Different diseases spread differently. A simple observation, but with a level of complexity behind it that is worth understanding. It is not solely the infectiousness of a disease that affects its spread; the type of network the infection is dropped into plays a crucial role.

For many years, epidemiologists assumed a “mass action model” where the rate of infectiousness of a disease was a fixed number (basic reproduction number or R0), representing the expected number of secondary cases produced by a typical infected individual, early in an epidemic. For the flu, for example, it is roughly 2. Meaning one infection leads to two secondary infections, on average. Comparatively, for measles, it is 18.

In practice, the actual rate of spread is significantly impacted (and R0 effectively modified) by the host network: by both the density and the structure of that network.

At our recent network design symposium with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), Lauren Ancel Meyers (Professor of Integrative Biology- University of Texas; Faculty- SFI) shared three simple network maps to illustrate how network structures influence the spread of epidemics. Although there are sophisticated mathematical descriptors of network structure, some simple explanations can easily demonstrate the range of impacts possible.

At the front of this article is a picture of three networks with the same number of nodes, but interconnected differently. The degree distribution (number of links each node has) varies across them, from only 2 on the left, to a range of 1 to 6 on the right. Two simple questions for you: 1) Which network will be the most susceptible to an epidemic? and 2) Which is likely to sustain the largest epidemic?

Are the answers obvious?

Networks with the greatest “degree distribution” (like the network to the right) are the most vulnerable to an epidemic. Variability implies vulnerability. But when an infection occurs, homogeneous networks (to the left) fare the worst.

Think of it this way: variability (or diversity) provides the greatest openness to the introduction of something new (whether virus or message), while homogeneity presents the greatest risk (or opportunity) for spread once established in the network. Beyond epidemiology, Meyers’ research has huge implications for the spread of ideas and information.

Take a Random Walk to Find “Super-Connectors”

Another network task in epidemiology is a desire to find so-called “super-connectors” because the likelihood of spread of a disease rises exponentially if “hubs” like these are infected in an outbreak (think of the highly connected nodes in the far right diagram above). It turns out super-connectors are not that hard to find. Randomly polling individuals in the network offers broad situational awareness and then asking to speak to one of their colleagues inexorably leads researchers towards super-connectors. Thus a random beginning can quickly lead to highly connected nodes. So, in any new network you enter, simple inquiries can uncover important understanding. And just as all rivers lead to the sea (or as Josh Baer joked, all tech in Austin leads to the Capital Factory), one can inevitably find “super-connectors.”

The infectious nature of an idea: Does it engage head and heart?

If you take Howard Gardner’s perspective, a cognitive leadership model recognizes that effective leaders “speak to narratives already present in their audiences’ minds.” For both organizational leaders and marketers alike, we not only need to understand the infectious nature of an idea and map the network, we also need to map the narratives already in existence in the network. In a future post, we’ll explore more on mapping narratives and the current state of a network’s mindset.

Thus, the capacity for an idea to spread depends on several factors: the content (infectiousness) of the idea itself (R0), the narratives already present in peoples’ minds, and the structure of the network in which the idea is released. This makes mapping networks and narratives key to orchestrating the spread of ideas, and yet, so few firms practice systematic network or narrative mapping. So, whether it’s epidemiology or the spreading of ideas, understanding the relevant network is crucial. Stopping the spread and accelerating the spread are simply two sides to the same network coin.

Stay tuned for more insights, and join us in conversation online using the hashtag #NetworksInAction

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

— Rudyard Kipling

We define nodeness as the art and science of living and working as both a whole and a part.

The Greeks gave us a similar term holon, from holos, meaning whole. It’s not an entirely esoteric idea. We are at once individuals and members of families, groups, and communities. Employees work in teams to define organizations, and businesses create value inside ecosystems.

So why the fancy word?

Nodeness isn’t just about how pieces fit together. It’s the idea that there is nothing to the world but nodes and connections. That when we think we see an edge, in reality the full network has simply yet not fully emerged. There is no end. There is always something beyond: another input, another output, another impact. And it’s all connected.

This is the promise of network thinking. We must simply have the patience to sense it, the insight to design for it, and the confidence to act on it.

Nodeness energizes multiscale lenses and levers

Thinking in terms of networks also means thinking about multiscale lenses and levers. The same rules that govern the node rule the network, and vice versa. This means we can find power laws and principles that drive innovation, adaptivity, and resilience in people, teams, companies and ecosystems.

Nodeness also lets our perspective quickly scale without losing focus. Imagine a lens zooming out overhead from a single person, walking down a street, and pulling back into space. As that person moves, simply zooming back in isn’t enough to find them. But nodeness gives us the context we need to zoom in / zoom out with clarity. We understand what is pushing the person to move, where they might end up, and how they’ll travel. Nodeness keeps perspectives centered regardless of scale.

Nodeness helps us transmit purpose in meaningful ways

The search for purpose should be a short one. Ask yourself: What am I optimizing for? That’s your purpose — or it should be. As individuals and teams, we look where we spend our time and energy. For organizations, we can analyze dollar and talent budgets. For ecosystems, we look at how and where we are creating value. If we can transform our individual purpose, we can do the same at any scale.

And purpose is no longer an optional conversation, in an era of unprecedented transparency where all is eventually revealed. You can make endless statements and promises on purposes, but ultimately what we optimize for illuminates our true aim.

Nodeness shows us where the future of business is headed

At every scale, evolution rules. Humans have moved from questions of scarcity (food/water/shelter) to the challenges of abundance (equity/empathy/elevation).


Components of the S&P 500 Market Value


Businesses and brands, having made the most of the commodity economy, are seeking to elevate the value they bring to customers, as demonstrated by the rise of the intangible economy¹.

Are you ready to maximize your nodeness?  Dialog can help.




