The future of digital culture – yours, mine, and ours – depends on how well we learn to use the media that have infiltrated, amplified, distracted, enriched, and complicated our lives. [Howard Rheingold, NetSmart]
I have been thinking a lot lately about the literacy of social and what it means to be social in a social business. Predictably, I’ve ended up with far more questions than answers.
What does it mean to be ‘social’?
It’s a simple question.
I can read and write. I can add and subtract. I can write an RFP. I’d like to think I can get on with people. I’ve read Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. But what are the skills I need to work and communicate in a social business? How do I learn these skills when the new paradigm is being shaped as it evolves.
The new paradigm disrupts and changes. It causes anxiety and concern. Social has become a proxy for change. A type of change that is unfamiliar and uncertain. But what type of change isn’t those things? The dark heavy machinery of our industrial heritage starkly juxtaposed against the lightness of the world being shaped around us. In the liminal zone between the two, we reminisce, become nostalgic, and yet can’t help but be a little bit curious.
How do I know I am being ‘social’? Do I need to be social all the time, or just some of the time? Is posting a picture of my lunch to Instagram or checking in to where I work – social? I have a Twitter account, connections on LinkedIn, use Facebook, I’ve tried Tumblr, Posterous, Storify, FriendFeed and a whole host of others since gone, I write a blog. I tell myself: I must be social!
I must be social because I have all the social logos to prove it displayed on my About.me page. Or are they just like all the unread books on my shelf at home? I must be social because other people tell me so, because I send a certain number of Tweets every day. I must be social because I have a Klout, Kred and PeerIndex score? Although I can’t remember asking for one.
But what does it all mean? When you go behind the logos, the Tweeting, uploading the pics to Instagram, what does it mean to be social? Who decides? Can I decide? Do I have the credentials to decide? Does it matter? But then by extension does authenticity matter?
I don’t even know what it means, but I know it matters…
Freedom and words
For some reason I prefer the word organisation over company or business.
Words are important, and yet in social we leave them vague and amorphous. They are defined by assumptions, which are unquestioned and appropriated. Applied randomly. By the crowd.
And yet who am I to judge? Who am I to decide which words should be used, who can or can’t use them, who should define them and how.
Should I adhere to the definition of the crowd and the meaning they impose? The meaning forced onto the word by the united voice of the crowd. The promise of freedom delivered on a tray; delivered by the masses.
Social brings with it a freedom, not of expression, but of scale. It binds people, unites them behind #something. It binds and unites at a scale we have never known before. It binds and unites at a speed we have never known before. We are still learning the possibilities. Still exploring.
But back to words. Back to the sense of freedom that social offers. Or perhaps, it’s the mirage of freedom. Either way, the pretense of freedom is tempting, alluring, encompassing. But am I fooled by it? Seduced by it. More than likely.
Is freedom, openness, authenticity a vain pursuit? The promise of it brought tantalisingly within reach by social. Sign in, create your profile, and all of this could be yours. Easy. And yet what freedom is there within the crowd? It is a relationship constantly fraught with friction and compromise.
But who am I to question the crowd?
Mindset, Culture, Technology
I’ve also thought a lot about the context in which social business takes place, from both a personal vantage point, as well as a corporate one. By context, I probably mean the framework. And even then, I’m not sure if framework is the right word either. But let me try to explain.
Quite early on in my journey I realised that social wasn’t a technology play. It required the technology to make it happen – absolutely, but the technology was simply the switch by which everything else happened. As Howard Rheingold states:
“We’re in a period where the cutting edge of change has moved from the technology to the literacies made possible by the technology.”
The people, you and me, have embraced the change, and we’re now learning the literacies that will enable us to play, work, interact and communicate. Wasn’t it Clay Shirky who wrote: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society”?
But organisations are lagging behind, resistant to change. If only they had listened to The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999 and ‘got down off that camel’. The bit I’ve never understood, is that organisations are made up of people, you and me.
But back to my early journey.
It became obvious to me that these social technologies were inextricably intertwined with me. In many ways they reflected me: who I was, how I engaged with people, how I communicated with people. Perhaps I might even go so far as to say they were a reflection of who I could be, wanted to be. My inner self played out on a public stage as @guy1067.
@guy1067 doesn’t exist, @guy1067 feels separate to me, I can hide behind the faceless mask of @guy1067. But @guy1067, he(?), it(?) is me. Who am I trying to kid?
The social technologies were also a catalyst or perhaps more likely a proxy that probed away at me, posing seemingly simple questions about private/public, inside/outside, work/play, me/you … but these weren’t questions I could walk away from, leave hanging. They demanded an answer, and they demanded an answer that could only be played out in one place: in public.
