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Karen Stephenson: Social Network Analysis

The Social Network was a hugely successful movie about the founders of Facebook. For a real understanding of social networks, we need to deploy some powerful mathematics, implemented by sophisticated software. Don’t worry, there will be no maths in this blog, but we will look at the founder of the field, corporate anthropologist, Dr Karen Stephenson.

Karen Stephenson


Stephenson’s work takes the early history of social networks to a new, modern, scientific level. Her methodology for analysing the networks within and between groups (who may be within and among organisations) leads her to be able to identify points of resilience and points of weakness. Stephenson asserts that social network analysis can help strengthen organisational learning, plan and develop leadership succession, enhance creativity and innovation, and facilitate change.  These capabilities flow from the trusting relationships that networks represent, and those relationships offer the single greatest route, Stephenson would say, to organisational success… or failure.  She describes this as her ‘Quantum Theory of Trust’, about which she has written a book of the same name.

Brief Biography

Karen Stephenson is a polymath, with first degrees in fine art and chemistry, and a doctoral degree in anthropology. She acts as an independent consultant, runs her company, Netform, which conducts social network analysis, and is an academic, currently lecturing at Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University. This was preceded by five years at the Harvard School of Design and ten at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management. Her ability to analyse networks made her a valued consultant to the US Government, following the terror attacks in 2001, whom she helped analyse terrorist networks and how they could be weakened.

Social Networks

Stephenson identified six types of knowledge network, that underpin our organisational (and private) lives.

  1. Daily network – whom we see day-to-day
  2. Wider social network – whom we actively stay in touch with
  3. Innovation network – with whom we test out new ideas
  4. Expert network – to whom we go for expertise and knowledge
  5. Strategic network – to whom we go for guidance and advice
  6. Learning network – who help us move from what we know to new knowledge and expertise

Her most widely known contribution is to identify three key roles within all of these networks:

  1. Hubs – who are central to a network of social connections
  2. Gatekeepers – who link social networks together
  3. Pulsetakers – who have strong insights into the group psychology

Social Network


You can learn more from a range of valuable resources on the web:

You might also like: The Working Relationships Pocketbook

…and this excellent video from .

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