About four years ago, I started teaching about networks in Executive Education Programs at Simmons School of Management. I wanted to help the participants understand and appreciate the importance of structural properties of networks (centrality, structural holes, multiplexity, strength of ties) and social capital, and I couldn’t find a good way to do that. Lecturing to a group of highly-competent professionals was not my style and I couldn’t find an exercise that would convey these points. So I developed one. Since they, I’ve tried it out with multiple groups of executives and MBA students as well as with undergraduates, and it always worked very well. Students enjoyed it but also learned from it. This is a very low-tech exercise, so get ready for some printing and filling up some envelopes but I promise the investment is worthwhile.
Networks and the social capital that they carry enable people to get things done, to prosper in their careers, and to feel supported. To develop an effective network, one needs to know more than how to make connections with strangers at a reception; understanding the consequences of network properties on one’s ability to obtain benefits is essential. Such understanding enables students to better assess who to connect to. The simulation described herein enables participants to experience and therefore better understand the consequences of their position within a network and to overcome potential aversion to networking by recognizing its benefits and potential for reciprocity. It has been used effectively with undergraduates, MBA students, and executive audiences.
Dr. Špela Trefalt joined Simmons faculty in 2008, after earning her D.B.A. in Management from the Harvard Business School, her M.B.A. from the University of Kansas, and her B.A. in Law from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. In her research, Dr. Trefalt focuses on the issues of managing the competing demands of work and life outside of work, especially among professionals. She is particularly interested in the role of relationships at work in this process. Her research aims at deepening our understanding of the experiences of individuals with work and non-work demands in order to provide ideas for improving individuals’ well-being by combining their own agency and organizational change. She teaches in the MBA and in Executive Education programs. Prior to her academic career, Trefalt spent six years as a human resources management consultant, and eight years working in the media in Slovenia.
Ben Fine’s new book on social capital continues and elaborates upon key themes laid down in his 2001 book on the subject. The gist of his argument is that the concept of social capital, which has swept through the social sciences like a wildfire in the past 15 years, is so fundamentally flawed as to illuminate next to nothing about social reality; and that on the contrary, it leads us off the pathways we ought to be on to develop valuable, meaningful, and accurate conceptualizations of social life.