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The Strength of School Ties

A necessarily quick entry, but one I wanted to dash up here for later thought. Over at Centrality, a report on a study by Christine Beckman that compares Silicon Valley startups by examining the strength of their internal ties prior to startup. The findings:

When the team members were previously employed at the same company(ies), the new firm introduced its product to the market more quickly than firms founded by teams with more diverse previous work experience. Additionally, these companies tended to develop products that competed with existing products through lower costs or product enhancements. Further, the final product of these companies more closely resembled the product envisioned by the team at the start of the firm.

In contrast, firms founded by teams with diverse previous work experience took more time to bring their product to market, but that product was more innovative and leading-edge. The product, however, had changed form the product the founders initially intended to bring to market.

Sorry for the long quote. There's more at the entry, including a link to the study itself. Here's what I want to think about, though: Are there implications here for classrooms, particularly at the graduate level? We're a very small program, with classes ranging from about 5-10 students, often at the low end of that. And in the fall, we have a gateway course that is only for the 1st years (the equiv of a "team with diverse previous work experiences").

It's not exactly the same, of course, since a grad course isn't exactly focused on bringing a particular product to market. But I know lots of folk who, by the end of coursework, feel constrained in the grad classroom because they feel like discussions, regardless of topic, tread and retread over the same ground.

I don't have a fully formulated thesis here, but it might be worth asking what effect strong/weak ties have on the learning process--my guess is that it might actually be an axis along which people locate themselves variously. Might also correspond to someone's preference for reading broadly vs. reading deeply. Might also connect to teaching style--certain folk might make better teachers given one type of "team" rather than another. Etc.

Like I said, more thoughts than thesis. That's all.


Thanks Collin. Interesting to think about. In our Professional Writing, we have around 25 majors. The result is similar in that their may be 6-8 students in a particular year, and they end up taking many of their courses together. Of course we get minors and other random students in many classes but at the 400-level it starts to thin out.

Anyway, my colleagues and I often talk about how to mark the border between strong community and incest.

Fascinating. Might be interesting to map re: departments, too, in terms of reputation...

Care to try a reading group as an experiment for testing the diversity hypothesis? We're doing a kind of collective seminar on the political starting mid january over at http://the.aetet.us/, if you're interested.

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