You have just been informed that aliens are coming. They will take over the Earth in 60 minutes. You are the only person on the planet who knows this information. You must tell the Prime Minister. But you must tell them in a way that means that they actually take some action. What do you do?
I’m indebted to the wonderful podcast Reply All for this cracking little thought experiment. This week I ran a couple of workshops with groups of civil servants looking at concepts of networking, and how technology and social networks are changing the ways in which we can extend and feed our professional webs.
For the second session, I used the aliens idea to kick off the workshop. The participants came back with a broad range of approaches which spanned the continuum of what networking is all about. At one end were ideas like “Report up through our Permanent Secretary”, which epitomised a structured, formal and process-y type route to address the issue. But would formal channels be effective enough in such limited time?
At the informal networked end of the spectrum came suggestions of finding people who the PM trusted, and going straight to them – the idea being that the message would need to come from someone that the country’s leader trusted absolutely for fear of being labelled as some sort of crank. One person I asked even suggested getting the message through a family member of the PM rather than a political or public servant for added credibility.
One person, slightly tongue in cheek suggested tweeting the PM. I can’t believe that leaders of major countries aren’t bombarded already by messages about impending alien invasion on a daily basis from members of the tin foil hat brigade.
All of this seemed to resonate pretty well with people: building and strengthening a network is about building up a group of people with whom you have trust with whom you can share, advise, and on very rare emergency occasions deal with crises. Social networks might help with some of that, but don’t think that they will offer some magic fix to all of your ills.