¹Libert, Barry, et al. The Network Imperative How to Survive and Grow in the Age of Digital Business Models. Harvard Business Review Press, 2016

The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.
William Gibson

Next time you visit the beach, walk out to where water meets sand. Then venture a little farther, feeling the waves crash at your feet. Some are large, slow, and come one at a time – others are more frenetic. It doesn’t matter where the wave started or how long it’s been rolling, you’re still standing there getting wet, trying to guess what happens next.

We often don’t know a single wave of change has ended until the next one hits us. This means we operate both inside and in between. This is history. This is destiny. It never ends.

If evolution is the rule, we know one thing: we’re moving one way.  Don’t mistake micro exceptions for macro truths, we continuously evolve in a single direction. Using a network lens to zoom out, we can see five distinct waves.


As one wave gives way to another, we continuously evolve from survival to contemplation, from scarcity to abundance. Progress doesn’t mean challenges disappear, only that we now have the tools and expertise to out evolve them, to anticipate them, to leap past them. Not just surviving, but rising.

Digital is a layer – the network is the whole

The shift from industrial to information was still essentially mechanical – digital is an extension of that change, with new machines and methodologies. It’s been information that’s made all the difference, the rise of an ultravaluable new currency alongside new economies driven by intangible assets and ecosystem-level relationships. This is the network age.

The end of history?

While we can’t say the network age is the end of change, we know that it will forever be a lens that comes next, giving us an adaptive framework for managing whatever complexity comes next.

The only thing certain about the next wave is that it’s coming. It’s not a cry for chicken-littleism, but a call to return to the lessons we can learn from natural evolving systems, about resilience and recovery and always designing to orchestrate rather than control.

That’s why surviving this wave and the next isn’t about strength or dexterity or prescience, but an orchestration mindset that leverages all three.

A new speed for the economy, too.

It’s also urgently worth noting that change is coming faster and waves are getting briefer and briefer. This makes leadership even more precious and precarious – it doesn’t last long. It’s not just your imagination, the ground is shifting below our feet. We only need to look to the S&P 500, where patterns of dominance and incumbency are being rapidly replaced through disruption.

Recorded Projected S&P Lifespan in Years

It’s also no coincidence that the math of network business models is amazing as well, yielding win-win-win ecosystems that outperform traditional models in valuation.1

We know that change is ceaseless. Whether it seems faster, deeper, or more dynamic, it’s the same complexity in action. That’s why we say forget answers – buy process.  Ultimately, we’re not looking to survive the next wave, we intend to jump it completely. Network tools give us the scale and simplicity to do it.

Ready to jump?

Learn more about how we’re reshaping everything from agriculture to behavioral health with network lenses and levers.


1 Libert, Barry, et al. The Network Imperative How to Survive and Grow in the Age of Digital Business Models. Harvard Business Review Press, 2016.

About this brief

This is part of a series exploring the power and possibilities of network design.


“The future belongs to those who can see it.” David Bowie

To understand the core promises of network design, we must first understand emergence. Any process, any institution, any system, has one challenge: evolution. To learn, to survive, to adapt. In nature, evolution is slow but deliberate, killing things not suited for survival. Ray Dailio reminds us that it’s not cruel, but rather a kindness.

If evolution is the global rule, how do we create for a future marked by certain uncertainty? By looking to adaptive systems, living and built, that have been tested by time and survived not through scale or dominance, but adaptivity.  Our own body, natural ecosystems, innovative institutions and systems – adaptivity rules at every scale.

As we examine these systems, a pattern emerges. Adaptive systems succeed not because of any one piece or component, but rather the ability to orchestrate the parts as a whole. They are both a whole and an assemblage of links and nodes. They are networks.

Their primary value is orchestration, balancing and connecting elements, enabling growth and recovery, recombining and innovating.  Responding with adaptivity and waiting to see what happens next.  This is emergence – orchestrating the network and letting it do its best.

Where’s the science?

The study of complex and adaptive systems has been around for nearly 100 years, rethinking everything from natural ecosystems to global economies. The deeply informed, cross-discipline systems view of the world, practiced by experts like our friends at the Santa Fe Institute, continually yield important new patterns, power laws, and cross-discipline linkages.

Why Dialog Chose NX

We build everything to be adaptive. Whether it’s brands, business models, or a movement to transform behavioral health, network design is an ideal complement to everything we do, so we’re heavily invested in:

  • Solving complex challenges with a network lens that illuminates previously obscured connections and constraints.
  • Designing network-focused tools that map and measure narratives across ecosystems and platforms
  • Co-creating network-focused business models that outpace traditional revenue and valuation
  • Embracing nodeness in the pursuit of communication and collaboration tools that inspire leadership innovation and team transformation

That’s why it’s such a fundamentally amazing framework, extending the familiar rules and relationships into places and possibilities. No more external vs. internal, left brain or right. We are simply adaptive systems, mastering contradiction and making magic from the chaos.

Ultimately, we realized we’ve been network designers for a long time, before the label ever found our lips. Our best practices were all driven by a need to orchestrate and integrate, and that commitment to adaptivity has never wavered.  Across divisions and disciplines, network design continues to power our best ideas and engagements.

It’s the future, and we can see it. We can’t wait for you to learn more.

“Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun, but Mama that’s where the fun is.”

This line, from Bruce Springsteen – perhaps made famous by Manfred Mann – could well have been said by Toby Shannan, Shopify’s SVP of Support Operations.

You see, Shopify made its way from startup to a $5.2B valuation in 9 years by solving problems in the interstitial spaces between small business and e-commerce solutions, and between companies that don’t solve customer problems in “a hands on” way and those that do. The market has rewarded Shopify with hyper-growth for solving small business e-commerce headaches. That is the joy of integration – at least for Shopify.

