Networks: Where even Small Players Can Play a Big Role

Anja Henningsmeyer

‘Networking’ describes both the individual activity – the networking done at events and in social media – as well as a systemic form of becoming effective together. To profitably expand this form of cooperation – both for individuals and for regional developments – it is important to understand the specific characteristics of networks.

There are different forms of networks, even in businesses: work networks, for example, consist of contacts exchanging day-to-day information. Social support networks are contacts with whom concerns and problems are discussed. Innovation networks, on the other hand, are where new ideas are exchanged. Networks thus function as communication structures that exist parallel to officially established hierarchies and information channels – and work subliminally.

Networks have no hierarchies; they are networks of relationships. Much depends on the individual commitment and the people’s network competence, a form of relational intelligence. Networks are also not stagnant entities. They are never complete but constantly renewing themselves. The key players in networks are active members. For example, the managers in charge of maintaining a network, who keep track of what is going on and how and are in contact with the individual network actors.

Working together in a network also increases the individual members’ visibility. Many women’s networks – such as the Digital Media Women (#dmw) or European Women’s Management Development (EWMD) – have understood this. In them, women support each other in shaping their lives and careers by working towards overarching social goals, for example, the equal participation of women in the work life. On the other hand, professional competences of the individual network members are also made visible. Women in such networks not only work towards their social goal through willingly shared resources, the sincere exchange of experiences and joint project management, but they also encourage each other in their individual projects and skills. And because network relationships are loose, shifting ties, they connect with other actors, changing as need be. Binding cooperation, the willingness to give and the openness to seek help play a decisive role here. This distinguishes functioning networks from status-driven rope teams in which accomplices use each other to push their own interests through.

In networks, therefore, actors become visible through their activities, not through their social position. And that is why networks are contemporary dynamic forms for working together in a constantly changing world. Thus, in times of ‘social distancing,’ there has been a shift of networking into the virtual space. Digital tools such as Zoom, and many others offer new opportunities for personal exchange to take place virtually and – against all odds – to continue to drive projects, professional collaborations and exchanges forward.

Real Value Networking, Sharing Economy, Platform Economy, New Work: Frankfurt’s Creative Industries and New Networking Formats

Prof. Dr. Swen Schneider,
Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences

“The greater the degree of networking, the more successful all those involved will be” – what sounds like a mere truism is far too rarely and not with enough consistency lived out in practice. A regrettable fact. Even more so when it comes to the future-oriented sector of the creative industries and Frankfurt as a business location. A wide variety of creative minds are at work here in various constellations in the fields of art, production and development, media and design: as solo self-employed people, independent groups or start-ups, as employees of corporations and companies, as members of associations, societies, initiatives. If we also include the renowned universities and research institutes of the whole region, with their innovative projects for the future, then extraordinary constellations of actors and stakeholders are possible. Constellations which, with the appropriate degree of networking, also with other stakeholders not belonging to the creative industries, could achieve great things.


From Value-Added Services to Real Value Networks

Of course: there are many connections and many a cooperation between them. Nevertheless, the players in the local creative industries often operate too much in their own bubbles to lift the entire industry to the next level and to profitably use the occurring changes in the working world. This is understandable to a certain degree. After all, there are too few places and insufficiently developed structures for the exchange with each other. One point is clear: such places and structures do not come into being by themselves and they do not function on their own.

There is a need for targeted community management that brings together the key players both offline and online to continuously develop the industry as part of a solid strategy. It needs simple networking opportunities that work both online and offline, that strengthen physical contacts and accelerate mutual trust building. The Frankfurt Office for Economic Development, which has been doing fundamental work here for years, can expand and professionalise these networks.

The term value-added services already implies it: networking is not done for its own sake but to generate ideal and financial gains to make the creative industries fit for the challenges of the future in the long run. The aim is to create Real Value Networks that involve all creative professionals as well as other regional and international stakeholders.

In science, a Real Value Network is a combination of roles and interactions that are involved in the service creation process and generate a business, an economic or social good or an (added) value of physical or digital goods/services.


