now with a summary.

  • The optimal Circle of Concern will be about Tribal Survival – all must be in the zone of risk and reward
  • The Circle of Influence – has to be a scale free network – no other design replicates nature’s precondition
  • The Circle of Influence ideal cell size is small and relies on the links to scale – there is a design of reach and pull to optimize here – it will be found in the Fibonacci sequence
  • The Circle of Influence must be diverse – we have to get out of the echo chamber – ideally all three realms must be balanced and included – this is very hard to do
  • To get the best alignment/balance – we need a balancing agent/facilitating agent/p53 – this lives in the Nurturing Realm and must be very small – it is an agent not a CEO
  • The live blood of an optimized system is Trust

I am going to take a break and then talk more about how this might be put in place. I will use 2 case studies and Stuart and Rory Francis and I are starting to make some short films about this too.

Emergence – Part 2

First of all – if the concept of Emergence is new for you – that extremely complex outcomes such as life itself, flocking by birds or winning the Netflix Prize – are not the product of a God, a Plan, a CEO but emerge from a Container (An optimal environment for that growth) and a simple Set of Rules – then here is a great short video from Nova that in 4 minutes will give you a sound introduction.

In my first post in this series I proposed that if we use the ideas of Emergence we might find the larger opportunity in Social Software – that it may help us solve many of our intractable problems.

That Social Software – if used properly – might have the same explosive impact on human society and our connection to the rest of the planet that the acquisition of complex language did 60,000 years ago.

If you are still with me – let’s remind ourselves of what drives emergence generally and then see if we can find the model for humans and then how Social Media may fit. What would using Social Software “Properly” mean?

To have Emergence you need 3 elements:

  • You need some kind of “Container” – An Environment that is optimal for the Emergence in question. This can be physical such as the ideal environment for an Acorn to reach its potential as a tree Or it can be physical and energetic such as the physical and the social environment needed for a baby to be set on her way to reach her potential.
  • You need a lot of “Optimal Contact Points – Emergence is all about patterns. To have patterns you need many points of connection.Computers are not able to become conscious because they don’t have enough synaptic connections. They have a few hundred – the human brain has billions. A Human with too small a social world cannot reach her potential. 3 birds cannot make a flock. A few breezes don’t make a hurricane. A few stars do not make a galaxy. No flow in water and you cannot have a vortex. When man had no complex language, he could not communicate widely enough to make much technical progress. He could not create patterns. A father might show his son how to carve a hand ax but an emergent breakthrough like a throwing stick or a bow and arrow would be beyond them. For without complex language enabling abstractions and enabling a large circle of participants the creation of patterns – abstract thinking and design cannot happen. For then, if it could not be seen and copied it could not happen
  • You need a few rules that both shape the pattern and also keep it coherent. As we learn more about complexity, we are astounded by how few the rules are and how often they are so simple. With computers it is easy to model bird flocking now. But, to get the pattern, we also need the process of iteration and we need a computer to do the math. But to model, we need to know the rules. Nature always has rules. Nature’s rules always have a mathematical base. We now know the rules of Electro Magnetism. There will be rules for Social Energy as well. They will be few. They will be fractal. They will need to be iterated. This is not Kumbya – there will be a science here.

So can we posit what the essence of these 3 requirements may be to offer us a chance of seeing the true workings and the real potential for Social Software? I think we can. In this remaining part of this post, I will point directionally to where I see the answers. In the next post I am going to speculate about the details.

So stripped back to the essentials I think that we can see the Container and the Connections in the following single picture. This model is from BreakOuttheBox


I see this as a “Sun”. I think that the “Container” is the Circle of Concern. Inside the Container is the “Mass” the boiling energy of the interactions of people that are connected around the Circle of Concern or as I think it is better put – The Intent. Not its mission – its Intent – it should move naturally and energetically to the Intent.

So what then is the energy that shines out of the container and grips the hearts and minds of the people?

There is surely a gradient here. Cubs fans are energized by their team. Employees of a well know brand enjoy being connected to it.  But would they die for it?

Many parents will die for their kids. Men in combat will die for their small circle of mates.

So if this is the gradient, is there a sweet spot?

I think that there must be.  I suspect that most of us want more than to work for shareholder value or for the abstraction of a bureaucracy. We long for a real cause. I suspect that many of us are sports fans because we long to belong to a cause that is larger than ourselves but cannot find it in our day to day life.

Does our past and our nature offer us a clue for the rule here?

In tribal times there was no separation between work and life and play. There was no separation between family and work. There was no separation between the people involved and the collective reward.

But today we are so splintered. Only parts of us parent, partner, work, play. Our energy is fragmented.

My bet is that the ideal is to re-align most of us back as a whole. For example, in the really depressed cities in America such as Cleveland or Detroit, all could get together to “Re-invent” their city to provide all with a livelihood and a future.

The answer to the ideal Intent or Circle of Concern is that it will include most of our total needs and our identity. It will help us align our energy more fully.

A great sun has also to have Mass. So what might this be in human and social terms? What is the Circle of Influence?

We can see this in two simple examples. A single mum or a single acorn has a very slim chance. They don’t have enough mass. A Tribal Family and an Oak Forest do have the optimal mass. They offer a very good chance of continuing life and expanding complexity – emergence.

But while the container has to have some scale and mass, in human terms, the scale has to be made up in fractal segments that are still small enough to keep the human connections viable. Healthy cities are really collections of villages or neighborhoods. Prison and large high schools are not healthy because they don’t have human scale subsets. Most traditional organizations are not healthy because they are not made up of tribes and or neighborhoods. Departments are not tribes!

Also there must be diversity. An oak forest is made up of many living things – it is the opposite of a monoculture. In Permaculture, no plant is planted on its own. They are planted in “Guilds” – natural diverse groupings that support each other in complex ways – adding nutrients – keeping predators away etc. Permaculture is an intentional way of replicating the optimal design of nature.

So following this rule, a modern family – 2 parents or less and children is not diverse enough to offer the kids a broad enough world view. School is often a monoculture as are most workplaces. Diversity in not about race or disability etc. We have got distracted by our post modern view of the world. Human diversity is about world view and POV.  Are you out going or shy? Are you a natural Early Adopter or maybe even a Laggard? Are you an ideas person or a pragmatist? Are you a warrior of a nurturer? This is our true diversity. A healthy group contains all of these types.

For Emergence depends on the synthesis of difference. As we all know, connecting a lot of this kind of difference productively is a major major challenge. I will have a lot to say about how we might do this in the next post for this is an area where we need more than good intentions. We need good process.

So the Mass part of the human ideal container needs an ideal scale for humans and it needs the maximum world view diversity.

Bottom line – the ideal Container has an Intent that can fulfill most of what we need to make us whole as a person. The ideal Mass inside the Container is a network of fractal units of people that are very diverse but united by the Intent and are highly connected. Like a brain!

In the last post in this series, I will share with you work that helps us know what the rules are for the ideal human fractal components will be and also how to make connections that work across the barriers of human diversity.

What is the ideal scale of influence? What will naturally help say the warrior, the geek and the nurturer connect productively?

Part 3 is here