The sorrow? All of Toby’s tech support issues are at the interface between different vendor solutions.  This is the burden of integration.

At Dialog’s recent network design symposium with Santa Fe Institute, Toby opened his seminar by quoting SFI’s Will Tracy as saying, “The edges are where the action is in a network.” By ‘edges’ he meant the links of a network. (That is one reason why networks are best thought of in terms of “flow” or the connections between. As It turns out that in all fields, connectivity is the main source of innovation. According to the recombinant DNA theory of innovation, the only way you can create something new is to bring together two previously uncombined elements.

In an open plug-and-play ecosystem, you can create virtually anything when compared to a closed ecosystem. However, this places a greater need on the role of integrator, whether that is the end user or a professional intermediary. In a closed ecosystem, the ecosystem sponsor takes on more of the task and decisions of integration. (Think Apple vs. Microsoft or Android).

All ecosystems, especially open ecosystems, require Integrators. Bridge builders. Translators. Renaissance men and women. That’s what we need more of as we race forward, ever-faster, pulled by our technology and self-reinforcing momentum, into deeper and more sprawling amounts of knowledge.

Specialization and exchange has created our world, but it will take renaissance men and women to keep it whole.

We need a unified worldview, right now. We can no longer afford brokenness. We can no longer afford to look at or manage problems in silos.

All silos are constructs. Organizational insiders can always tell you the informal network by which work really gets done. What is really there is a network, a series of nested ecosystems both formal and informal.

Toby manages his support and sales operations as one seamless function. In doing so, he avoids the usual escalated customer service issues that arise in the cracks between sales, customer service and tech support. People usually think of “product integration,” but “service integration” may be the secret of Shopify’s success.

In solving interstitial problems, Shopify’s team has found the same joy that Tim Cook found coming to Apple and working at the interstices of hardware, software and communications. In Tim Cook’s words, that’s where the magic is, at the boundaries.

There’s increasing business opportunity in connecting the network to itself.  With that in mind, the next time you see an integration problem, you just might see it as an opportunity.

And if you are lucky, like Shopify, it could offer you a 10 figure valuation.

Stay tuned for more insights, and join us in conversation online using the hashtag #NetworksInAction

Back in May of 2016, we wrote a perspective on how effective the Lyft and Uber campaigns were in getting people to the polls in Austin to vote on Prop 1, a referendum to roll back rules passed by our city council that would have required Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks.

After a contentious campaign, Prop 1 failed and Uber and Lyft made a very public exit. Recriminations followed, with both sides being accused of bullying and political tricks. After they left, Austin felt it. Ridesharing had become a way of life for many locals. But the void was soon filled by local ridesharing startups, including Ride Austin, Fare, Fasten, InstaRyde, among others.

After Uber and Lyft left in a heat of passion, life went on. But, they’re back! On Monday, May 29, 2017, Texas Governor Abbot signed into law a measure creating a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies, overriding the local measures Austinites endorsed last year. Uber and Lyft were conveniently waiting in the wings to immediately spring into operation as soon as House Bill 100 was signed.


Taking a Deeper Look at Community Sentiment


At Dialog, we won’t take a position on why or how this happened, but we can’t help but wonder, what do people of the city of Austin think about all of this? They were sort of confused when the hoopla, almost a year ago now, started. Have they become more informed? Are they excited? Do they care? Are they mad, are they sad, are they merely over it? As an Austin-based company, we were curious to find out, so we put our analytical expertise and tools into action.

Leveraging Conversation Science technologies, we analyzed recent local and public conversation online from May 26 – 31, 2017. May 26th was chosen because that is when Uber posted an apology to Austin from their newsroom, ahead of HB 100’s signing. Most of the conversation we saw took place on Twitter, with some Instagram mentions and no shortage of opinions. At the highest level, here is a narrative map of conversation themes, organized by similarly-expressed language.

Curious about how to read this map in more detail? Send us a note at ConversationScience@DialogGroup.com, and we’ll send you a brief.

Many of these themes have stand-alone titles, but let me define all of them for you from smallest percentage of conversation volume to the greatest. If you want to jump ahead to the top ten largest themes, click here.

NOTE: The sentiment summary listed next to each theme is based on the positive or negative impact that discussion/content/media coverage has on Uber or Lyft’s overall business or brand.


21. Other Ridesharing Perspectives/Voices on the Return of Uber & Lyft (1%) (Negative)

It’s interesting because, thus far, we haven’t heard a ton online from other local ridesharing services, apart from a small conversation that has developed around an AustinInno email interview with Marisa Goldenberg, the COO of Ride Austin.

In the article, Goldenberg expressed a deeply communal view, citing, “RideAustin believes laws that affect local citizens are best set by the local citizens. While we respect the authority of the State, we find it unfortunate that the 36 lobbyists deployed by the Silicon Valley giants were effective in convincing the State Legislature that there was a need to overrule the Austin voters.”

This sentiment is something we are seeing deeply penetrate the conversation landscape online around Uber and Lyft’s return among locals.


20. Uber Put Gender Discrimination into the Law (1%) (Negative)

I didn’t realize this until knee deep in the analysis, but the legislative battle over HB 100 at one point devolved into an argument about antidiscrimination language in the bill. Particularly, the issue was around “sex” and clarifying what that really meant. At one point, state representatives wanted to amend the bill to controversially define “sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female.” This amendment was removed, but in the midst of Texas bathroom bills and other LGBTQ policy battles around the world, some Austinites were not very happy.


19. In Defense of Uber and Lyft (1%) (Positive)

Some people vied heavily in support of Uber and Lyft, and specifically, defended their actions as a smart move to safeguard their business models. They also took the stance that Lyft and Uber responded to the situation in Austin admirably, standing up for themselves in the right way.


