Kumu Blog

Tools and practices for tackling complex systems.

The Power of Relationships

If you've visited our homepage you know Kumu's tagline: "Harness the power of relationships." Let's spend some time talking about exactly what those relationships are, and why mapping them is so important.

We've kept Kumu flexible on purpose. People are using Kumu to map relationships between people, organizational structures, dynamics within a system, protein interactions, portfolios of grants and investments, and much more. Relationships may signify where someone works, a friendship, influence, a flow of money, a causal flow, or any number of other items.

You live in a complex world, and for a long time you've had to settle for a list view of this type of data. Lists are great for things like shopping lists and to-dos, but they do a terrible job of reflecting the reality of the contexts you live in day-to-day (organizations, social networks, and systems, to name a few). When you are faced with a challenge, your first step should be to better understand the context you are facing. It is far too easy to throw people and money at an issue and not make any progress, or worse - move backwards:

"People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I've done an analysis of a company, and I've figured out a leverage point. Then I've
gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong
direction!"

-Donella Meadows, Places to Intervene in a System

Kumu helps you deal with the complexity of the challenges you face. It does so by embracing that complexity and helping you to develop a true understanding of the problems you're facing. Only then can you find the key areas to work on in order to solve your challenge (we call them levers, or leverage points). And as Donella warns, make sure you are pushing the right way! It's far too easy to assume we know what to do rather than listening and learning from our actions.

Levers don't apply just to system maps. They hold true in social networks and within your organization. Think about an important change you want to make within your organization. Who are the champions? Who are the nay sayers? Whose opinion, if you change it, will change the rest of the company to become supportive? That person is your lever. You may already know who that person is, but do you know the individuals that person turns to for advice? Who has the power to influence her? Have you mapped the nay sayers and developed a plan to work through existing social networks to convince her to support you?

It is at these levers that the power of relationships lies. It's one thing to map relationships and better understand the challenges you face. You'll learn a lot, and you'll have a beautiful map (thanks Kumu!). But what we really care about, and why we built Kumu, is helping you find the lever and learning how to push it to make a difference. That is the power of relationships.

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