Dr. Karen Stephenson


Social Network Analysis
53 minutes, 24.6mb, recorded 2006-05-08
Karen Stephenson

Trust is fundamental to an understanding of human social networks. In this fascinating talk from MeshForum, Netform's Dr. Karen Stephenson shares her decades of experience in quantitative social network analysis, explaining how the measurement of relationships reveals general principles and patterns that can be seen across organizations. Diagramming the build-up and breakdown of trust networks gives insight for diagnosing management problems, and, better yet, opens the door to designing more innovative models to face our modern challenges.

Dr. Stephenson begins with a look at her own professional progression from the world of quantum chemistry, where she became intrigued with the social dynamics operating within her research team. Turning this interest to the study of anthropology, she began exploring ways to detect and measure the ancient patterns of human social groups. This work led to algorithms which have since proven highly useful to corporations and governments looking to understand their own inner workings, and manage change. Stephenson argues that trust arises in networks through bonds of similarity and propinquity. These are strong, reciprocal bonds which promote the sharing of tacit knowledge. Trust-based networks often prove to be more robust than purely authoritative or hierarchical systems.

What is the science behind trust? How does trust build, and how does it break down? While it is much easier to measure transactions than trust, Stephenson models the threshold size for networks which contain key nodal elements such as hubs, gatekeepers and pulse-takers. Through numerous examples and business case studies, these analyses begin to give a good grasp on models for healthy networks. Stephenson closes her talk by looking ahead to the challenges of heterachy, the networking of institutions, which now demands an even greater capacity for trust and understanding.

Dr. Karen Stephenson is the President of NetForm International, an enterprise web-based licensing company, and a professor of management, currently lecturing at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. She is a corporate anthropologist and has held numerous appointments including “Visiting Anthropologist” at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) (1988-90), Visiting Professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (1994), as well as concurrently serving as professor of management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and Visiting Scholar at the IBM Advanced Business Institute for the decade spanning 1990-2000. She is a contributing member to five think tanks: The Global Business Network or GBN, Cultural Survival at Harvard University, The Agora at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The Design Futures Council, and Demos, a U.K. based public policy think tank.

Dr. Stephenson has combined her personal legacy in the sciences with practical management experience and research to publish and lecture in the areas of the workplace, organizational culture and communication and the management of human networks. Her work has been used by the CDC to understand global contagion, by business to diagnose cultural health and prescribe remedial interventions for M&As, divestitures and other transformational initiatives, and more recently by the U.S. and the U.K. governments to diagnose and detect terrorism as well as design for sustained collaboration in public-private partnerships.

Internationally recognized in network theory and practice and the recipient of many awards of innovation, Dr. Stephenson has produced five videos on the subject, has hosted or been spotlighted on NPR, WGBH, and Business America, as well as been featured in CNN Business Unusual and Fox News. Her work has also been featured in the print media including but not limited to The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal (U.S., Asia and Europe), Wired Magazine, Fast Company, Chief Executive Magazine, The Economist, CIO, Forbes and Strategy+Business.

She received her Ph.D. (Anthropology) from Harvard University, M.A. (Anthropology) from the University of Utah, and B.A. (Chemistry and Art) from Austin College in Texas.


This free podcast is from our MeshForum series.

For The Conversations Network: