“Exactly what a small world!” is a common a reaction to discovering that the new acquaintance knows someone you do. The small-world phenomenon is so common, in reality, that scholars and researchers who specialize in network analysis study what they call “small world networks” to describe the dynamics of various social systems, including friendships, corporate alliances, scientific collaborations, the Internet, and business production teams.
Brian Uzzi, professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, in his recent work with co-author Jarrett Spiro (Stanford University), has applied the concept of the small world network to the creative world of Broadway musical production teams. Uzzi and Spiro wanted to try their theory that general truths about how exactly social networks organize and govern success could be placed on the research of different social systems. Published in the American Journal of Sociology, their paper is the very first of its kind to offer insight into those networks in terms of their performance and rates of success versus failure. This research is particularly essential for developing a more thorough knowledge of the important thing properties and problems that lead to different ramifications of small world networks.
“As the planet is moving far from the predominance of organizations organizing activities to the rise of freelancers, including in places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley,” said Uzzi, “it is particularly essential for us to understand how those economies perform, and what helps them to do better because they change over time.”
Having grown up in New York City and feeling an affinity for Broadway, Uzzi is interested in artistic creativity along with the research of social networks. “My goal is to possess people recognize that success isn't just centered on internal talent and knowledge,” explained Uzzi. “Success is partially based on relationships with other folks, through whom they access expertise and capabilities beyond themselves.” Through his two main research areas, social network analysis and complexity theory, Uzzi models innovation and creativity in numerous industries by looking closely “at how individual capabilities are limited and transcended through the network.” Quite simply, it's not just what you know—it's also who you know.
Rather than using the conceptual framework of “six levels of separation” popularized by Stanley Milgram's well-known 1967 study of social networks, Uzzi and Spiro argue that Broadway networks are closer to the parlor game “Six Quantities of Kevin Bacon,” by which players try for connecting the actor to other actors based about what movies they've performed in together. The production of Broadway musicals requires six key, freelance production professionals: a composer, a lyricist, a librettist who writes the plot and dialogue, a choreographer, a director, and a producer. They operate as teams that usually come together on multiple shows and serve as professional networks for every other. As Uzzi and Spiro demonstrate, these small world networks, or teams, govern behavior that shapes the degree of connectivity and cohesion one of the social actors.
They realize that the success of new musical productions in the twentieth century relies upon two key parameters: the ratio of new blood versus industry veterans, and the degree to which incumbents involve their former collaborators and serve as brokers for new combinations of production teams. The success of a musical production depends upon the team, rather than individuals, and introduces new methodological questions for how to review such collaborative networks and successful innovation.
To test their model and its theoretical hypotheses, Uzzi and Spiro studied a data sample consisting of 2,092 people who worked on 474 musicals from 1945 to 1989. Their statistical model used new types of examining small world networks by supposing that individuals focusing on musicals interact in dense and overlapping groups or clusters, and that social ties are repeated over time. Their analysis also controlled for alternative factors that affect a show's success, including talent, economic and geographic conditions, and artists that have been inactive for lengthy periods of time. Additionally they included rare data on forty-nine musicals that died in pre-production. Failure data is usually inaccessible to researchers studying networks and decreases potential bias in their analyses. Uzzi and Spiro measured the success or failure of a present on the basis of the industry gold standard—critics'reviews and whether the production was an economic success (if it recouped its costs). These clustered networks, as Uzzi and Spiro show, permit the specialized resources of teams to blend and mingle, inspiring creativity and innovation in producing new musical hits.
However, because the researchers argue, small worlds can be too insulated. Uzzi and Spiro learned from their statistical analysis that the little world networks that help to generate success or failure in Broadway musicals, at both artistic and financial levels, have a parabolic effect and a “bliss point,” after which it the little world networks of musical production are too connected. In these cases, the networks face liabilities in the realms of innovation and collaboration that impede their creating new, successful musical hits. Quite simply, too much small-worldliness can undermine the very benefits it generates at more moderate levels, because of decline in artists'ability to innovate and break convention.
Reflecting on the outcomes, Uzzi remarked, “This paper shows that if you take a talented person, then you will see that his talent becomes amplified or inhibited centered on his connections. Also, we show that mediocre talent is raised by the structure of the networks more compared to superstar, though it helps the superstars, too. The important thing takeaway is that everybody does better.”
Uzzi did a follow-up study, published in Science in December 2005, to test his model's application to the planet of peer-reviewed science publishing. He examined articles and authors publishing in four different regions of science: social psychology, economics, ecology, and astronomy. He and his collaborators found similar patterns of small world networks and success in science publishing, as well. “We can now ask the question, ‘What regions of science will produce the big hit?' ” he said. That which was especially interesting in comparing the various disciplines was that all had a different pattern of team clustering. In publishing peer-reviewed articles on astronomy, small world networks are most productive at a highly clustered part of the curve, while publishing articles on social psychology is more productive at the bliss point.
With regards to its practical application to the business enterprise world, Uzzi said, “This information translates into who does better or worse, makes money or doesn't. That's quite important in the present business environment. Business firms and organizations are increasingly thinking about their strategies and strategic alliances, so thinking about and analyzing their networks is likely to be especially significant in these ways.”