Can Email Patterns Predict When Companies Are In Trouble?

from the neat dept

Here’s an interesting study. Apparently, looking at the email patterns (not the content) of organizations may enable one to “predict impending doom.” The researchers looked at Enron emails, and found that about a month before everything went bad, there was a sudden and rapid increase in the number of “active email cliques, defined as groups in which every member has had direct email contact with every other member.” The number of such groups increased by a factor of eight. Not surprisingly, the messages between these cliques increased in frequency as well, and those message were rarely shared with people outside the clique. In other words, a bunch of rapid task groups came together about a month before everything got screwed up.

Of course, the data is only on one particular company, and there’s nothing to indicate whether this pattern is really that common elsewhere. It wouldn’t surprise me, but it would be nice if there were more data to back it up. Of course, that’s difficult, because there aren’t that many companies willing to share such data. Still, it’s always neat to see attempts to pick out interesting predictive behavior from areas where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it.

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Companies: enron

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Comments on “Can Email Patterns Predict When Companies Are In Trouble?”

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Chris Blaskey (profile) says:

When you know your company is about to tank, it’s not uncommon to band together with people you like and help each other find jobs – that and discuss how management ran the company into the ground. Both of those result in email cliques, so it makes sense for that to be a common indicator.

That being said, that’s not exactly a statistic you can look up before buying stock, and by the time the cliques get really rampant, everyone who works for the company should know it’s going to tank, making it not a terribly helpful thing to notice.

another mike (profile) says:


Of course, there’s also a whole field of study on suppressing these operational security indicators.
There’s a pizza shop owner in the District that got interviewed a while back. He said he knew about the start of Operation Desert Storm because the ‘anonymous beige office building’ across the street changed their buying pattern. Lots of big orders late at night, for almost a week leading up to it.
Some quarterback used to always give away the play. If he was blowing on his fingertips when he came on the field, it was going to be a passing game. If he wasn’t blowing, they were running it. Gave up plays for almost a whole season. Til it was pointed out, then he just randomly blew on his fingers and the other teams couldn’t use it as a reliable indicator anymore.

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