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The Real Importance of Networks: Understanding Power

Posted on by Brandon Klein

For example, imagine you are teamed up with two other people — Alice and Bob — and are asked to grow and cook your own food. Only Alice knows anything about farming. Only Bob has ever cooked anything before. You know nothing about either.

You would probably want Alice to be responsible for farming, and Bob to be responsible for the cooking. Being responsible means making sure it gets done right, not necessarily that the person responsible is the only person doing it. For example, once you all decided what you wanted to grow, Alice would be responsible for figuring out what needs to happen and for assigning the roles.

In this case, the assumption is that the people with the right knowledge should have the power. But how should the three of you decide what to grow and cook in the first place? Alice and Bob have relevant knowledge, but it’s not the only knowledge that should count in making this decision.

There’s no universally correct answer for how that decision should be made. However, we can explore some scenarios for how that decision might be made:

You are the designated, formal leader of the team, and hence, Alice and Bob defer to you. You are bankrolling the assignment, and hence, Alice and Bob defer to you. You and Alice are both 14 years old, and Bob is 32, so you and Alice defer to Bob. Alice and Bob went to college together, so they naturally gravitate toward each other. You and Bob are both men, and so the two of you naturally gravitate toward each other. Alice is significantly taller than you and Bob, so the two of you naturally defer to Alice.