The Hidden Power of Social Networks

Article excerpt

The Hidden Power of Social Networks Rob Cross and Andrew Parker Harvard Business School Press (2004) 304 pages, Hardcover, $29.95

Reviewed by: Wm. Matthew Bowler, University of North Texas

Cross and Parker put into words many of the ideas that social network researchers have in their heads, but have trouble verbalizing. This book is a comprehensive introduction to social network concepts and how to use them. The book does a good job of bridging the gap between social network research and social network consulting and organizational practice. The chapters are clearly written and provide value added for people interested in using social network analysis for research or consulting. The first few chapters are a review of basic social network analysis terms and techniques. These chapters do a nice job of explaining social network concepts for the beginning graduate student or researcher, or the practitioner wanting a better understanding of the informal side of their organization. The latter chapters explore ways in which results from social network analysis can be used to shape networks to better fit the needs of organizations. These chapters are particularly helpful in illustrating ways to provide useful information to employee research subjects and consulting clients.

In the first chapter Cross and Parker provide a concise introduction to network terminology. The same topic is covered by whole books and classes in other places, but the authors do an adequate job of providing the reader with the vocabulary and tools to understand the remainder of the text. The book makes an important distinction early on between formal networks and informal social networks. Many practitioners struggle with this distinction. Breaking out of the "this is the way we look on paper" idea and seeing what is really happening can be not only difficult, but also very threatening to a CEO or manager. By introducing the CEO or manager to the informal modes of interaction you potentially threaten the image they have of themselves as the leader of the organization. The potential of finding out someone else is actually running the show based on their informal position causes some leaders to cringe. Therefore, it is important that early on the authors distinguish between the organizational chart and the social network diagram.

Several chapters in the book include well thought out usage of network diagrams. The diagrams not only supplement the introduction of terms like lines, centrality, and periphery, but also illustrate important differences between formal structure and informal social networks. …