Friendship: #1 factor in whom we spend time with

Mobiles & Communication
Mobiles & Communication

Like all good science, analyzing social networks sometimes works out to proving things we always thought were true. Sometimes, we never even had any idea how right we were. For example, we really do spend more time with people we like.

A few really bright folks from MIT and the Kennedy School, have a paper pending publishing:

[analyzing] 330,000 hours of continuous behavioral data logged by the mobile phones of 94 subjects, and compar[ing] these observations with self reported relational data.

Three significant conclusions:

  1. Self-reported data shows a mildly positive relationship with observed data, but is exceptionally noisy.
  2. Friendship outside of work is the best indicator of who spends time with whom at work.
  3. Physical proximity is a good indicator, and predictor, of friendship (and not-friendship).

So, what do these conclusions suggest for practitioners?

Observed vs Reported Data: Surveys are great for all the reasons surrounding explicit participation, but the bias effects are significant. Find a way to marry active participation with empirical exploration and analysis of social networks.

Friendship and After-hours: Don’t under estimate the power of emotion on business decisions. Since we’re more likely to agree with data that confirms any already held thoughts, let’s be realistic and recognize the impact that, viewed through friendship, has on communication in our firms.

Proximity and Friendship: While I was unable to tease out any correlation/causation relationship from this paper, if we consider friendship as a proxy both for trust and ease of ability to work with (through shared history, goals, culture, etc.), there are some solid implications on the upper limit to the value of outsourcing.

[Photo by Ed Yourdon]

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