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The influence of ideas

by Molly Flatt on 06 August 2012

When it comes to the sport of network visualisation, you have to admit this is a gold medal effort. Welcome to Brendan Griffen’s Graph of Ideas.

Half mad, half brilliant, this is an attempt to graph every single writer and philosopher on Wikipeida, how they influence each other and who they are influenced by. ‘Communities’ are colour coded:
Red – 19th/20th century philosophers
Green – antiquity & enlightenment philosophers
Pink – enlightenment authors
Yellow – 19th/20th century authors
Orange – fiction authors
Purple – comedians
– although one of the joys is how cross-disciplinary the influences are.

Griffen admits the graph’s limitations – Wikipedia’s bias towards western culture, the fuzziness of the very concept of influence – and has even created a second version which attempts to trace the ‘upstream’ journey of influence to a deeper degree. But at heart it’s a wonderful reminder about how everything we do and believe is a product of the people we meet, talk to, read and observe.

So what’s that got to do with the business of social communication? Let me suggest a few insights:

1. Never forget that the first person you ‘engage’ with is not the only one that matters. The second, third, tenth and hundredth person who is, however obscurely, touched by that engagement, will continue to carry your brand’s ideas, things and reputation out into the public domain. Aim for them. Plan for them. Think about how they will be inspired to persevere.

2. Those people will also evolve your brand, perhaps beyond recognition. They will take it, adapt it, reverse it, push against it. You have to be OK with this. You have to celebrate this. You have to listen and learn from this.

3. Although it is important to strive to make a genuinely valuable contribution to the mass of ideas (or things), it is equally important to explore how you can facilitate connection between other people around those ideas or things. The relationships create far more than the individual endeavour.

4. Understand that you are producing and engaging within a context of millions of people who are doing and thinking similar things. How can you join that conversation, rather than jabber away to yourself in a corner? How can you get into the thick of what is already going on? How can you respect the tradition that you come from, and promote others that will take it forward?

5. Be bold and be humble. Create but also listen. Stand up for yourself but also embrace others’ take on what you do.

Social businesses need to start thinking about things like this. They may feel uncomfortable, fluffy, hubristic. But if you’re aspiring to get involved in the way social interaction, adaptation and influence works, you have to be at least a little bit of a philosopher.

Looking at a pretty picture isn’t a bad start.

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