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Why networks are not a good thing

 

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Monday, 1 March 2010

Why networks are not a good thing

Groucho Marx famously declined an invitation to join a Hollywood club on grounds that he didn't care to belong to any institution that would have someone like him as a member.

It is one of the worst features of networks that they encourage like-minded people to get together. There is nothing more unattractive than a like-minded person. Unless your idea of a good time is spending an evening in your own company or a prolonged spell on a desert island, you should treat the like-minded with the same contempt reserved for MRSA, C difficile and Celebrity Big Brother contestants.

All the really good things about networking – sharing intelligence, spreading best practice, stimulating debate, challenging received wisdom -- can easily become dull tools in the wrong hands. If all networks do is to encourage those who already agree with each other to cluster together in bigger and ever more agreeable groups there will be little progress.

Seek out people with a different point of view – the energy level and quality of debate will be much higher.

A four-year study is getting underway in Australia to find a reliable way to evaluate health networks. A scientific evaluation methodology is long overdue. Several previous studies of the subject have dispensed with intellectual rigour on grounds that networks are self-evidently a good thing. Getting together once a month to eat biscuits and drink tea may change the world, but only very slowly.

And while Woody Allen is probably right to observe that 80% of success in life is turning up, what are you going to do with the other 15 years?

Starting or joining a network is not necessarily a good thing. For Girl Guides and other heavily institutionalised individuals this will come as a shock, but a frequently unacknowledged truth is that there are more networks than there are worthwhile causes.

The new NHS Networks website makes it easier than ever to start a network but please don't do it unless you really need to. We expect to see some great new networks formed but proliferation isn't the point. Before you start another club for people just like you, look around and check that there isn't a more interesting one already open.

If you don't want to add to Internet landfill, please consider the environment and do nothing. Otherwise, find a club that doesn't want you as a member and beat the door down to get in.