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End “who you know” culture – War declared on nepotism!

April 5, 2011 10 comments

Well there’s nothing more “King Canutish” than trying to stem the tide against human nature! Today, the UK’s coalition government has declared war on nepotism. See the report here at the BBC website of an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Regular readers of the blog will have seen a post about British culture called “Posh & Posher: Education & the Old Boys Network” earlier in the year. The main point of the post was that Personal Networks can bring influence and power. Alongside this was a more worrying trend that the increasingly closed network of “old school chums” in government leads to our politicians being out of touch.

I happened to be watching breakfast TV when Clegg was being interviewed. I nearly choked on my cornflakes!

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He said: “We will stop all informal internships in Whitehall, in government, so that you can’t just have this network where people get an internship because of who they know. They should get an internship because of what they know.”

I’m a big fan of meritocracy – we’ve all worked with people who have little talent, but great connections! However, what needs to be recognised is that in the absence of knowing a person, we test out people ultimately through reference to others. Here are two personal examples from the last week that illustrate that “who you know” is so important.

First example, I’m planning to invest in a small US start-up in the area of crowd sourcing. I had a conference call with one of the advisers of the business who is based in San Francisco last week. We’d not met/spoken before – but I have the luxury of checking out his CV via Wikipedia and LinkedIn. He can do the same for me. CVs over – how do we connect. Well, he knows and is trusted by my friend (and start-up founder), Todd, who I’ve know for 20 years. At the end of our first call, the guy in SF floated “do you know ****”? No, but I did know someone who knew **** well – who used to be my companies chairman – and onwards. We’re all reassured by the trust of the “who we know”. CVs are the “what you know”!

Secondly, I had a tweet last night from a Friend of a Friend – Chris Book. We’ve not met, and this was his first tweet to me. He’s from Bath and is very good pal of one of my first connections in my new home town. He tweeted me because of who I know – and knowing my interest in Personal Networks. He wanted my opinion. His tweet was:-

Interesting thought (ish) – my last contract I got through linked in (exactly 3 years ago) this one through twitter

My opinion is that LinkedIn is primarily a CV – and has filled a gap in finding candidates, collating information. The “recommends” service has little use. If you wanted to business with someone or employ, you would pick up the phone/email and check with their connections. Twitter has moved this on so much, you can see whether people are genuinely active – and who wants to know them and engage! Twitter gives the who you really know and have a relationship with – and how they interact with you in a transparent format. LinkedIn gives you the “what you know” and “what you’ve done” presentation.

Sorry Nick! I’m a big fan of the coalition but you need to accept that “who you know” will always be our way of quickly building trust to offering partnerships, employment, opportunities – and internships! As Social Media develops Personal Networks will become more valuable every day. Everyone need to keep focussed on the “who you know”. It will always be the most important and valuable asset you have in life. The CV and application form doesn’t tell the true story….

Posh & Posher: Education & the Old Boys Network

January 28, 2011 2 comments

Apologies for this very British post! Hopefully, the international audience of the blog will find it relevant and interesting too.

The BBC broadcast a thought provoking programme this week – “Posh & Posher” presented by Andrew Neil (former editor of the Sunday Times). Although the programme focussed on the British Education system – and the dominance of Public School (that’s Private Education) and OxBridge (educated at Oxford or Cambridge University) politicians running Britain – the main point I took away was that Personal Networks can bring

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influence and power. Alongside this was a more worrying trend that the increasingly closed network of “old school chums” in government leads to our politicians being out of touch.

On the first point, the programme traces an amazing story of the transformation of control of British politics. From the end of the Second World War, British politics was dominated by the “Grouse Moor set” (another great place for high power networking). Public School education politicians took the majority of power (from the likes of Eton and Westminster Schools). Then in the 60s – there was a change, to more working class, Grammar School educated politicians. However – and this was the most surprising part of the programme – UK politics in the last 10-15 years is back to a privately educated dominance. Stats like 10% of the Coalition Cabinet being from one school (Eton), 66% being privately educated – and 16 being millionaires.

In my view, this says more about the Personal Network built up through the private education/Oxford & Cambridge root than what has been taught.

Although the programme focussed on education and the old boys network, I found the most worrying aspect to be the similarity of backgrounds (and the density of the connections) of the people who lead Britain. If any of you read my blog on Martin Gargiulo (and listened to his interview) – you will have heard him talk about “Echo”. In academic terms:

The echo hypothesis – based on the social psychology of selective disclosure of informal conversations – says that closed networks do not enhance information flow so much as they create an echo that reinforces predispositions. Information obtained in casual conversations is more redundant than personal experience but not properly discounted, which creates an erroneous sense of certainty. Interpersonal evaluations are amplified to positive and negative extremes. Favorable opinion is amplified into trust. Doubt is amplified into distrust.

This is from “Bandwidth and Echo: Trust, Information and Gossip in Social Networks”, published by Ronald S. Burt of University of Chicago and INSEAD in December 2000.

It’s a lesson for everyone – your Personal Network should not be made up of one group of people. Your judgement will be impaired by the “echo”. You should keep an eye on that – and I’ll continue to worry about the government of my country!

You can watch the programme (if you are in the UK) on iPlayer for the next week.

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