MESH, UnMESH – the danger of social capital

I guess a little grass is good. It gets you thinking. As I was out in my yard mowing the lawn, digging up the flower beds, planting … the Florida, the MESH, the bonding and bridging social capital … it came together for me in a moment.  Shall we see if I can piece it together for you again in this post?

A couple of weeks ago I attended Canada’s biggest Web conference, MESH08 at the MaRs Discovery Centre in Toronto. Thanks to Mark, Rob, Michael, Stuart and Matt. It was a great event!

Coincidently, I bumped into Richard Florida while he was walking into his office at MaRs, KD Paine & Joe Thornley were leading the social media measurement meme during the week and I received word from ChangeThis.com that their editorial board has selected my idea to link social media to corporate valuation (vote here till June 19th).

Between Third Tuesday & MESH, I bumped into a lot of people.  I appreciated the chats with David Crow, Jonas Brandon, Scott Pelton, Michael O’Connor Clarke (ain’t he the best!), Jeremy Wright and Duncan Hill.  And as usual, I really enjoyed savouring new connections.  Reconciling Dragon’s Den, Sean Wise, Will Pate and VenCorps as consistent was fun.  David Jones & I connected through our ‘hood.  I am worried. Tamara Kremer might be more fun than me and Collin Douma has already taken the “Johnny Cash of social media” spot.  Networking on the patio through tech star Amber MacArthur to stir up the attentions of Mark Kuznicki was memorable.  Learning more about Radian 6 was key and of course, my personal favourite random media effect … the Mike Kelly, Mike Cayley human alliteration (heh, heh – his blog is entitled “strangely entangled”).

If you have not quite caught it yet … the subject of this post is links.  Helpful, influential, supportive links.  Links that must be invested in, over time, with contribution, sharing and commitment.  Or in other words, the resources that are embedded in social connections known as social capital.

As I reflect on MESH08, I keep thinking of a Harvard Business Review article entitled “When Social Capital Stifles Innovation” co-authored by Richard Florida, Robert Cushing and Gary Gates.

Once again, I want to commend “the MESH guys” on their effort to create the premier web conference in Canada.  My wondering about “the state of the nation” in terms of the Toronto scene and innovation in Canada in general is a testimony to their success. 

So here goes the wondering bit:  Is it impossible to create an innovation led culture and economy when our baby boomer bubble is so pronounced, we underfund startups, the venture capital market is shallow, small populations, small markets and a “branch-plant” mentality of scarcity breeds local hypercompetition?

I don’t think so, but Florida, Cushing and Gates serve a cautionary note.  “Relationships can get so strong that the community becomes complacent and insulated from outside information and challenges. Strong ties can also promote the sort of conformity that undermines innovation. Weak ties, on the other hand, allow a basic level of information sharing and collaboration while permitting newcomers with different ideas to be accepted quickly into the social network. Thus, social groups with weak ties could be expected to encourage innovative thinking.”

I don’t think Toronto (or Canada) is yet taking full advantage of our diversity, but I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction.  Events like MESH08 and Third Tuesday help (on a different front) by connecting our tightly bound community through weak links to people like Marshall Sponder, Natalie Johnson (Shel says she gets it), Rohit Bhargava and David Gratton (great moderator!).  Panelists – you must really feel like “the new kid in town” when everyone rushes you at the end of your session.

At some level, perhaps the point is – who cares?  Once you understand the Gladwell/Wattsinfluencers-shminfluencers” thing,  but that is a whole other post. 

Brian Uzzi has found that striking a balance between bonding and bridging social capital is the best formula. So perhaps a couple of ideas that may be useful for any community that wants to steer clear of the dark side of social capital …

When a peer tries to innovate, makes a major move, attempts to reinvent an industry, risks financial and social capital and personal ego, a tightly bound social network can either help their fellow lobster out of the pot, or drag them back into the boiling cauldron.  A mentality of false scarcity and local hypercompetition can breed indifference or satifice driven criticism.  On the other hand, mobilizing in support of efforts to build global success stories enriches the home town crowd over the long term, digg it!?.  I am not suggesting a free pass, just a healthy awareness of the pros and cons of a tight social network and enlightened self interest when it comes to the weak links that are so valuable.

Wrt MESH specifically, maybe somehow broadcasting the twitter tweme on public monitors or projecting it can open up the amazing (but exclusive) dynamics of the back channel or the video shot during the conference could be played in the common area to create some feedback loops.

And perhaps there are some ways to bring in even more value packed outsiders into the conference? 

Music, advocacy, Club Penguin, StumbleUpon, Social Media and the Enterprise – I think that the content already meets the new standards for meetings and conferences that make them worth travelling for.  May be some strategies ontop of that great content like:

–  giving each panelist 5 free tickets and asking them to bring a posse of out of towners,

– coordinating twemes and a skype swarm with a sister conference, or, (UPDATE: Here is an example of someone getting going with that sister conference idea mentioned above: http://www.futureexploration.net/fom08/)

– raising the price to $1200 per person but including free air fare (airfair?) scholarships from anyplace in the world.

Just a few half baked thoughts.

Oh, and Jacquelyn, thank you! I don’t take links lightly and I really appreciate this one.

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Vote at www.changethis.com/proposals/1279

The “Introducing Social Capital Value Add” proposal is now posted at:

http://www.changethis.com/proposals/1279

Please click the yes button and share the link …

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Pls vote for ChangeThis.com proposal

A few weeks ago, after receiving a reviewer’s draft of my “Introducing Social Capital Value Add”, one of the founders of www.changethis.com advised me to submit SCVA as a manifesto.

I just received confirmation that the Editorial Board has accepted my proposal and that it will appear on their site beginning May 20. 

Now I need anyone who believes that we need to figure out how to measure social media in a meaningful way to vote for the proposal.  It would be a great way to get the conversation into a higher gear.  Tom Peters, Chris Anderson, Gladwell, Richard Florida, Seth Godin and many more have instigated some great ideas through www.changethis.com.

Please go to www.changethis.com and vote for the “Introducing Social Capital Value Add” proposal and forward the proposal or this blog post to all like minded individuals.

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