The Role of Social Networks in the Rise of Christianity

Christianity after the death of Jesus was just a small movement under scrutiny and attack in the Roman Empire. Yet in less than 500 years it was their official religion. Devine intervention? Perhaps.

According to author Rodney Stark, in his 1997 book The Rise of Christianity, the faith spread not by formal means or force but in great measure through conversations that led to conversions.

Social forms around an object and for Christianity, the object was “hope” and the social agents spreading the message were women. But these were not desperate and destitute women, rather they were the wealthy women, those married into Roman aristocracy.

Women of means had the time and connections to commune and influence their fellow women and eventually their men participating in government affairs. Like most women of their time they were greatly impacted by paternal decisions related to child-birth, infanticide, and abortion. Furthermore, Christianity provided hope in times of trouble like when natural disasters struck – pagan gods had no answer. Christianity was a new message ALL Romans could connect with.

Women then were the key nodes in the network, they influenced the influencers and slowly the faith spread to ultimately integrate with all elements of Roman society.

What can we take away from this?

First, change doesn’t always come from the top and as the case maybe, sustainable change is bottom up driven. Additionally, community forms it is not created or built and it’s best supported from within. And finally, (most importantly) change – the kind of change that can influence the world for thousands of years begins in the same way that can transform an organization today… one conversation at a time.

To all my Christian friends, Happy Easter.

 

A Good Problem

Recently I did a webinar for Saba, a leading LMS vendor. They have a collaborative platform and invited me to speak with them on the principles and practices of organizational networks and collaboration. What I love most about giving a presentation comes usually at the end, it’s the time reserved for Q&A (although I like to field questions throughout, not always my choice however). Most questions asked about social efforts typically focus on how to get started, what the role of management should be or how to help leadership to be involved, etc. One question came however that I rarely hear:

“How do we shift a very healthy social network that is not focused on work to one that is?”

Interesting. People, using a corporate supported ESN, are sharing, collaborating and building their community but not around work or work related problems. For many this would appear as a good problem to have as there is no fear, the tech must be intuitive, there is trust, and there are personal relationships that transcend the organization. You’d assume with this established, the hard part is complete and collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing will begin to flourish.

Or will it?

My initial response was for managers to invite employees to help solve sticky problems, like what I did here. Creating opportunities for employees to co-own issues of the company shows them other ways to use the tool beyond community and get into addressing work problem-solving together.

Of course we can only assume there was some type of communication about the intent of the technology when it was being employed, that being communication related to workforce collaboration and sharing. And if so, then why aren’t they?

It could be that they don’t want to collaborate out of fear that sharing and collaborating about work could draw criticism especially if information is wrong, contradicts organizational approaches or has been regularly ignored when coming from certain levels of the organization. Another thought could be that the nature of the work has not required collaboration to get done and done successfully. Similarly, and true in many settings, people have close proximity and collaborative tools then appear on the surface as an unnecessary layer of work. Finally, many now regularly use social media in their personal lives. It’s ubiquitous but few use it for work because the social web “out there” is different than the one “in here”. Employees either haven’t picked up on the notion of a different use and purposes as they have habitually started using an enterprise tool as they would Facebook.

As I’ve noticed and noted before (and this example supports it), 1. social carves its own path, social behavior cannot be channeled without risk of it drying up. Organizations would be wise to focus on modeling, encouraging and supporting over dictating use and 2. Your organization already has an enterprise social network. Social networks exist in your organization, with or without technology. You’re people connect and are connected. Social tech can make it easier but more so it reveals better how healthy that network really is – now what do you do with this information?

The organization behind the attendee’s question has many approaches to consider going forward and also has a rare opportunity to look under the hood and learn much about itself – a good problem to have in it’s own right.

 

 

The Beat Goes On

I recently attended a local, day long social media marketing conference. Unsurprisingly I left feeling a bit disheartened. Most of what I saw and heard was nothing more than doing the traditional marketing with new tools; same thoughts on strategy for getting clicks, people as targets, and conducting multi-channel campaigns. There was nothing about conversation and there was an odd lack of empathy. There was also no sense of the irony in that everyone there was a “target” by another marketer, maybe even the one they sat next to.

babybirdsThe view of the consumer at this event was less an equal or a partner and more something to feed, one that is not astute in social or savvy in the mediums. What these marketing folks didn’t appear to consider is these consumers, their customers, are continually seeking ways to cut to the chase and slice through the nonsense, they we want to trust, they we want relationships. They We are doing it openly in the same tools the marketers are pumping out content in.. For many, it’s still the “I know-you don’t know-I have the upper hand approach

The world has changed and if social technology does one thing really well, it casts a light on everything it touches. So if you’re promoting a product you don’t understand or believe in, or you approach customers as targets for conversion rather than opportunities for conversation then your practice will eventually be exposed as a fraud.

Social tools really provide the best opportunity to transform the marketplace because at their core, social technology can expand and extend our humanbeingness. The trust, relationships, and transparency they can perpetuate are quite simple, yet simplicity isn’t easy – especially if you’re buried under the burden of chasing the newest technology and following last century approaches.

