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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 7:48pm

    I think if you also watch closely, there was probably an increase in use of shredders, as well and higher usage of printers as people printed out copies of the CVs to send to other companies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 7:53pm


    Print-outs to the executive-level printer about ERM (Enterprise Risk Management) is also a pretty bad sign.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 9:01pm

    And when all the insiders sell their stock...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Chris Blaskey (profile), Jun 25th, 2009 @ 9:38pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Joe, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 9:54pm

    I don't know; I don't think you can tell all of that from just an e-mail. But, you never know. As the poster said above, it's when they start selling their stocks. Joe xp registry

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    adam, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 11:12pm

    Plain Text: A CRLF will be replaced by break
    tag, all other allowable HTML is intact
    HTML: No formatting of any kind is done without explicitly being written in
    Allowed HTML Tags:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Bradley Stewart, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 3:26am

    If You Don't Want It Read, Don't Send It On A Postcard

    What I have never understood is why these people send e-mails with sensitive information anyway. What are they thinking?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Joe, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Two sides

    Before you quit your job when distribution lists start flying, you may want to make sure it isn't because the company is getting ready to IPO!

    I would imagine that email behavior is present before any major company event.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    AnonCow, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:46am

    "Email cliques" sounds alot like an older term: "circling the wagons"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    another mike (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 12:38pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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