Networks drive industries
If you look just below the waterline of most individual companies you’ll find they actually float on networks. It’s the network of relationships that drives Silicon Valley. The universities, companies, and startups are built on networks of people manifesting their aspirations through their work. The job title only highlights who they are in the network. The companies don’t just give people a job, they provide a place to express your role in the network and compliment others in pursuit of a shared goal. Why is Smith Optics, the winter sports gear brand, relocating its design office to Portland, Oregon? Because of the network created by Nike, Columbia, Adidas, Keen, The Clymb. If your business is a hub of a network for your industry you’ll have your finger on the pulse of talent, innovation and design.
Networks blur the line between consumer and employee
But can you be a hub for your customers as well? Let’s do a thought experiment. Do you make or sell a product or service? Yes? Then you probably try to use your product as much as possible. How different are you from your customer? In that moment you and the customer share an experience, one that is almost exactly the same. The hard distinction between producer and consumer becomes irrelevant and the experience becomes primary. At that moment you are both skiers, cyclists, or chefs sharing an identity the product reinforces. It’s who we are and the journey we’re taking together that lasts, not the model year of bicycle we travel on.
Networks amplify identity
This shared identity and common journey will outlast any version of a product. Runners run, shoes change, and shoe designers change companies. But, runners keep running because it is who they are. If you aren’t acting as a hub for those on the journey and don’t share their identity, you are likely to struggle. You will find yourself in a perpetually reactionary position, following trends instead of defining them. But if you can be the hub to amplify the identity of your employees, industry peers and customers, you will have both the knowledge and relationships to drive what’s next.
Networks define roles
Let’s assume you’re now the hub. How do you organize, support, and grow the network that is creating the environment for your product? Roles are a special blend of a person’s natural tendencies, skills, strengths, and where they aspire to grow. Identifying these roles for your customers, employees and industry peers will set you up to understand how and why they work and play and where rewards from you will create the most loyalty.