18. Cab Drivers Protest the Return of Uber and Lyft (1%) (Neutral)

A small percentage of the conversation focused on Austin cab drivers and a quickie demonstration that was held downtown to protest the return of Uber and Lyft. We even heard all the cabbies honking from our office. Locals snapped photos and video footage of tons of taxi cabs congregating along the streets and shared the news with people online.


17. Mayor Adler Is Incentivized By/Has Ties to Finger Printing Company (2%) (Neutral)

Here’s one I hadn’t heard before — two percent of people online were talking about Mayor Adler and his alleged ties to a fingerprinting company that was never mentioned by name in the online conversation.

We looked into it, and in 2016, Adler was the leader of a program called Thumbs Up! Austin. In his original vision, a nonprofit or a for-profit company could build what he called a “third-party, cross-platform badge validator.” Essentially, it would be a digital badge, that would elevate ride-hailing services that utilize fingerprint background checks.

Back then, the intent was to revise the law so that backgrounds weren’t necessary, and then local Austinites could decide for themselves which service to take. A badge like this would serve as an incentive. While the Thumbs Up! Website features a notification at the top indicating the idea was passed by city council 7-4, that ruling happened in January 2016. The site says its next steps are to form a non-profit. It does not appear that the site is actively being maintained so it seems doubtful things are going anywhere on the Thumbs Up! front. These sentiments that were being shared online seemed unsubstantiated. Oftentimes, when you see these types of misinformed rumors spread online, a little bit of education goes a long way.


16. Uber Offers Apology to Austin (2%) (Positive)

Uber shared their Austin apology newsroom release to Twitter and several people shared the tweet. The release came before the HB 100 was officially signed, so there were a few people who were skeptical and doubted the sincerity of the apology. There have been several more shares of the tweet in the following days, but for the most part it’s a relatively small part of the current conversation landscape.


15. Local Ridesharing Alternatives Are Better (2%) (Negative)

This is one of the more opinionated themes in the conversation. Two percent of commentators are basically saying, “no thanks” to Uber and Lyft’s return to the city citing they have found more reliable, safer services that treat their employees more fairly and even pay them better. These sentiments are highly bitter, with a hint of emotional breakup at work. However, they paint local ride-hailing alternatives in a super positive light, and local companies should seize the opportunity to leverage these evangelists.


14. Uber/Lyft Paid for the New State Legislation (2%) (Negative)

This is another very opinionated theme. Two percent of people believe Uber/Lyft paid off state officials, particularly Gov. Abbott, to pass legislation that would allow the companies to return to the city and operate. Needless to say, these mentions are highly negative.


13. Uber/Lyft Drivers and Riders Transacting (3%) (Positive)

A relatively boring theme at work. Now that Uber and Lyft are operating, new drivers are attempting to leverage social media to get customers to use their service. They are mostly emphasizing the importance of safe driving alternatives if drinking, and sometimes even piggybacking off Tiger Wood’s recent DUI for emphasis. People are also sharing codes and discounts for new services.


12. The Economic Impact / Fare Costs (3%) (Neutral)

Candidly, I thought the online conversation would devolve quickly into a debate about costs, especially since we are historically a college town, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. While, 3% of people are discussing the economic consequences of Uber and Lyft’s return, and the impact that return will have for local wallets, money isn’t that strong of a driver for local Austinites. When looking at the overall conversation landscape, pride appears to be much more important. Here is a peek into some of the cost discussion:


11. Uber/Lyft App Activity (3%) (Neutral)

This theme is more technical and focused on the Uber and Lyft technology platforms themselves. People are discussing when the apps are formally launching. Some people are disappointed and expressing frustration that the app launches didn’t coincide with public announcement. There are instances where people tried to use the app when they heard Uber and Lyft were back in operation, but the app wouldn’t display drivers in the city.


10. Austin Voters Overridden — Uber/Lyft Circumventing the Law (4%) (Negative)

Here’s an important one — Austinites are really upset that their voices are being ignored/stifled by the state, and they view Uber and Lyft as the primary enablers. At a time when one in five US adults cite dissatisfaction with government and political leadership as the most important problem in the country, it’s really no surprise that locals are taking this so badly. There is a significant number of people who feel Uber and Lyft are violating city-wide beliefs by returning, thumbing their nose at the will of the people.


9. Questioning and Posing Questions (4%) (Neutral)

This theme kind of designates the grey area. Four percent of people online are genuinely unsure of what to do or how to feel and are looking to their network for answers. Should they ride Uber and Lyft? Are others riding Uber and Lyft? Organizations and local business are also posing the questions, trying to get a pulse on the community’s sentiment.


8. I’ll Still Use Local Rideshare (4%) (Negative)

This theme is better known as “Bye Felicia!”. It’s distinct from the “Local Ridesharing Alternatives Are Better” (2%) bucket because these people are not explicitly weighing benefits and then making a decision about their ride options. Instead, they are taking a principled and emotional stance that they will not ride Uber and Lyft but instead will point their wallets locally.



7. Sharing Uber’s Return Announcement (5%) (Positive)

In Uber’s Newsroom for Austin, they wrote an announcement that appeared to come from a local Austin team. This post was less apologetic and more focused on the platform changes that have been in the works since Uber’s absence. It was more forward looking.

  • Part 1 of this content is this new initiative called Project Jumpstart which “supports local causes that are closest to Austin drivers’ hearts, and empowers them to spark change in the community.”
  • Part 2 are improvements in routes, where drivers can now take short cuts which obviously benefits the customer.
  • Part 3 is that they said they updated their community guidelines, though they don’t highlight any of the big changes.

