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Guest Column: Corporate dinosaurs will be extinct without the holy matrimony of internal and external networks: Shubhranshu Singh

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Guest Column: Corporate dinosaurs will be extinct without the holy matrimony of internal and external networks: Shubhranshu Singh

In the purposive development of consumer facing communication, the role of the brand owners and marketing managers is exalted, whereas the credit due to a larger network of associates is often not in the spotlight.

All communication works, at once, at several levels - the literal, metaphorical, allegorical and symbolic. The networks of people that shape the communication also work with a shared context and aligned perceptions. Perception presumes shared experience.

Even in the 'best in breed' marketing enterprises, the marketing function cannot consist of creative teams alone. There is always a cadre of efficient managers with no original ideas but the ability to manage operations and superintend the process funnel.

The concern I address is on managing the right assembly of resources externally and internally for the alchemy to proceed and magic to unfold.
Almost without exception, corporations and their functional sub-organizations operate as vertical hierarchies whereas, by definition, networks are entirely horizontal. Of course, formal or non-formal networks may differ to a degree whereby formal networks are injected with role definitions, formalized contracts, retainers, incentives and prohibitions.
However, for every such ring-fenced network there is a vastly bigger and superior informal network outside.
The only way in which network can be evaluated is to see the density of connections at any given node and to see the number of affiliates in any hub and spoke. But that's also only a volumetric assessment. The network is flat, in a continuum, and traditional thinking doesn't reveal the map.

Creativity, when well done, must naturally militate against stratification.

Yet, corporate verticality and officiousness and network horizontality and informality do come together and work. The indignity of verticality is in its non-optionality. The beauty of the network is that they are co-opted, collaborative and continuous. You can leave an organization and a hierarchy, but you still remain in the same network without loss of continuity.

Any attempt to bracket associative networks into contractually obligated silos is self-defeating and value destructive. It seems ludicrous that a management consulting firm does work with multiple automotive majors and proudly calls it a 'practice reflective of its expertise whereas when an advertising agency signs up one, the others must all be out of range.

When a free range external network is drawn into a creative process, what may one watch out for? A few prescriptive points auto suggest themselves-

Dialogue within the network: Let the conversations happen freely and to begin with, interminably. Everything is subject to scrutiny and challenge. Attitudes, ideas, insights, policies, consumer understanding, the intent itself - let these be beaten or celebrated, as the case may be, till there is shared conviction and not merely an operating consensus.

Creative networks need to see output: It does little good to be fractal about network output. If 20 ideas are to be generated, four syndicates with five each as target will result in one - fifth the urgency and a sense of whole. Everyone must have the boots in the same trenches.

Continuity of input osmosis: How does one have shared inputs as we go along? How can a larger network share a learning process whereby facts are internalized and duly factored in? How does one keep dispersed networks culturally switched on, eloquent and thought inspired?

Autonomy: How does one ensure autonomy and creative freedom, bigger creative challenges, better resources, global access? Does the network help mitigate constraints? How does the network bring in new ideas from concept to development to fruition? How does the network bring in culture immersion, sociology, technology into its mix?

Criticism and failure: How does one approach creativity with discipline when working with a large network of associates? How does criticism and feedback get communicated and absorbed? In a network of established merit, how does one reconcile business need and bottom-line with ideas and craft?
These answers are important and must be found to ensure laissez faire creativity.

Since they remain non-proprietary with multiple stakeholders active at once, creative networks are relatively open access. The creative catalysis is furthered by technological advancement which allows for real time synchronous collaboration. Unlike organizational movement which is 'inside - out,' external networks connections have a continuous dynamism. Hierarchies have phased changes and rigidity of structure whereas networks can form, coalesce and disintegrate rapidly. They are consequentially more efficient. When a vertical hierarchy plugs into a network the question it grapples with is how to give direction and ensure orchestration. The manic frenzy that appeals becomes a management task to grapple with.

Finally creative judgment, after all tests and previews, is about trust. Hierarchies are implicitly low on trust. The reason for verticality is also that supervisory scrutiny becomes, of and by itself, an important function. As opposed to this, networks are capable of self-organization, self-regulation and auto-mutation.

Vertical hierarchy presupposes the junior-most to be at the bottom and the wisest to be at the top. It therefore gets trumped by networks where flatness permits a node to access and circulate without undue emphasis on experience and credentials. The primacy of the idea prevails to a larger extent.

The future is network. Complexity of organizational structures is not a solution to the inevitability of embracing external networks. Many terrifying corporate dinosaurs will meet this inevitability tragically. Darwin is about to catch up!
A few, only a few, will laugh to their network nirvana.

Shubhranshu Singh is a marketer based out of Mumbai.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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