But I digress. As if I have followed a link and self indulgence and serendipity have taken me to another place. What’s the word or phrase for that? #onthetipofmytongue
The crux of the matter is that early on I realised that social wasn’t about the technology, it was about me and my mindset. And when I got to work it was about culture and organisational transformation. But who wants to talk to me about organisational transformation?
Who are the teachers, gurus and experts??
Who teaches me to share, to be authentic, how to collaborate, to understand the subtle differences and nuances between collaborate and co-operate? Who teaches me to be a connector, spanner, broker? Who teaches me not to hoard? Am I a Dipper, a Denier, or an Ultra? What skills do each of these require? How do I know what skills I need? Can I retrain?
Social reflects the type of person I am, not the type of person I want to be? If I am opaque, private or closed, can I ever hope to be open, authentic and transparent? Where do I start?
Who will teach me? The crowd? The self-appointed guru? The commentator and critic? The crowd appointed chosen one?
Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, (the company I work for by the way) in a recent address to the Council on Foreign Relations talks about ‘the social network being the production line within the company’. This is a captivating and enticing statement, signalling a fundamental and profound shift in the organisational foundations of a company. The social network challenges the norm. Imagine a system in which the sharing of knowledge is the cornerstone of the way you work: to share is to work. Sharing becomes the means of exchange, knowledge the currency.
My social eminence, represented in its current rudimentary form of Klout, Kred or PeerIndex scores, reflects a new kind of hierarchy, in which my actions, my knowledge, is directly reflected in my desire, my willingness, my understanding of how to share. My enemy is not apathy (can I be bothered?), but my ability to discern. For sharing for the sake of sharing is meaningless. My ability to share therefore is a delicate balance between my innate understanding of the relevance of what I am sharing combined with how well I understand who I am sharing with. So even sharing is fraught with difficulty. And heaven forbid if you overshare!
But what happens when we add another layer of complexity in and combine this score with degrees of benevolence, authenticity or openness. This may be foreign to us now, but this is where we will inevitably head. Every action tracked, every action measured. Data collated, analysed, scored. And all of this in real-time, and matched with real-time performance ratings. The quantified self at work. And let’s not forget to wrap a layer of gamification around. Everybody likes a badge.
But in the end, as I reflect on all of this, it all seems to a large degree, somehow so familiar. Social business is a construct, just as @guy1067 is, and when all is said and done, I will still go to work. Yes the way work happens may change, is changing, but work was always social. We’ve just forgotten that, and social technology is helping us to rediscover the artefacts and gestures of our social past. We’ve rediscovered each other again. A degree of intimacy, albeit virtual, that was stripped away with production lines and call centres, is returning.
We’re simply thinking it through, exploring aspects of work we hadn’t experienced before, because it wasn’t possible. Take one variable out of the equation that has allowed us to be where we are today, and we could have been asking a lot of different questions (or not at all). But at the end of the day it’s still just business as usual.
Ever was it thus.
The following is a brief talk I gave at the MRS Annual Conference 2013 – Shock of the New (20.03.13).
What I’d like to explore briefly today is an idea put forward by IBM’s Chairman and CEO, Ginny Rometti. In a recent address she gave at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ginny talked about three principles:
- The first one: data will change how you make decisions
- The second, data will change how you create value
- And the third, data will change how you deliver value
And she gave three seemingly unconnected examples to illustrate these principles.
- The first one — a police department reduces the incident of rape by moving payphones inside of a convenience store
- Second one — a Mexican cement maker, CEMEX, launches its first global product in record time not by building a factory but by building a social network
- And the third — a U.S. presidential campaign doesn’t rely on opinion polling and yet predicts the final vote in a key swing state within 0.2 percent
What tied these three examples together was the idea that organizations are learning to compete in a new competitive landscape. And that data will be the basis of that competitive advantage. She goes on to ask the audience to think of data as the next natural resource.
I want to, for the next few minutes, pick up on the second point: the idea of creating value. Ginny talks about new ways of creating value, and cites the example of CEMEX, which gained competitive advantage by building a social network. Within this context she talks about the social network becoming the new production line within the company.
Let’s think about that for a minute: The social network becomes the new production line. By extension, the network becomes the very backbone of the organisation itself. This idea disrupts and challenges our very notion of how companies are structured, how people communicate, the idea of what a business process is and where it resides. Imagine if what we did took place along, in, on the networks that we each create, that we participate in, as well as on the social network that we collectively, as the organisation, create. What is the implication of this? How would this change the way decisions are made for example? Who could make those decisions, and how would we validate them?