Online/Offline Networking: It All Depends on the Right Mixture

Social interactions need to be facilitated and people who share common values or interests/belongings need to be brought together to generate added value. Such creative ecosystems should be supported with electronic platforms, as they already exist elsewhere. Best practice: the FLOKK platform, UK.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the opportunities that can be found in virtual spaces. Nevertheless, in the long run, we will not be able to do without physical meetings in the analogue world if we want to achieve greater success and drive sustainable developments. Yet, what is the right mixture of such networking channels? For instance, a matching online via an intermediary, followed by an initial online exchange to prepare the physical contact, which then promotes cooperation. Once the partners have established contact, this also facilitates subsequent cooperation online. The so-called media richness theory provides important insights here. It describes the dynamics between a certain content and the media by which this content is communicated. For example, the more complex a piece of content is, the richer the medium must be for the communication to be successful. Sensitive content may require elaborate physical meetings, also to avoid misunderstandings, while less sensitive issues can be clarified in a short email exchange. Such a “blended communication” approach can be provided by appropriate networking platforms. However, they should not compete with the many already existing social networks, as provided by brands like LinkedIn and Xing, but offer a specific added value for creatives. For it to work, the requirements of the creative industries should be specifically taken into account in order to connect customers and creatives as well as creatives amongst each other. As a digital bridgehead, such a platform or other institution coordinates the engagement of all stakeholders and actors in a fluid organisation on a project-by-project basis. In this way, start-ups and creatives can get in touch with already established companies and be integrated into a value creation network.


Helpful Tool: the Value Networks Analysis

It was already indicated: such promotion of interactions requires a regional management, also to strengthen relationships and value the exchange between stakeholders and other value-added networks. Specifically, community management is necessary which also uses strong analytical tools to develop a sustainable, dynamic strategy. The Value Networks Analysis developed by Verna Allee has proven to be particularly effective in this regard.


Glocal Networks: More Specialisation, More Collaboration

Value networks represent a further development of the value chain approach. They involve customers, creatives and other stakeholders in the value creation process. Similar to open innovation processes, in which external players are very specifically integrated into an institution’s or a company’s innovation process, and small, nimble start-ups, it is always a matter not only of the idea but also of the speed and competence of its realisation. It is becoming increasingly important in the knowledge economy to ask how knowledge/data and creativity can foster innovation. Richard Normann, founder of the management consulting group SMG, and Oxford professor Rafael Ramírez assume that changing occupations of value creation networks promote innovation and are conducive to change. The speed of change in the so-called ‘VUCA world’ (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is ever-increasing, and, thus, its companies are structured like a shell model: a relatively small regular workforce forms the core; this is supplemented in the next layer by temporary part-time or home workers; then, freelancers are involved and permanent business partnerships as well as supplier relationships are established – followed by another layer of partners for only occasional cooperation. Customers are also included in such a model. This creates a global and at the same time local (glocal) network – through specialisation and even more collaboration.


Creative Workers: Like They Were Made for the Integration into Real Value Networks

An increasing speed of change, changing occupations in value creation networks, collaboration – today’s creative minds seem to be made for this kind of changed/ing circumstances. Increasingly, they are characterised by a new attitude, a flexible and social, a sustainable entrepreneurship. Creatives of the 21st century do not work to live – nor do they live to work. Creatives of the 21st century strive for the perfect work-live balance. It is about self-fulfilment, but at the same time about innovation and a fulfilling involvement. This not only increases their identification with their work but also their willingness to take on responsibility. Today’s creative minds work online, offline and in the digital realm. They are mobile, not afraid of changing collaborations and do not lose sight of the Sustainable Development Goals in all their activities. Sharing, exchanging and the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” philosophy are a matter of principle for them. Today’s creative minds follow the principles of Work 4.0, are part of the “New Work movement,” as the Austro-American social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann calls it. It involves future-oriented attitudes and modes of action such as blended working, platform economy and sharing economy, co-working, co-opetition, new leadership and the new economy.

New models must be developed that consider this – as to how the creative industries and start-ups can also be integrated into Real Value Networks. The Frankfurt Office of Economic Development can act as a guide light here.


E-Collaboration and the International Dimension

The COVID-19 crisis has expedited all these developments and dynamics. As a result, a reassessment of tasks and roles, of ways of working and cultures is taking place. As industry boundaries blur, the convergence of boundaries between creatives and traditional workers accelerates. Creatives are increasingly integrated into business processes – traditional (co-)workers are becoming increasingly creative and digital. Such developments need to be supported with appropriate e-collaboration tools. These electronic, digital tools are an internet-based real-time support for cooperation, with the aim of optimising Real Value Networks. In addition to communication and support for document management, e-services or funding programmes can also be handled through them. E-government elements can be added or integrated, too, not to mention tools such as wikis, blogs or social networks. It is not far from here to the opening of international dimensions for a Real Value Network – for example, via the integration of projects like GAIA-X, a networked data structure for a European creative ecosystem. These are bright prospects. In essence, it is always about gaining data sovereignty over the creative industries with all their players, initiatives and value chains. This is the only way to build a corresponding infrastructure – the only way to provide the necessary support.