Jim Holincheck from Gartner presses influence question with John Sumser at HR Examiner

Gartner Research VP Jim Holincheck presses John Sumser on Influence question

Jim Holincheck and John Sumser talk Influence

Jim Holincheck is the head of Gartner’s Human Capital practice. Without question he is one of the most influential people in the industry (when it comes to enterprise HR clients and the vendors who serve them). Holincheck’s influence is so great that when he predicts a trend, that’s often enough to cause it to happen.

The other day, Holincheck tweeted me.

? abt influence since your so focused on it.Influence who to do what? Measures seem to be who is most seen/connected on social

It’s a good question. When measuring online influence, who is influenced, what are they influenced about and what is the concrete result of that influence? The short answer is “I don’t know but I’ll take a stab at it.” With a short caveat, “I’m not sure that there is a specific concrete result.”

One of the risks of trying to learn in public is that smart people (like Jim) will mistake an ongoing experiment for a broad proclamation of the truth. The written word implies a concreteness that is missing from the world of exploration. Scientists often keep their research very quiet in order to avoid scrutiny until they’re ready. Public experimentation (like the influencer lists) is a studied groping towards (and hoping for) some kind of discovery.

Our study never intended to be the final word on influence. Rather it’s an ongoing experiment in trying to understand emergent phenomenon. We’re starting a conversation, not giving a speech or selling a product.

The question makes one of those logical errors that are so easy these days. One doesn’t always begin measuring by knowing what is being measured. Sometimes, you measure to find out what the thing is. I measure my wall to see how much paint I need. But, I measure the ice layers in Antarctica so that I can find out what’s there. Measurement can be either quantification of a known thing (what Jim asks for) or exploration of an unknown like our measures of influence or good experimentation.

Still, after a couple of years of looking, you’d think we’d have some answer to Jim’s question. The HRExaminer Influence Project has grown from an experiment in networking (we interviewed nearly 500 people to discover who they thought were   influential and then started interviewing the names that were most often mentioned) to a combination of that earlier action-research with a deeper quantification model. The Top 25 Lists are our experimentation in the measurement of something. Influence is as good a shorthand for it as anything.

One of the phrases you are going to quickly tire of is ‘Big Data‘. Big Data is what happens when our existing databases get overrun by the wash of new digital information that is entering every pore of our organizations. When the computer era began, data was scarce and the important thing was getting it organized. Today, data proliferates faster than we (or our IT infrastructure) can keep up. This is the Big Data problem.

It’s not, as most vendors are claiming, the delicious reality that one can benchmark against anonymized competitors (an idea brought to our market years ago by Infohrm). While it’s really useful to be able to see how you match against the others, that’s a parlor trick compared to wading through the flow of data that cascades from and because of all the technology walking in the front door. Influence is just the first step in making sense of an ocean of new and important data.

The data comes as mobile device information, sensor miniaturization, video packaging, deep network nodal info (from vendors like Facebook and LinkedIn). It’s increasingly the case that many (MANY) external organizations know more about our employees and how they are wired together than we do. They have layers of info that exceed our core processing capabilities. That data is starting to break our primitive software and data structures.

Meanwhile, functionality waltzes in the front door, exploding the problem with rogue apps delivering real local value at the expense of hierarchical control.

The smartest thing to do when you don’t know what’s happening is to start measuring stuff. Understanding what it is will emerge from that simple intention. Measure and measure. That fundamental notion from the Total Quality movement is reusable here and now. When you don’t understand it, save it. It’s sure to be important later.

So, what are we measuring?

Like it or not, a thing is no longer real if you can not find it online. Academic experts, once the talk of the trade show scene, have receded from view (unless they are particularly internet savvy.) The amazing insights of last generation’s thought leaders have disappeared along with the bookstores that used to carry their work. Today, you have to find it online.

Increasingly (witness the kerfuffle over Google’s integration of G+ into search results), data from social transactions in the subject area are weighted as a part of the search algorithm. The people who are the most frequent writers, retweeters and commentators on a particular subject add weight to this or that search result. After all, the most visible participants in a dialog have the biggest impact on the dialog.

As we’ve said elsewhere,   your work doesn’t matter much if it isn’t online. The effect we are measuring is the weight that the ‘influencers’ add to a particular idea.

So, who is influencing what? The people who are most read and most retweeted have an enormous impact on search engine results . Since all new entrants begin with simple queries in search engines, that’s where you see the largest impact.

Tweeters and retweeters dramatically alter the accessibility of information. We’re starting to grapple with the degree to which being a transmission node is more or less impactful than being an original content creator. The Beatles owe their success in meaningful ways to the radio stations that played their records.

What are they being influential about? That is as simple as the world in which their keywords are important. Our influencers are curators, gatekeepers, rainmakers and trend setters. As they grow and mature, they are shifting the reality that is our industry.

One of the things we marvel at with each published list is the fact that the critics never bother to read the accompanying articles. If you’ve been following the project closely, there’s not a lot new in this article; we’re just getting better at telling the story. If this is the first time you’ve seen these ideas, dig through the HRExaminer archives.

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