The Network Navigator


The power of a networked world is shifting the emphasis of work from expertise to navigation. Are you ready to move from expert to network navigator?

From Expert to Navigator – a financial services example

Research into perceptions of an advice relationships in financial services consistently often comes up with a common theme. Usually, the financial services organisation is keen to build a trusted relationship with the client as an advisor and to demonstrate its depth of expertise in the advice process. 

However, these goals are rarely what the client is looking to achieve. The client is often more interested in building a relationship with someone who is responsive to their needs and who can to help them navigate the complexity to find their own answers. The complexity the client needs to navigate is not just the financial decisions; it includes the organisations own advice and service processes. In times of complexity, uncertainty & change, clients are reluctant to be dependant on someone else’s expertise. They want control. They want to be guided across the map of choices and find an easier way through the process.

The Network Navigator

Networks and the increasing pace of change that they bring about are having a similar disruption for the traditional model of expertise-based advice.

Relying on a proprietary stock of knowledge is no longer enough to justify an advice proposition. Knowledge is increasingly a flow. Stocks of knowledge are out of date too quickly as the network learns more faster by sharing.  If clients want access to stocks of knowledge, they can find the information themselves (& access a greater diversity of insight and experience) if they are prepared to put in the time and effort.  Doing that work for them on an outsourcing basis is a low value task.

The challenge of a networked era is no longer gathering a stock of knowledge. The challenge is leverage rapid flights of knowledge and guiding others through networked knowledge creation. The skills that rise to the fore are no those of hoarding a stock of knowledge. The skills are those of being able to connect people, share capability and create new knowledge together.

The 8 Skills of a Network Navigator

A network navigator does not need to know the answer. They do not even need to know the whole way to the solution. They need to be able to lead others, to leverage the knowledge of the network and to find a way forward in collaboration to create new value: 

  • Setting a course: In a complex world often the purposes, goals and questions are as unclear as the answers. Helping people clarify their objectives and questions before and during their engagement with the network is a critical role that the network navigator can play.
  • Seeing the big picture map: Navigators are people who can hold the network system in view and manage the micro detail to guide people forward.  A navigator creates new value with an understanding the broader map and new & better paths that others may not have considered.
  • Make new connections: Increasing the density of networks can be critical to creating new knowledge and value from network interactions.  Bridging weakly connected groups is another role that navigators can play to realise new insights and value.
  • Recruiting a crew and local pilots:  Building community matters in new network ways of working.  Community takes connection to a deeper and more trusted level and begins to accelerate learning and change.  Network navigators know how to recruit crew to their travelling community and add local pilots as they need to learn faster in new parts of the network.
  • Translating strange cultures: Connecting diverse groups often means that there are differences of context, language and culture to be bridged before conversations can create new knowledge. Network navigators have the skills to understand and share diverse inputs.
  • Logging the journey: A network navigator works out loud to record their journey and let others contribute and benefit from the record.  A network navigator nows there are many others seeking the same answers or looking for better paths forward and makes that possible by sharing their work and inviting others to contribute.
  • Weathering storms & avoid shoals: Journeys through networks are not linear and often unpredictable.  The navigator has the experience and the confidence to see others through the storms and to sustain others in their journeys. Most importantly, when the storm is darkest, they have the passion to keep pushing and keep experimenting.
  • Navigating where there is no map: Network navigators need to be able to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity.  They need to be able to lead others forward to learning even if it is dark and there be monsters.

Acknowledgements:  This post is in large part inspired by conversations with a wide range of participants that occurred during John Hagel’s recent visit to Melbourne for the Doing Something Good dinner and Centre for the Edge workshops that I attended.  It is also informed by ongoing conversations about new networked ways of working among all members of Change Agents Worldwide.  

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