As of June 1, 2017, the below tweet of this newsroom content has been shared 440 times and liked 1,253 times, and at the time of our analysis it was about 5% of the overall conversation online about Uber and Lyft’s return. Even though this content is very disconnected from other content on the narrative map above — meaning people are not actually discussing the substance of the content so much as they are just passing it along — Uber announcements are garnering awareness in the local community.


6. Driving Partners Needed / Jobs Wanted (6%) (Positive)

I don’t think this theme comes as any surprise. Now that Uber and Lyft are operating in the city again, they need to recruit drivers to run their business and be advocates for their brands. Job post sharing and people asking questions about where to apply or how to start the application process are about six percent of the overall conversation.


5. People Sharing Uber’s Tweet About Looking Forward to Returning to Austin (10%) (Positive)

This announcement is the most shared Uber communication of the bunch. As of June 1, 2017, the tweet received 3,268 likes and 1,712 retweets. In the local Austin conversation landscape, this specific piece of content is about 10% of the overall narrative. When we compare this to opinionated content, it’s a pretty big chunk.


4. General Announcement/News of Uber and Lyft’s Return (10%) (Positive)

The news of Uber and Lyft’s return was a big deal! Many people in the community were unaware of the passing and signing of House Bill 100, but lots of people heard Uber and Lyft were back. People are sharing news stories of their return and many are just making general comments letting other people in their network know about the fact that they are back in the community.


3. News About HB100 Being Signed (11%) (Neutral)

There was a lot of news that was being shared around the signing of HB100, or the “ride-hailing bill” as many news outlets labeled it. Many of these tweets occurred in real-time with the signing of the bill. It’s interesting that news of the legislature’s activity garnered more attention and engagement online than general news of Uber’s/Lyft’s return or Uber’s communications locally.

I think this speaks volumes about Austin’s willingness to participate in and prioritize local government above personal entertainment. However, this might merely speak to the fact that Austin is the capital of Texas, and consequently, we have more politically attuned community members.


2. General Happiness Toward Uber/Lyft’s Return (12%) (Positive)

Now the fun starts. The top two themes in the narrative around Uber and Lyft’s return to the city of Austin are general sentiment buckets, meaning they are general expressions of a feeling or emotion. Many people were very happy to see Uber and Lyft return.

In the positive conversation, people were looking forward to smoother ridesharing experiences, welcoming back innovative companies to the city, and were just happier that there would be a higher volume of professional ride-hailing companies to service the demand. Here’s a snapshot of some of the more entertaining ones:


1. General Negativity About Uber and Lyft Coming Back (13%) (Negative)

And finally, the No. 1 theme in the conversation online is general negativity and F-bombs about Uber and Lyft returning to Austin. This bucket doesn’t include as many specific reasons or substantiations for the negativity as the positive bucket did — I think negativity in general lacks the patience for it.

You have been warned. The below examples, while fun, contain MANY expletives. It’s always good to end on a positive note, but perhaps in this case, it’s better to end on a negative one instead, since that is the current mood of our city.


Don’t Screw with Austin, Y’all

This has been a long year for ridesharing in Austin, but the community remains energized and opinionated. In conclusion? I think Susanne Stafford @Susanneuna summarizes the conversation landscape nicely:


Conversation Science: Deeper Insights and Actionable Answers

We do these narrative analyses for our clients all the time. Conversation Science helps us better understand customer sentiment, the market’s view, and the existing perceptions that can shape and inform better marketing. Interested in learning more? Email us at ConversationScience@DialogGroup.com and ask for a walkthrough of some of our case studies.


Are you a reporter looking to cover our analysis? Send us an email at LetsChat@DialogGroup.com for more information.


Three Key Takeaways from the Annual Santa Fe Institute Symposium

The Santa Fe Institute (SFI), a leading cross-disciplinary institute for the study of complex, adaptive systems, held its annual symposium this past weekend. This year’s theme was The Evolution of Legal and Regulatory Operating Systems. We asked Dialog CEO and design4emergence (D4E) Publisher Mark Thompson for his three overarching takeaways from the weekend. Here is what he said:

TAKEAWAY #1: “We are witnessing the rise of networks as an explanatory framework alongside the rise of networks as technology.”

Harvard’s Yochai Benkler, who has been called the “leading intellectual of the information age,” made this statement as he discussed his current focus: the explanatory nature of networks. To me, this related to something we talk a lot about at our network design magazine design4emergence: The fact that thinking and seeing and acting in networks is a major new source of clarity and advantage.

This is one of the reasons we keep seeing companies with high network intelligence (or “NQ “) punching above their weight. Our work with clients like Fallbrook Technologies, who is transforming transmission systems around the world, is a great example. Even though they are largely transforming “metal bending,” by thinking in network terms, they have multiplied the capital deployed in building their technology ecosystem many times over through the strength of the partners in their network.

TAKEAWAY #2: Psychology is strategy and purpose is power

Author and entrepreneur John Chisolm shared his wonderful new book on entrepreneurship in which he explains why his dot.com era online startup survived the crash and 9/11 when so many others didn’t. In Unleash Your Inner Company, John explains that passion and purpose can create the fundamental positive feedback loop that powers your company.

Passion without purpose is passing fancy, and perseverance without passion is drudgery. The two together create true flow; sometimes one feeds the other and vice versa. Perseverance feeds passion as practicing makes us more proficient and thus more passionate. And other times, passion feeds perseverance in a virtuous circle. As a network designer, I most appreciated John’s advice to “create, ride, and refine positive feedback loops” in your business.

For entrepreneurs, psychology is strategy because the virtuous circle at the heart of a startup is driven by the founder’s innermost drives. But it turns out passion is increasingly adaptive in large companies, as Deloitte’s John Hegel has proven. Over lunch, John (co-chair at Deloitte’s Center for the Edge) and I discussed what he calls the “Big Shift.”