If we look at this idea of the social network as production line, from another perspective, from the point of view of data and insight, what is the impact? Where does data reside, how is it accessed, captured or distributed, who owns it, how do we use it, leverage it…
In this paradigm, where data as knowledge, becomes more open, accessible, ubiquitous and universal, where knowledge, or the creation of it, is accessible in real-time and at source, what becomes important, and where competitive advantage lies, is not in what you know necessarily, but what you share, and by extension your willingness to share. The fact that the social network has become the production line, indeed the backbone of the company, giving us open access to each other at any time, simply heightens this, and sharing becomes the default setting. To work is to share, and what you do (or indeed don’t do), the decisions you make (or don’t make), are played out in public. Analysed, rated, commented on by your colleagues. And in the same way that Klout, Kred or PeerIndex indicate your reach or influence, so might we begin to see ‘share’ scores, indexes and leaderboards. Indeed, your ‘share’ score directly correlates to your performance measures.
Perhaps for some, this kind of dystopian view is untenable, unthinkable, unimaginable, unfathomable, but so was the internet not that many years ago.
Imagine if we layer on top of this the idea of the internet of things, the idea that objects, the world around us, is now connected as well…objects not only talking to each other, but also analysing the way we interact with them, the way they interact with each other… Imagine in this paradigm if data was frictionless – frictionless data – what would the impact be? Imagine if delivering insights was a function of everyone, not just a team of analysts. Imagine if insights resided in the objects around us that we engage with.
But imagine if we also take this concept of the social network as production line, and extend it beyond the boundaries of the organisation, into the marketplace, so that customers are now part of that social network. Notions of inside and outside, internal and external, company and market, employee and customer, public and private, buyer and supplier, will need to be re-defined, or even defined. Relationships re-examined. All of this on both an individual and corporate level.
We are at a time now when we often talk about shifting paradigms being disrupted by social, where social often acts as a proxy for change. What we often do is change the technology, but fail to fundamentally change the paradigm or context in which it operates. So whilst I’ve allowed myself to go on a bit of a flight of fancy, the gap between me talking about it, and it being reality may be only a handful of years or months away rather than decades.
Ginny ends her address by saying that the challenge is not technology. The challenge is one of culture, and that perhaps is where competitive advantage might lie. The competitive advantage that lies in, ultimately, becoming an authentic organisation.
So my question to you is: Are you ready for that shift towards becoming an authentic organisation? Are you ready for the social network as production line and the impact of what that may bring.
I was reading a post a moment ago by @Marie_Wallace – The Social Business Struggle. This led me to another post by @hjarche – Collaboration is a Means Not an End. This led me down another path to another great post by @deb_lavoy – Collaboration isn’t Working: What we Have Here is a Chasm. My head hurts, but I love this disruptive and serendipitous aspect of the internet. Where I start is not where I will finish. Links undermine, lead me to somewhere I hadn’t intended to go… I let you lead me astray, I know the game.
…there’s reason to believe perhaps this year will be better than the last…days go by so fast…
Technology has changed everything. Paradigms are shifting. New or different lexicons emerging. The ‘old ways’ rubbing uncomfortably against the ‘new’…
We live in a time of cliches, appropriated words and platitudes, perhaps this is part of the journey towards ‘boring technology’. Perhaps we are simply waking up, recognising, believing that something better exists; better because we have more control over it, better because we have the authority to do something about it… in some ways, it’s still about all the old things we’ve always railed against, but it’s just different. We’re using them differently. We’re all using them, we all have access to them (or is that just another assumption). Life is full of unquestioned assumptions.
We use words such as – collaborate, co-operate, authenticity, trust, openness, sharing, transparency, democratisation, empowerment, connected and even hyper-connected… we use these words in juxtaposition to words such as power, command and control, silo, hoarding, authority, hierarchical… one is morphing into the other.
I talk about collaboration, and after reading Collaboration is a Means Not an End, I’m now thinking about co-operation, we can’t have one without the other. I need to think more about it. But I use these words, I have my own definition and interpretation of them. But when I talk with you, my connected friend and follower, I assume that the collaboration and trust and openness and hyper-connectedness that I talk about, is the same one that you are talking about. That when we collaborate, we are working towards the same end, the same shared goal.
But when I get to the end, I realise that I’ve made assumptions, that I’ve never told you my meaning of collaboration. Perhaps there’s a step before assuming collaboration comes before co-operation?
Someone told me we’re all social now.
Twitter – check
Facebook – check
WordPress – check / Tumblr – no
FourSquare – check / Gowalla – check (is it still going?)
Google+ – check
LinkedIn – check (even got a First Million badge, must be a real pioneer!)
Posterous – check (ok not very often)
Klout score – check / Kred score – check / PeerIndex – check (just to complete the triumvirate)
Bit.ly account – check
#hashtags – check
Friendfeed – used to (who remembers Friendfeed. I liked Friendfeed, I think it’s still going)
Delicious – check
Instagram – check (but don’t tell anyone)
Flickr – check (but don’t tell anyone)
EyeEm – check (ok, so I haven’t posted a photo yet)
Lively.fm – check / Spotify – check / last.fm – check / Grooveshark – check
Yammer – check (an old friend)
IBM Connections – check
I must be social
A thought crossed my mind
For the amount of time I’ve spent setting up and using all my different social accounts, how much time have I spent thinking about authenticity, empathy, trust, openness, collaboration, sharing…?
