Network thinking is about seeing the world in terms of connectivity. A network is simply a collection of connections between things, this may sound like a trivial observation but it is really at the center of what it means to see the world in terms of networks. Traditionally we spend a lot of time focusing on things and their properties, thinking about and talking about the size of a house the amount of money one might have or the height of a person, these things are very tangible and easy for us to grasp, quantify and analyze. But the result of this way of seeing the world is that things starts to appear quite static, stable and fundamentally isolated as we define everything in terms of its boundaries and properties. This paradigm also drives us to become very focused upon optimizing parts and their properties in isolation while failing to see the significance of the connections that give them context. Network thinking is about turning this the other way round so that we focus on the connections. This is a bit like what artist call negative space, negative space is the area around some subject matter in a painting or sculpture that gives it context, when we place red beside blue it looks like a different color than if we place it beside green, because they are interdependent they change each other’s properties. In this way, it is the subject matters connections to all the visual elementS in its environment that give it its form and meaning – and this is what networks on the most basic level are about – seeing how two or more things are interrelated and affect each other.
A connection then is not a thing it really defines some relationship between two things, describing how they effect each other, they may be tangible like cables between computers or the roads in a transportation system but more often they are intangible. If two things are not connected they do not effect each other but as soon as they are connected, some aspect to each will change depending on the other. If we are talking about a connection between to computers then it is the transfer of data between them that will alter the state of each, if we are talking about a connection between two financial institutions then it is the transfer of capital that will effect each, with the properties of each going up or down depending on the other, if it is a romantic connection the emotional state of each will be in some way dependent upon the other.