The Big Shift is similar to what Dialog calls the “Great Acceleration.”  Hegel says that a consequence of increasing speed is that everyone must now be purpose-driven to survive. Whereas for most of the last century merely showing up for a paycheck was sufficient, it simply just doesn’t cut it anymore. His research into what kind of passion pays off in business points to an ideal corporate athlete Hegel calls the Explorer.

The Passionate Explorer is defined by:

  • A long-term commitment to making a difference in a domain
  • A questioning disposition and a relentless embrace of challenge
  • A connecting disposition – research shows that what Hegel calls passionate explorers are twice as connected as other workers

Taken together, the views of the two Johns align closely with what we call a Consilient or Integrative Leadership model, emphasizing integration of head and heart, and emotional intelligence (EQ) as much as IQ. We believe this is increasingly important to competing in what Fortune’s Geoff Colvin has called the human economy of the 21st Century.

TAKEAWAY #3: The urgent need for speed and wisdom in our collective dialog

As author and former SFI president Geoffrey West shared many times, cities are the source of human innovation. But they’re also responsible for a large share of global problems. Cities don’t suffer from sigmoidal S-curves like companies and species, but rather take off asymptotically toward infinity. That growth is driven by networks. The challenge with this type of growth is avoiding collapse, requiring cities to innovate faster and faster.

Now that we have reached the “back half of the chessboard,” as the Benkler-moderated panel shared, we have reached the point where “the designer is becoming the designed.”  Five technologies — biotech, nanotech, AI, ICT, and Big Data — are transforming us at the societal and biological levels. As SFI’s Brian Arthur has said, “Just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should.”  And yet just as we need to be more deliberative, our technology is pulling us forward faster.

These are all reasons it is now more critical than ever to become conscious network designers in our personal and professional lives. That we raise our network quotient, our ability to think, see, and act in networks. But that is not enough. If specialization and exchange have created our world, it will take Renaissance men and women to keep it whole. An intelligent response calls for NQ, EQ, and IQ — all helping drive a cross-domain dialog at a scale which we have never seen.

One of the enormous challenges with this, as an SFI fellow said this weekend, is that “…to get a message to rise above the bubble of communication today requires we augment with emotion like anger and indignation. That is why our civil discourse is now so uncivil.”  And if one is to pursue crowd-sourcing of legislation like Iceland or Liquid Democracy offer, it is critical to have people who have not already been “captured by a narrative like the Fox News set.”

Integral or Consilient perspectives are key. William Glenney, IV, deputy director of the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Services Group, described how his organization not only sources* but also integrates diverse perspectives.

William’s group focuses on “wicked problems,” one’s for which there is no ready solution and instead one must build capabilities for solving the problem.  To do this, Glenney’s group seeks to blend diverse perspectives.  How do they know when they have achieved a synthesized view?  Glenney says they know they have achieved a synthesized point of view when they have accounted for all significant viewpoints

As we like to say, as Google has made the world searchable, the key to advantage is having excellent questions and frameworks through which to view the answers.

A footnote and postscript thought on Austin, where we work and live:

*The Strategic Services Group follows a programmatic, formal process that seeks perspectives across diverse domains and they’ve sent their experts to Austin, Texas for the last six or seven years. This made me wonder: How much more innovative has our hometown become in the last seven years? Geoffrey West would say, “Tell me the size of a city and I can tell you the number of patents filed.” Is Austin punching above its weight? I have always thought of the city as a leading innovator at least since Malcolm Gladwell said Austin is the place by which ideas make their way from West cost to East.

Last week was big, and we believe it’s just the start of something even bigger.

Dialog, in collaboration with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), hosted an all-day network design symposium titled “Influence and Complexity: New Views for Business, Politics, Innovation, and Growth,” at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas. SFI is the first and premier complex systems institute that includes five Nobel Laureates, and Rolling Stone has called them “a sort of Justice League of renegade geeks, where teams of scientists from disparate fields study the Big Questions.” The symposium married SFI’s scientific research of how complex systems work with Dialog’s approach and application to solving real-world, complex system business problems.

Speakers and attendees included world-renowned scientists, senior executives from companies, such as Boeing, VMware and Under Armour, as well as leaders from organizations such as Savory Global, the U.S. War College and the New York Stock Exchange.

From first session through closing happy hour, it was an insightful day of conversation and exploration that we will be exploring in greater detail in the future. For now, we want to send heartfelt gratitude to program participants and attendees.

We have received many requests for takeaways from the event. There were many and we will be sharing them over the coming weeks. To start, here are just a few of our favorite highlights from the panel discussion:

The panel on innovation and networks included Ross Buhrdorf (SFI, former CTO of HomeAway), Bryon Jacob (CTO of data.world), William Klehm (CEO of Fallbrook Technologies), Jeff DeCoux (CEO of Hangar Technology), and Josh Baer (CEO of Capital Factory). As these successful entrepreneurs chatted, representing emerging industries spanning drones and next gen NuVinci Sphere-based CVP transmissions, to big data and the semantic web, it was striking the alignment they had on the importance of networks to them and their business.

The conversation quickly centered not on technology but rather the people in their networks – internal and external.

  • It is so easy to forget in our age of technology and constant change that human emotions don’t change, neither does the desire for human connection, nor the desire to be part of something greater than ourselves. It’s in our DNA.
  • So Connect! “As a species our greatest adaptation is the ability of humans to work together. We built HomeAway with a weekly “kitchen table” meeting that persisted as we scaled from startup to global leader”, as Bryon and Ross recounted.
  • It’s almost trite, but entreprenuers have to be conscious of their network and put effort into building it.
  • What does change, says Josh Baer, is the scalability of it. Today’s tools let us be massive network builders on a scale previously only available to big organizations. He perpetually pays it forward thanks to a DIY app that lets him match needs, talents, and interest as he orchestrates the Austin Startup network.
  • Another common thread was how much diversity really matters, especially women in leadership and technology roles. Not just to perception, as Buhrdorf noted, but the real deal bottom line – studies prove 30% female leadership nets 6% profit improvement on average.

