How SMEs Can Manage Their Networks – Lessons Learnt from Communication in Animal Swarms

By Katri Valkokari and Pasi Valkokari

Ants, wasps and bees are known and studied because of the amazing efficiency of their collective efforts. Therefore, the current debate on business ecosystems inspired us to question if network management could learn from the ‘swarm intelligence’-based activities of animals. The interaction between business organisations is at the heart of the network approach as well as interaction of individuals in animal swarms. The fundamental managerial issue in building and renewing business networks is how to operate as a network, i.e. how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can ensure that all network actors do their best for the network and not only for themselves.

SME cannot manage the network like the alpha male or the queen bee, which controls the swarm and expects other network members to follow their given roles. There is still an opportunity for the SME to manage the network as a swarm of equals and to communicate its visions of the common best in order to commit to the other network members. Our recent research suggests that different managerial tools – such as network mapping, business models, partner evaluation and LCC tools – can be utilised as communication means also by SMEs (Figure). In other words, these tools serve as boundary-spanning objects supporting shared sense-making between network members.

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In line with the lessons learnt from the collective efforts in animal swarms, we suggest that SMEs can manage their business networks through communication, which is based on understanding of interests and expectations of other network actors. Anyhow, the question considering network level common evaluation still remains unsolved and we hope that our study will encourage further empirical research on applying new thinking to business networks and their management.

Reference:

Valkokari, Katri & Valkokari, Pasi (2014) How SMEs Can Manage Their Networks: Lessons Learnt from Communication in Animal Swarms, The Journal of Inspiration Economy: An International Journal. Vol. 1, No: 1, pp. 111 – 128 Link: https://journal.journals.uob.edu.bh/Article/ArticleFile/844

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