This week, a new practitioner of network analysis [@BennettResnik] asked me the difference between SNA — social network analysis and ONA — organizational network analysis. I gave him a flippant answer — the difference between SNA and ONA is the spelling!
There is a funny story behind the origin of ONA. It shows us how context matters and how client views have changed significantly.
I started working with the IBM Consulting Group (now IBM Global Business Services) in the early 1990s. They licensed InFlow and I trained them in the use of the software and the process of social network analysis. Soon there were dozens of IBM consultants applying SNA both within the firm and externally with clients[there are currently several hundred IBM consultants applying network analysis]. One of the most productive SNA consultants in IBM at that time was Gerry Falkowski.
One day Gerry sent me a presentation that he was using within IBM to introduce executives to ONA. I looked it over, it was a great deck, aimed squarely at business people. He did not use the term social network analysis — everything was organizational network analysis.
The next time we met face-to-face, over a beer, I asked him why he dropped the term SNA and social network analysis. Gerry laughed, and shared how he had been presenting his slide deck around the company the last few months and that IBM executives seemed interested, but somewhat skittish about the term: social. "After all, Gerry, we are a business, there is nothing social here!" said an IBM executive. This was not the first time he had heard that.
So, Gerry did a smart thing. He opened up his presentation and did a replace all "social" with "organizational." That is the only change he made, and went back out on the road to now sell Organizational Network Analysis. With the exact same presentation, except for the change in wording above, he now got rave reviews from executives inside of IBM. "Wow, when can we do this!?" was the new response. Soon Gerry was so busy doing ONA inside of IBM, with great results, that he became the go-to person for ONA throughout the firm. He just changed one word, and it made all of the difference.
In the 20 years since IBM started using network analysis, things have come full circle. The corporate consulting context has changed — now it's social this, social that and social everything. Consultants are now doing the opposite with their old presentations — changing all occurrences of "process", "project" and "team" to social.
Today the focus is on social, and tomorrow... adaptive, agile, innovative, productive... ?
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If you want to read more about the early days of network analysis in organizations see this issue of Esther Dyson's Release 1.0 newsletter or this Corporate Leadership Council best practices study [large PDFs].