Luckily, a diverse audience brought much needed perspective to the discussion. NYSE Public Board Member and author of Women Make Great Leaders, Jill Griffin offered advice for women looking for opportunities to maximize their chances of success. Her insights included: 1) look for diversity at the top, 2) insist on objective measurement, and 3) find male champions.

A special thanks to Casey Cox and Will Tracy from the Santa Fe Institute for making this event possible. The event demonstrated the power of a network in action and we look forward to sharing more insights over the coming weeks about using network design to solve problems and unlock opportunity.

Stay tuned for more insights and also join us in conversation online using the hashtag #NetworksInAction

Did you vote for Prop.

On Saturday, May 7, Proposition 1 in Austin failed in a 55–45% split. For those of you who are unaware, Prop. 1 was a referendum on rules the Austin City Council passed that would have required Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks, among a few other things.

Our own Mark Thompson from Dialog Group wrote a piece featured on design4emergence, about Uber’s bulwark stance on background checks, and how a lack of commitment to continuous network improvement hurts their ROE² – their return on equity and, what we’ll also call, their return on experience.

At the beginning of his piece, he mentions that Uber’s tactics were “annoying,” explaining, “Uber called [his] cell phone on Saturday morning… And then they followed it up with a text.” He goes on to say, the only companies he appreciates getting texts from are airlines informing him of flight delays, his dentist, and the yummy JuiceLand. Totally fair.

While I personally didn’t receive any text messages from Uber or Lyft, despite being an avid rider of both services, I do believe some of their communications fell flat in telling a story that could have ultimately mobilized voters in their favor.

Here’s what I think they could have done better in their direct marketing campaign to change perceptions around the issue: First, they needed to have clarified the real issue at hand; second, they needed to prove their stance to the community, and lastly, they needed to emphasize the service benefits they offered to the city. Let’s tackle each of these.

1. Clarify, C-l-a-r-i-f-y, CLARIFY!

If you aren’t from Austin, I’ll give you the short of it – people in the city were so confused about what was happening. Either they didn’t really know what Prop. 1 was, or they knew a little bit about it and simply didn’t get what “the big deal” was. I received multiple email communications from Lyft attempting to explain what, in fact, the deal was. Here is a snapshot of one of their emails to me breaking down the difference between voting “for” and “against” Prop. 1:


Vote AGAINST Prop 1 Explanation

So here’s the problem (and this kind of vague language recurs in other communications): “Keeps the current rules in place” and “Creates unnecessary rules” doesn’t clarify anything for people. You have to create a distinction people can truly understand and cling to. They want to know the “how” and “why” of what they should be feeling, especially the type of person who is energized enough to get off their butts and vote.

If I simply relied on these emails for my source of information on the subject — which would be a huge win for Lyft/Uber since they 100% control these messages — I would have never known that fingerprint databases are often out-of-date, put minority drivers at a significant disadvantage, and will actually hurt the number of driver-partners on the road. I had to research that information for myself to truly understand the “how” and “why” of the ride-sharing service perspective. I can assure you, not everyone is as proactive as I am in pursuing answers. Uber and Lyft needed to bring this clarification to the people and really drive home the impact of their vote, which, in my view, they did not adequately accomplish in their Prop. 1 campaign efforts.

2. Prove the Stance!

If the argument is that Uber and Lyft’s approach to vetting drivers is, in fact, equally if not more effective than fingerprint background checks, then simply prove it to people. Uber’s newsroom posted guidance on their security practices “emphasizing how they focus on safety for riders and driver-partners.” They used their California service as an example to illustrate their practices. Here’s an interesting list, located at the bottom of the piece, which outlines disqualification criteria for driving in the Uber network:

Uber Newsroom Safety Practices

Okay, let’s take a breath because that’s a long-ass list. It seems pretty comprehensive to me — how about you? I feel pretty good about driving with Uber after taking that all in. Did you also know if an Uber driver receives more than just a few bad ratings, their driver-partnership could be revoked indefinitely? It’s possible your driver isn’t a criminal, but is still a pretty creepy person. It seems like this high standard for drivers can discourage/resolve any negative behavior and weed out both criminals and creepers.

Here’s the problem, why didn’t this long-ass list make its way, in any capacity, into Proposition 1 campaign communications? In fact, this SHOULD HAVE BEEN the campaign! “Hey! Have you had three or more driving violations in the last three years? In the State of Texas, you can be a school bus driver, but you can’t be an UberX driver.” Something to make the people really go – Okay, Uber’s safety practices are pretty good, as is.

I didn’t truly know any of this safety information until I went looking for it and found it linked to another blog post that was actually removed from Uber’s newsroom. Not very accessible, if you ask me.

Uber Blog Post Removed

Here’s another great story on safety practices I, nor you, probably ever heard: According to a safety report conducted by Uber last year, 53 Uber driver applicants who failed their third-party background checks were issued chauffeur’s licenses by the city. Uber Austin’s General Manager Marco McCottry wrote in a memo obtained by a local Austin news source that 19 of those 53 were rejected “because of a recent serious offense (conviction). Crimes included felony assaults, DWIs and a hit and run.” I think the appropriate response to that is “whoa.”

Bottom line, if you have a valid perspective, you need to share it with your customers. Don’t just tell them to do something, tell them “why” and make it compelling. Arm them with the right information so that they can argue intelligently on your behalf, because you’re not just convincing your customers that you’re right, you’re also trying to convince an entire community, many of whom may have never tried your ride-sharing/hailing service before.

