Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School Hong Kong SAR China
In the upcoming term, the Global Network for Advanced Management will offer four new Global Network Courses, taught in the small network online courses (SNOC) format to students across the network’s 30 member schools.
The new, semester-long courses include A Primer on Social and Financial Innovation, taught by Vanina Farber, elea Chair for Social Innovation at IMD, Switzerland; Business as a Force for Good, taught by Professors Chris Ogbechie and Ijeoma Nwagwu of Lagos Business School, Nigeria; Global Implications of FinTech Solutions, taught by Professor Ted Clark of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and Organizational Networks: Maps, Models, and Analysis, taught by Professor Phokion “Ion” Georgiou of Fundação Getulio Vargas – Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo, Brazil.
We talked to Georgiou about the reasons he chose to develop Organizational Networks, what students can expect to take away from the course, and the unique advantages to online learning.
What made you decide to teach this particular online course?
The terms “complex” and “systemic” have become part of daily discourse when describing the problems and challenges we face in today’s world. The terms, however, only express some vague acknowledgment of symptoms. For the discourse to move beyond platitudes, and for engagement to move beyond superficial recognition of symptoms, understanding must focus on causes. These causes are multifarious and simultaneous interrelations of entities of multiple types. That is to say, networks. Learning about networks, therefore, is to learn key intellectual and empirical skills for navigating through the modern world.
What can students expect to learn from this course?
This course begins by literally looking at network maps and gradually moves toward modeling and analysis of their composite entities. The emphasis on visual engagement with networks stems from the fact that, first and foremost, networks are maps of territories – and, therefore, visual, cartographic means for engaging with the world. Organizational networks are maps of socially constructed territories, that is, those in which we find ourselves immersed throughout our lives. With such rich immersion, the French playwright Molière would deduce that we have been speaking the language of networks all our lives. His deduction, however, would miss the mark. Like goldfish in a bowl, we have paid scant attention to the composition of the water in which we swim. If the world in which we live is really as systemic and as complex as we like to say, if the improvement of the human condition relies, in large part, on the development of sustainable interdependence, then it behooves us to create, as Molière might say, “network prose” that is descriptively accurate and analytically useful. I very much hope that this course assists people toward this goal.
What does the online environment provide for students in terms of cross-cultural learning, and how can this also help you?
The perspective that we take upon the world governs the means through which we meet its challenges. The learning network facilitated by the online environment is inherently multidisciplinary, as evidenced in the different intellectual and experiential backgrounds of each of its members. It therefore provides unprecedented opportunities not only to amend and extend our perspectives, but to develop new ones, ones learned from beyond the confines of our own individual contexts, and to which contexts we might bring them to bear in the interests of improving the human condition.
Q. What do you hope students take away from your class that they can apply to their careers, regardless of the path they choose?
A. First, students should take away from this course an understanding of, and greater confidence in dealing with, complexity. The term “complexity” has come to permeate the discourse of our era, but it is used with little knowledge of what complexity actually looks like, and much less of how to tackle it. A central tenet of this course is that behind each complex system there is an intricate network that encodes the interactions between the system’s components. Consequently, understanding of, and effective action upon, a complex system requires exploration and analysis of its underlying network. Anyone aspiring to tackle complexity should bear the following in mind: “Complexity? Show me the network. No network? No resolution.”
Second, students should take away a more refined understanding of the popular, but ambiguous and confusing, phrase “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” This phrase points to some magical emergence of a whole and assumes that parts are summable, which further assumes that they are of the same type. There is no room for magic or simplistic assumptions when tackling complexity. Indeed, the matter is made conceptually accurate by recognizing the following: The whole is the disposition of its parts and the interactions between them. Parts, their arrangements as well as their constitutions, along with their interactions, form networks. Ergo: any talk of wholes is talk about networks. From this course, students will take away not only key exploratory and analytical skills for dealing with whole, visible, empirical networks; they will be intellectually equipped to ask correct questions about them.
Third, the particular study of organizational networks contributes to an appreciation of the human experience, its history and its possible future. For civilization is not defined by the sum of its science, technology, art, and social organization, but by the total pattern which they form, and the degree of harmonious integration in that pattern. Studying networks devised by humans sheds light on the recurring, as well as the innovative, patterns in organizational forms, and allows us to identify conflict and harmony, stagnation and change, and means for intervening. In medieval times, people lived in a world dominated by textual exegesis, be it of the Bible or of Aristotle. Consequently, philology was basic training for scholars and educated laypersons. Today we live in a multicultural, interdependent world that continuously attempts to explain and interpret interrelationships. In this world, basic training lies in organizational networks: in exploring them through network maps, in testing them through network models, in extracting information about them through network analysis.
Finally, I hope that students leave the course confident that the essential difficulty with complexity is not in its resolution. For, complexity is not irresolvable. Complexity is irresolvable only when accompanied by disorder. Hence, the road toward resolving complexity lies with approaches that can, first and foremost, transform the disorder into some order. This implies the imposition of structure. Network science, like all the foremost sciences, structures what seems, to the untrained eye, as disorder. From the structures that it builds of the world, explorations of that world are facilitated, and resolutions of interrelated problems may begin.