When was the last time I talked to you about collaboration? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to me? What does it mean to us? Have we agreed?
The lexicon of social
I am left with a final thought
How social am I really?
I was recently in Oman helping a local regulatory body set up their first foray into social. Over the course of three days we worked together to get their Facebook page up and running, draw up a social media policy and some posting guidelines for their Facebook page. We also made sure that each one of the team had posted a comment onto their Facebook page by the end of the workshop.
What I found fascinating was that I knew they could set up their Facebook page without me. This got me thinking about what my value to them was? And my answer probably hasn’t changed since I first got into social a few years ago. The value I offered was not that I knew which buttons to click, or how you could add an image, or remove or edit a post if you needed to. My value to them was whatever they wanted it to be. And that ‘value’, that ‘whatever they wanted it to be’, resided in the fact that I was a safety net for them, a trusted adviser, someone whose hand they could hold, someone who was simply there when they needed it.
But how do you quantify that? How do you get someone to pay for trust? How do you get someone to understand that they aren’t really paying you for your time to set up a Facebook page, but for trust? The Facebook page becomes a proxy for that trust. I can quantify my time to set up a Facebook page, to create a social media policy or posting guidelines. I can put a cost against these things. But who would be willing to pay for trust? And yet that is exactly what you are really paying for…
I’ve recently left Capgemini and am writing this post just before 1am in Muscat, Oman, while listening to Joan Armatrading singing ‘The Weakness in Me’ in the background. None of that is really important.
Over the last few days before I left Capgemini, I had been thinking about how you quantify in social terms the loss of people. Over the last year, Capgemini has lost @buchanla, @windahl, @fransgaard and now @guy1067. In my opinion to have lost one of those people is understandable. People get to a point, get a better offer, move on…
What I find hard to make sense of, however, is that you don’t often get four people with the experience, credibility and understanding of social coming together in the same place at the same time. You know what they say about buses never coming and then suddenly loads turn up all at once. I’m not here to criticise, try to understand the whys and wherefores, or be self-indulgent, but more to try and understand whether it is possible to quantify the gap left when people leave a company.
The conclusion I came to is that it’s not really possible yet. We do have proxies, but what these proxies represent or equate to is not quantified.
- What does a Klout score of 63 really mean?
- What does having 4668 Followers really mean?
- What does Tweeting 19046 times really mean?
- What does receiving 27 LinkedIn recommendations mean?
Whilst I don’t know what the different scores really mean, I do know that an opportunity was missed…
I was reading a post by @StoweBoyd a moment ago – Moving beyond the current understanding of social: From steady-state to postnormal.
He writes towards the end:
We have not reached a steady state given these forces on the world of work, and we shouldn’t expect to in any near future that could be extrapolated.
So, when thinking about the role and application of social tools in today business context, we should drop the premise of getting the business to a steady state. Instead, we have to develop tools and techniques that will help the company deal with turbulence, to help teams grapple with uncertainty, and help each user recover from adversity and conflict. These tools will be judged by the degree to which they confer a greater degree of resilience on their users and the businesses that have adopted them…
This post got me thinking, particularly around the idea of ‘resilience’.
Change is the norm. Change is a natural part of progress. Change is inevitable. It unsettles. Disruption is the moment at which we move from one change to another. We are in a period of disruption. Design for change
My noise is your relevance. Just because I can always be ‘on’ doesn’t mean I have any more to say
Help those who don’t yet possess your literacies
Do you understand the notion of ‘right-time’ or are you driven by the paranoia of real-time?
Social is not one-sided. I can define my own terms and conditions of use. I can delete my account
It is not until I understand the relevance of social to me that I can truly understand social. Until then I will continue to ride on my camel. When I get off my camel, everything will seem a little bit easier
Don’t forget to look back. We often forget how far we have progressed. How far we have come. What seemed impossible yesterday, makes us laugh to ourselves today
Don’t try to hide, don’t try to obfuscate… you will be found out. I know more about you than you might think. I know less about you, than you might believe
Don’t delude yourself. Not every Tweet will be ReTweeted, not every picture will be Favorited, not every YouTube video will go viral. Just be amazed that you can
We all possess a piece of the jigsaw. We just need to understand how and where to place it
I create Tweets, videos, pictures to share with an unknown you. Together we create experiences, which take on a life of their own. We become connected for a moment and then go our separate way. To create different and new experiences with others
The tomorrow we talk about creating for our children is here today. Design for today driven by the technology of tomorrow
We are all creators, curators, explorers, lurkers, ranters… but there is no formula or blueprint to consult. Be bold, brave and courageous