Reimage Work

Replace

As you likely know, Reimaging is the process of removing all the software from your computer and reinstalling it. This process is necessary if your operating system becomes damaged or corrupt. This is actually an excellent metaphor for what needs to happen to many organization’s operating systems.

There is much criticism of the world of work today. Many see stagnant approaches and dated power structures hindering real potential in this digital age. A reimage is not however about wiping out the disengaged, or cleaning out the c-suite (common approaches). Nor is it moving to an open office floor plan or eradicating email. No, this is about the actual work we do, or more specifically the structures that govern this work in organizations. It is about the policies, procedures, power systems, roles, and unwritten rules that impact the people which ultimately effects the work. This, the organizational software, the operating system – is often damaged and corrupt.

Recognizing this is only the first part, taking action is the other. Unfortunately just like with our sluggish laptop, where we manage to continue working when it’s performance isn’t optimal, most leaders find work-arounds that allow things to get done although not as efficiently or effectively as they could. These work-arounds typical comes in the form of new tools, “reorgs”, downsizing, engagement activities, and revamped strategic plans – business as usual and bandaids. So as expected, a reimage won’t even be considered as it takes a significant mindset shift.

For what it’s worth, here’s 5 actions I think an organizational reimage should include.

1. Changing the Defaults – The world of business is changing frequently and with that it should be expected that something that works today won’t work tomorrow. The world of work, markets, and labor are complex. Through the lens of Cynefin, the knowledge management/sense-making framework, we learn that in complexity we only know what right is after the fact. Organizations then must learn to continually probe their environments, make sense of of the information gathered and respond accordingly… rinse and repeat.

2. Strategic Reflection -Internally organizations need to pause and sharpen the saw. It must be a strategic focus to periodically assess each element that impacts the work, the policies that send the message to employees that “we don’t trust you”, the procedures that maintain efficiency yet serve to prevent innovation, and the power structure that are maintained by fear vs. ones maintained by merit. Morale is a huge part of the effectiveness equation.

3. Role Play – managers, supervisors, directors are titles of the bygone era of manufacturing, of routine work. These titles have connotations of us vs. them, command and control, authority without legitimacy, “the man”. Today we need mentors and coaches, supporters and connectors to serve workers as living forms of performance support. Imagine arriving to work on day one and being greeted by the Chief Barrier Remover? Odd? Sure but equally refreshing.

4. Redo Rewards – when the process is working, the product is right. Reward the process, the product will take care of itself. Those who help, who share, and those who encourage are your heroes. Reward their cooperation and collaboration not competition. A rising tide lifts all boats.

5. ESN over LMS – learning is a part of the work, not apart from it. If the vast majority of our new learning takes place in our doing of the work then we need tools to help us reflect and share easily this new knowledge. An ESN (vs. an LMS) is an open system. Here knowledge can freely flow in the conversations we have (this is where real knowledge exists, not within us but between us). This openness also means all the cooperation and collaboration you need to reward (pt.4) is made obvious.

Each organization is as unique as a finger print and a reimage, if warranted, may take different forms yet each is a true move towards social business. A move that is far more about people than about technology.

 

The Long Tailers of Social Business

Social business talk hasn’t progressed much beyond what it is or how it’s done. Jon Husband noted this in a brilliant and succinct post back in 2013 where he said that “most of the conversation circulating and re-cycling regarding [social business] … what ‘social business’ is and/or is not, how to do it right, or in 7 easy steps, or with pizzazz and ROI and why it’s changing everything (or nothing at all)

What has changed however in the past 2 years is that the idea of Social Business, like Social Media, has been further positioned by large firm Marketing and Advertising departments as their charge. Markets are conversations so says the ClueTrain Manifesto and so shortsighted marketing and sales have moved to “Social Business” strategies which mostly just employing social technology with the same push information tactics.

Social LongtailHowever where social sincerely exists are those businesses on the long tail . Organizations here, the smaller more niche players, are more often inherently, unconsciously and positively social inside and out. Their business survival is predicated on a meritocracy over hierarchy, openness, trust, feedback and transparency – it’s here where the soil is most fertile.

Social Business, (what we do) can’t survive long without firm roots in a Social Organization (who we are).

For the larger, market dominating organizations, they turn to social technology (like any other technology) to fix problems vs. prevent them. Inside these organizations social tools are applied in a futile effort to open communication for knowledge sharing, a cure for their social atrophy. However the best opportunity for social technology inside has passed, the arteries are now clogged by competition, policy, procedures and rigid hierarchy.

Social technology may be best as preventative medicine vs. the miracle cure.

It’s the Long Tailers that need to understand this and move quickly to stay who they are. But to stay small as they grow larger, technology alone won’t be enough – social requires people and a holistic approach. They should also employ a Change Prevention strategy (vs. Change Management), maybe a new internal role of an Unchanging Officer to help leaders see their culture today and the big picture potential of social tools beyond communication and knowledge sharing. A well crafted change prevention strategy can anchor their progressive culture and help maintain the healthy status quo.

It’s far too easy for long tail business leaders to fall into established, yet floundering, 20th century practices as they grow. There are still many visible, seductive monuments of this past success and misguided social business approaches.

Long Tailers must act now for there is much to lose if they don’t change.