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Galaxies in Collision

Written by: Bill Sherman on Tuesday, 19 August 2008, 5:36 PM

For the past eight years, I’ve had my browser’s homepage set to Astronomy Picture of the Day. Each day, there’s an amazing picture with a write-up by an astronomer.

Here’s an amazing Hubble Telescope photogragh that can help us think about mergers of social networks (and companies).

Overall, I find this picture an amazing celestial image, but I believe it can also help provide insights into social networks. As I’ve said before, social networks aren’t static. They’re complex and ever-changing.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz has discussed the importance of looking at social capital at the organization level. If you think about a company as a galaxy, there’s a network of strong connections near the core (whether that’s a galactic center held together by a core or a corporate headquarters with a dense concentration of employees). People at the center tend to know each other and have high degrees of interconnectedness (closure). While people on the periphery of the company have weaker connections.

When two companies merge, the established order gets thrown into chaos. The gravitational pull from each galaxy distorts the other, in a slow pas-de-deux of transformation. Many suns come under common gravitational influence and form a merged galaxy, while some suns will be “shot out” and become extra-galactic.

That’s pretty true during most mergers. There’s a lot of upheaval as old network ties get broken and new ones formed. Some people are laid-off, and they lose their connection to the corporate core.

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