Not long ago, the only way that the word network was used pertained the four major television networks. Today, it undergirds so much that we do on a daily basis. The power of networks is growing exponentially, and is now considered critical to the operating of a business. One story will illustrate this reality. A well known law firm hired a number of rookie students straight out of law school, and gave them cubicles right next to each other. They were given the typical work that brand new lawyers were given, as they began earning their way into more prominent positions in the firm. They were expected to bill a target number of hours for the firm, and therefore were given that level of tasks and assignments to accomplish. They did this with excellence, but the CFO noticed that the billable hours were significantly lower than what the last set of rookie lawyers had billed, yet they were accomplishing all the same work. The CFO called them together, and found out the reason why. They had formed their own intranet to help each other, and it was much more efficient and effective in accomplishing work than processes the law firm had been using up to that point. Fortunately, the senior partner of the firm made a wise decision. Rather than chastise them for not billing hours, he said this is the way of the future, and created the intranet for the entire firm.
The original network that we discovered was the nervous system in the human body, which Bill Gates long ago said of the Internet that we were building the “ digital nervous system” all over the world. It is changing everything, and work processes will never be the same. The idea of “network” is flattening all organizations around the world, because hierarchies are much slower and inefficient relative to their counter parts. It also moves toward more democratization of the workplace. Of course younger generations grew up on Facebook or other social networks as part of their reality. It is interesting that they originally were “friending” people since they were very young, and using instant messaging to talk to many people simultaneously. It is natural for them.
What many people don’t know is that the original name that were given to Christians in the early church was the ”Friends”. The apostles did not build institutions, but networks of believers. After the original apostles were gone, there were no big names of people on the scene, yet Christianity grew like wild fire. One author commenting on this said this about the early church:
“After the Apostle Paul, we do not run across many “big names” as missionaries in the first few hundred years of Christian history. Instead, the faith spread through a multitude of humble, ordinary believers whose names have been long forgotten.
Early Christianity was primarily an urban faith, establishing itself in the city centers of the Roman Empire. Most of the people lived close together in crowded tenements. There were few secrets in such a setting. The faith spread as neighbors saw the believers’ lives close-up on a daily basis.
And what kind of lives did they lead? Justin Martyr, a noted early Christian theologian, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the believers: “We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause.”
Unstoppable force of a network of ordinary people – who were better together. It is interesting to see two church applications of this reality. I had the privilege of working on the Board of Directors of the Table Project. This is a social network Application for churches with tens of thousands of Christians networked together. When I saw the prayer application, I realized that people could post their prayer, and rather than the pastor or one friend praying for them, almost instantly 10-30 people were praying and sending encouraging words. Also, part of this app is a service application, where people can post their need for a lawnmower, an extra hand, a volunteer for the mission project and people can respond in real time and solve problems and serve others with no committee, ministry, or pastor in-between. One more story of the power of networks. I know a couple of young people who have created a vegetarian food that tastes like the meats they are trying to mimic, and they are building a company around this. Multiple billionaires have offered millions to buy the foods and scale them in the company. They turned them down, and are selling on various networks on the web. After about 6 months, they are already planning 10 different locations to make the food, the response has been that rapid and large. What my friend told me who is close to them is they could not relate to the large organizational structures the billionaires were bring to the table. They knew the power of the networks in our world. They knew that we’re better together.
Interested in learning more on this topic? Dave and Justin did a podcast on the topic of “The Power of Networks” that you can find here.