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Let the coffee house tradition of the 17th and 18th centuries return

Julia Hobsbawm makes her inaugural lecture as Cass Visiting Professor in Networking

It makes common sense that better connected people, who are connected to a network, do better. And clearly, those who are un-networked, and un-connected, do worse. Yet networking has not yet become embedded.

So stated Julia Hobsbawm, Cass's new Visiting Professor in Networking, at her inaugural lecture held at Cass Business School last night.

She went on to outline five key networking concepts in a lecture that marked the moment that "a new management practice, not just an existing management theory, comes of age."

Expounding on her first theme she referenced Mark Granovetter's 1973 paper for the American Journal of Sociology: The Strength of Weak Ties. Granovetter proved empirically that apparently random, weak connections between people prevail as much as the obviously strong kind - family, close friends and alumni networks. Hobsbawm concluded: "Overall, pay attention to weak ties because the strong ones take care of themselves."

She continued "We know it's about who you know. It is also what you know that matters." The Economist noted last year: "more powerful than blood or money is the power of ideas". But the quantity of ideas we are all exposed to can be overwhelming. Hobsbawm argued that 'Loose Knowledge' - a fluid intellectual mastery - is more important than the kind of exam-obsessed vertical system of stacking specialist knowledge taught in schools: "A loose ideas Diaspora, which goes with you anywhere in the world, in the mobile age."

Hobsbawm then moved on to the concept of the Global Green Room - a rarefied place where the leadership elites "cluster" - Davos, the opening night of Chelsea Flower Show, the Glastonbury VIP area. Leaders know how to network but the problem of how to open up these opportunities to more than a few handpicked people is a real one.
She asked "If people who are already leaders of one kind or another only meet each other, what happens? Reinforcement. Not enough widening of the net".

This brought her on to 'Marzipan Managers' - those who are stuck below the leadership icing, denied the kind of mobile knowledge networking those above them enjoy. "They face a peculiar isolation - they know a lot about their company but not in relation to anyone else or anywhere else." Denying the Marzipan Manager the oxygen of outside connections and the power of ideas and they do what anyone does in a silo or a bunker: they react as if to threat. "They don't burnout - they tune out". Productivity then plummets with the lack of motivation.

So what is the answer? According to Hobsbawm it is the 'Curious Corporation'.
She says "There really is only one obstacle to the knowledge network economy which is insurmountable. It is time itself." We can't create more time but we can rearrange and reprioritise what we do with it and how we value it in the workplace. "Let's not forget that those at the top of the tree already know - that far from being a waste of time, knowledge networking, intelligent networking, is hugely productive." The driver of change is curiosity. Hobsbawm envisages a Curious Corporation - knowledge networking, driven by curiosity, full of weak ties and loose knowledge, where no manager is stuck: "a happy productive place".

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