3. Don’t Assume Your Customers Care. Emphasize the Benefits!

Here’s another email I received from Lyft:

Lyft Email Vote Prop 1.

I can only imagine this email was sent to the vast majority of Lyft’s customer database. And that’s fine — except this kind of language assumes all of Lyft’s customers care about this issue and just need a friendly reminder of polling event details. (This minimalist messaging recurs in other forms of media.) But that’s not exactly the case. Lyft and Uber cannot assume all of their customers are evangelists, waiting on the edge of their seats, ready to vote, simply in need of an address. Some of them needed a small fire lit under their rears to shuffle them along.

Lyft could have used this email opportunity, and many others, to emphasize ride-sharing service benefits for those who needed a little more convincing. It’s so easy! The positive impacts are mostly already there:

  • According to the Travis County Sheriff, DWI collisions decreased by 23% in 2014 compared to the year before.
  • Ridesharing has created 10,000+ jobs for local Austinites.
  • 100 Million pooled trips have been taken in the U.S. since the program began, reducing carbon footprints and congestion on the roads.

Listing these three benefits takes only 51 words. They could have easily fit into this email template and gone the extra mile to convert customers into voters.

Concluding Thoughts

Please don’t mistake this campaign critique as a stance on Proposition 1. Personally, I feel conflicted. Even after doing the research, I’m still not exactly sure what “the big deal” is. I think there is a lot of water in the view that Uber and Lyft are being bullies. They could have used this campaigning opportunity in Austin to emphasize the benefits they bring to the city (many of them mentioned in this article) versus making this an immature fight between Austin government and ride-sharing services. At the end of the day, it’s the benefits that locals are going to be missing, which should have been the focus of the campaign story and where they, ultimately, spent their dollars.

As marketers, we would be remiss if we didn’t try to dissect, analyze and explain why a popular ride-sharing campaign, that was able to secure 26,320 petition signatures, was unable to successfully translate those signatures into Proposition 1 votes. Uber and Lyft collectively poured over eight million dollars into this campaign. And as you’ve seen, there are some significant communications gaps that, if closed, could have possibly made the short six percentage-point difference at the polls.

To learn how Dialog Group can help your business, contact us at 512.697.9425 or LetsChat@DialogGroup.com.


Obama @ SXSW 2016: the need for networks, now more than ever

I was lucky enough to attend last week’s chat with President Obama that kicked off 2016 SXSW, where he spoke on digital government and the ability of collective innovation to address longstanding issues of agency inefficiency and community inequality.

A minute into his talk, as he recounted an order of tacos placed earlier in the day with perfect diplomacy, it occurred to me that, with all credit to Heraclitus, a man can never visit the same city twice. He is never the same man, and it is never the same city.

Obama’s first visit as a candidate in 2007 saw a large rally that gave momentum to a sputtering campaign. He’s returned to Austin six times since, each time visiting a city working its way through monumental change while securing a reputation as a space for innovation and disruption across technology, culture, and business.

A violet crown in full bloom

Those tacos? In 2006, Torchy’s was one man and a food trailer – today it’s over 30 locations with a national reputation for “Damn Good” tacos. Austin has grown as well. Since that 2007 visit, the metro population is up over 2 million, and the city has emerged globally as a space for innovation and disruption for one reason – the power of its networks.

Since its founding, Austin has always thrived in the interstice, a place known for making things happen through collaboration across disparate disciplines and wide divides. It’s where old industries collide with new tech, where a green future lunches with the petroleum present, and diverse voices unite to create everything from powerful technology and cultural products to groundbreaking solutions to age-old challenges. Even in a city always growing, connections matter.

Obama’s remarks were tech-focused, but even in hypergrowth, Austin has always thrived on a sort of critical cosmic happenstance.

The guy who put the cheese on that taco? He plays bass with a drummer that’s also the CTO of the company that created a medical implant that will eventually save your best friend’s life. Their band played to a roaring crowd for a startup company that’s poised to revolutionize MWD efficiency, founded by a Venezuelan MBA and a rather redneck electrical engineer from just east of Waco.

The network does more than listen and gather – it reacts and moves

Setting serendipity aside, Austin is a city that thrives on collaboration through change. While traditional systems are built to reduce chaos, a network-centered view of the world embraces discord not as risk, but as potential. This “come as you are” attitude fits the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan, and it ensures a culture built around connecting and creating together, assembling disparate talents and tools into powerful new structures.

Facing challenges with collective possibility and purpose

At the end of his remarks, Obama took a question asking him how he balanced the Apple v. FBI cryptography case in his mind. He went on to mostly carefully tow a party line, but ended with a plea to both sides of the debate, essentially saying let us bring our best to the effort while we can, lest we’re forced to bring our worst to the effort when we must.  No matter your opinion on the issue, his directive is clear: We can only do our best when we collaborate and wait for greatness to emerge.

Designing for emergence: a move to the Network Age

We’re committed to that same sort of expansive problem solving with clients. From understanding markets to telling stories that resonate well beyond their words, the Dialog approach has always been cross-disciplinary, collaborative, and open to just a little chaos. That’s why the rise of network design has us intrigued and invested – we’re working to hone our subject matter expertise and better understand the possibility each and every day.

And that’s why we find design4emergence so darn intriguing. It’s a wild ride through the roaring architecture of networks in all their many forms. It’s a beautiful balance between science and poetry, helping us solve an eternal question: How do we escape from Kardashistan? It’s a fantastically complex look at how technology and our own desires are reacting in unexpected ways, with a wide diversity of opinion that Austin can be proud of.

See for yourself, and let us know what you think in the comments at design4emergence.com.