In his book “Where Do Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” that was first published in 2010, popular science author and media theorist Steven Johnson introduced a concept he called “Liquid Networks.”
Take note that the central premise of his book argues that just like the principle of evolution as explained under the theory of natural selection, hunches or ideas emerge within the realm of possibilities at any given moment and innovation gradually develop over time. This means that ideas and innovations do not come from random spontaneous moments but from proper timing and nurtured further under suitable environments.
Within the aforementioned argument comes the concept of liquid networks. Johnson describes this concept as a situation in which people from different backgrounds or expertise are banded together toward a common goal. Furthermore, it is also an environment in which people participate in the free-flow exchange of ideas.
Understanding liquid networks as a concept
Below are the specific premises of the concept of liquid networks:
1. Innovation is similar to natural evolution: Ideas are the foundation of innovation. However, like in the process of evolution found in nature, ideas are product of proper timing and nurtured gradually under suitable environments.
2. Collective hunches result in breakthrough: An innovation is not a product of a single individual. It comes from a single hunch colliding with the hunches of other people. These hunches mature into breakthrough moments over time.
3. Liquid networks are made of diverse people: It is easier to oversee likeminded people. However, note that people coming from different backgrounds populate companies in the Silicon Valley. This diversity allows these companies to create an environment that fosters the synthesis of different ideas.
4. The larger the network the better the innovation: Similar with having a diverse people working on the generation of game-changing ideas, the larger the network the better the outcome. This is because connections facilitate creativity by exploiting the advantages of a social capital.
5. Collaboration brings competitive advantage: Collaboration is also an important source of competitive advantage. Although market competition has been a driver of innovations in the society, ideas and corresponding innovations further emerge within a complex network of interrelationships.
Conclusion: What are liquid networks?
In a nutshell, “liquid networks” is a concept that illustrates a situation characterized by the creation and maintenance of an intellectual and physical space. This space nurtures the slow but eventual generation of ideas and resulting innovations through collaborations among individuals and even groups coming from different backgrounds.
It is also safe to say that liquid networks are an example of a social capital because they are catalysts for collaboration or for creating social networks while serving as a medium for acquiring resources.
With regard to its application in the fields of business and management, the concept of liquid networks suggests that open collaborative space is a source of competitive advantage because of its role in producing innovation. In other words, on an organizational level, innovation emerges from having a network that fosters a gradual process involving the creation of hunches or ideas, their collision or synthesis, and the corresponding identification of innovation from a diverse group of people.