Tag Archives: Social Business Design

Computer says yes! I love IT managers but…

As Nick Carr predicted in The Big Switch, some of our most familiar career paths are being rendered obsolete  by technology: the IT manager is one who may have little more to do than doodle on post-it notes in the office of the future.

Currently, the IT department is a powerful gatekeeper. When I was doing the research for Monkeys with Typewriters (and increasingly since), the IT department was all too often cited as a major stumbling block when it came to introducing new, social technologies across the workplace. As one senior civil servant bluntly (and grumpily) put it, 

“The IT department’s agenda is to fulfil their aims.  It's not to support us in our aims.  So if you ask can I do this or not, if I take this route it would be a lot of work for them.  The best route is no work for them at all so they would choose no.  Always choose no.”

But as we know, the walls are coming down. And, once the impact of the digitally-literate generation taken hold, there’s more chance we’ll get the social organisations we strive for.  Smart employers will see this change coming, and embrace it:

“To maximise efficiency among tech savvy workers,” says trend forecaster William Higham, “companies will need to adopt new working practices. Restrictions on personal technology use will need to be reassessed. So too will the current practice of relying on traditional IT departments for input on new technology resources, as knowledge is democratised across departments by the experience of personal use.”

Tom Standage, The Economist’s Digital Editor, makes a similar point when talking specifically about social media: “People who are entering the workforce now think that this is how software works. Some managers talk about Facebook and other [social] networks as being time wasters, but in fact the opposite is true. This is the way that software is increasingly going to look, and that will impact on the way companies are run, because when you have a general discussion about things on a Facebook “wall”, you tend to get much less email and much less wasted time.”

So, time to stop restricting your employees in their use of social media, and start seeing it as a training investment.

Photo: Amarand Agasi

#sbs2011 liveblog: brave new dawn?

It’s a bright sunny day outside (this is the view) and JP Rangaswami (Salesforce.com) is up on stage speaking at the Social Business Summmit (London) 2011. This is bound to be good because JP always talks with visionary zeal:

09.15: (JP) It’s ridiculous that we have to say “social business” because surely all businesses  are “social”? Businesses have been social long before the last few decades of mono-directional, broadcast messages, the age of advertising.

Until recently, people have been told they can’t have a loan, for example, because the system says no (not the individual dealing with them). That’s because of the way our businesses have been built.

We are seeing a change in the way we work: Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick”, John Roberts “The Modern Firm”, were published 30 years ago. We are seeing changes in how we account for the interactions we have with customers.

This firm which used to be hierarchical is morphing into a network of relationships. If you cannot value something you’re not able to move it onto a balance sheet: we must be able to measure capability and relationship in some way.

We’ve been talking for some time about the fact that, after the agricultural and industrial ages, we are now in the Information Age. In the industrial age, we could build many processes that were linear, and we could build pipes for the work processes, and we could predict what was going to happen.

09.30: Why do we want to increase our fixed costs? Because that’s what we do by filling our day with meetings. But workers are changing (Millennial generation) and tools are changing.

The thing is, change is a constant, the exiting of the graphical user interface, and the use of touch, is happening at almost the speed of light. The child expects the screen to talk back. And touch will be augmented with voice. I was at a google zeitgeist last year and I was amazed to see how much I could do just using my eyes: it’s not commercially viable yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

We are moving from process to pattern. We’re spending more time dealing with the exception than we’re dealing with the rule. We need to build systems that allow us to identify patterns, that enable us to have a wider and wider group of people say, I’ve seen that movie before, I know how that book ends, and stop focusing on the repeatablitly and start focusing on which pattern is this pattern nearest to, and how should I respond. Start capturing things that do not work, because you can embed them in your learning, and revisit them later. It is not failing, it’s an opportunity to learn.

When I hear about people building seed banks 60m below the ice in Sweden, I used to think, but how about survival of the fittest, but then I realised that human beings are accelerating damage to the environment and we need to start having a steward-like approach, but it may come too late: some species may have been killed off during that time when we created an artificial environment.

We need to start looking at failure as a way of future-proofing.

09.45: Kids are pretty smart about privacy. But their privacy is a lot more granular: my kids are friending me, but they are inviting me to sleep in the guestroom – they don’t expect me to go up into their bedroom and start rifling through their drawers. Stop trying to automate things that are essentially social.

Their concept of ownership is different. Kids are into sharing stuff much more than us.

In India, if you’re living 7,8,10 to a house, what does it mean to have privacy?

Linear vs non-linear: I think of work very much like a video game. I came into Salesforce.com and spent a bit of time in the sandbox. And learnt about the rules of engagement of the game. Then I went looking for missions I could actually do. Every organisation is a video game today. Gamification is starting to enter everything: you can win badges (for example). We are getting back to grips with something we have lost for 50 or 60 years.


What do we really mean by “social business”?

For a couple of years now there’s been a social business debate, led by the likes of Stowe Boyd and Andrew McAfee, which has focused on the distinction between “social business” and “Enterprise 2.0”.

The discussion has inevitably been skewed to the technology side of things. But as Stowe (and any other social media consultant worth their salt) will tell you, social business is, first and foremost, about people.

I’ve been meaning to write on this for a while now but keep getting sidetracked. The question banging on in my mind has been: how does the “social enterprise” fit in to all of this?

Last Monday night, there I was again sitting in an audience (this time at the RSA, during the latest in their fabulous free lecture series), listening to yet another speaker bang  on about “social business” but not meaning anything at all, no, not in the slightest bit, related to software.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Because over on this side of the debate, we have a completely different definition of social business:

“A cause-driven business.” (Muhammad Yunus)

“A non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective.” (Wikipedia)

“A business that integrates two objectives: a commercial objective – to achieve and increase profits and realise growth (like any traditional business) and a social (and ethical and environmental)objective.” (ClearlySo)

On his blog, Andrew McAfee argued that the likes of Douglas McGregor and Chris Argyris have been proposing “social business” for decades. I’d say the wheel has come full circle:

Through new C21st social tools, we now have the ability to realise the C20th vision of a truly social organisation, one that puts people at the centre of everything it does. In the C21st (with all that we now know), we would be foolhardy not to appreciate that ethical and environmental concerns lie at the very heart of any people-centric approach.

This is the basis of a broadbrush, holistic definition of social business that I think we desperately need.

Photo: Matt Burns