Of Social Tools And Toys

Twitter is for morons and b-level actors.” 

I remember reading this in a Newsweek article in 2009. Funny thing is five years later I find many still believe this, and why not? Traditional media and late night talk show hosts do a wonderful job of highlighting only the harmful and the humorous. But what they don’t know is how powerful this and other social tools are too many people for learning and growing through networks.


This got me wondering about who, how many and what in regard to social tool use.  Might there be a 90-9-1 use of social media?  If you don’t recall, the 90-9-1 rule is where 90% of networks are made up of the equivalent of virtual voyeur, 9% contribute periodically, and the golden 1% create all the content that the lurkers and contributors consume or add to. 

I wondered then, when it comes to social tool use, do we have a comparable breakdown?

90% actors
9% marketers
1% makers

The 90%
No doubt social tools are a narcissists dream, where everyone can get their 15 minutes of fame. Traditional media does well to point out the sensationally bad behaviors of individuals and blames the medium as much, if not more than, as those making the blunder. These majority users aren’t morons, as they still widely use social tools to connect and learn, yet much use is for telling their personal story with all it’s comedy and tragedy displayed for the world to see. 

The 9%

Most businesses only toy with social technology. These “9%ers” build social brand promotion campaigns, sterilizing their customer “engagement” and then push so hard for ROI they excrete their humanity in the process. The hemorrhoids, of course, are too numerous to count. These companies rarely seem to get “it” right, but when they get it wrong, they get it really wrong; enduring black eyes for the silly games they play. Their half-baked approaches get chewed up and spit back in their faces like when they hijack a hashtag to sell a dress in the midst of a shooting or get into pissing matches with unhappy customers for the whole world to see. Who’s the moron?

The 1%

The minority however are those getting the greatest value. They are using it in strategic ways that bypass old models, as one group’s toy is another group’s tool. All their activity is happening under the radar of the status quo; not much mainstream press for their success. Through networking, sharing and collaborating, they are silently growing skills and knowledge. They are finding unique ideas, challenging content, and brilliant minds through open sharing and humility. Each of their engagements is a stretch assignment, a mentor meeting or a chance for large group reflection. They are making progress through relationships. 

Of course we can’t be pigeon held to one area. Just like 90-9-1 isn’t a hard and fast rule where we are locked into one of three convenient lables of lurker, contributer, or creator. We are all simultaneously actors, weaving our tale. We are marketers, building our brand if we see it or not. And we are all makers, from time to time bringing value to others.  But I do think, through seeking and sincere interactions, the minority today don’t just retain their humanity with these tools, they learn more about it and how powerful and rewarding it is to be real.

Learning is in a Holding Pattern

On a flight this week I noticed that safety awareness efforts by flight attendants is slowly being replaced by video demonstration on small monitors in the headrest (newer planes). Outsourcing this task to technology, like in other situations, can free people up to focus on other important tasks.  This is a chance to really improve learning because video has many affordances to increase attention and learning about safety as the demonstration have become white noise; ignored by most everyone. As I watched with great hope, I was disappointed to find the video is only a replica of the flight attendant demonstration… sigh – a common occurrence though where new technology support an old practice.
They chose to infuse humor into the demonstration which frankly only made me remember the corny gags and not the important actions to take or why to take them. That is the real miss. They leave to assumption that one knows why to do or not do something. Yes, making an emotional appeal is the right action but humor is not the right emotion to trigger. The reason we aren’t supposed to smoke, we are to remain seated with seat belts on, and know how to use the oxygen masks are for safety and safety is serious.
Why not show me what can happen if my seat is unbuckled or my tray table isn’t up? What happens if objects shifted during flight? No, I don’t need to see a skull get crushed but this could be done creatively, without instilling fear through evocative reenactment. Video is the perfect medium. Show me the why/ why not and not just the how and where. Connect the right emotion, with the right content, in the right context and one is more apt to remember when it really matters.

Oh, and while your at it, show me why it doesn’t hurt to ask the 6′ tall guy behind you if it’s ok to put your seat back before pinning his knees or snapping his laptop screen.

Changing Words. Changing Practices. Changing Cultures

“Culture is an emergent property of the many practices that happen every day. Change the practices and a new culture will emerge.”   Harold Jarche


I always thought Harold nailed it with this quote, showing equally how obvious yet how difficult organizational culture change can be.
But where, when and how does change start? Is it through a huge strategy and subsequent tactics or is it smaller, more individualized, gradual. Practices are the actions we undertake and the behaviors we exhibit. Everything from how we conduct meetings, organize project teams, or decide how long to stand with a colleague talking over a cup of coffee. All are practices that make up our culture. Words to are practices as they are deliberate actions; thoughts transmitted. In the organizational learning subculture the words course and training are unfortunately defaulted to when people who don’t understand them toss them around as THE solution to work performance problem. So if the words change does the related practice follow and then the culture shifts? Are words then the spark to ignite the potential change to come?

For me, each and every opportunity where the cry of “we need training” or a “we should have a course on xyz…” is raised I swoop into performance consultant mode and probe to determine the nature and significance of the issue and remind them for example that a PowerPoint deck is NOT in and of itself Training.  I’m relentless to the point where my staff asked me if I have a template of my responses. I’m also confident that on the other end of the call or email, eyes have rolled. 

Recently though a key leader responded in an email to my typical inquiries with the words “training” and “course”…

The words were in quotes. 

I sensed some subtraction by addition with these quotes bracketing the terms. Maybe it was an element of uncertainty, a glimpse into his internal questioning. However possibly he only wrote it that way to stave off my railing against training first, training always. Regardless, he was singling out the terms as being different than the definition. He was unsure what the solution was but used the only terms he knew with a subtle punctuational caveat. 

Maybe this then is the trigger, the first practice to change in an organizational culture – Words shared, one conversation at a time. 

The Social Element in Motivation

As I launched my campaign to yet again run a 1/2 marathon and begin a training regiment that will involve early morning runs in the heart of winter, my wife encouraged me to join Method 360, an exercise class she’s been attending several times a week to strengthen her core and improve he overall fitness. 

She has, for lack of a better word, become hooked.  

So I joined.  After my 4th visit I could see that the owner/ instructor, Trish Gallen had nailed the recipe for motivation that Daniel Pink identified in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.


Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose


Autonomy: for every exercise Trish promotes, she has alternatives that do the same but give you an option based on your fitness level and as you fatigue. As a newbie who was fading fast during one of my first classes, Trish shared several options to all of us and we could select one during that circuit. It didn’t lessen the exercise but change was good.  Because I had choice, I couldn’t fail, I couldn’t quit and I couldn’t blame her for how crappy I felt!  The choice was there, I got to own the exercise and I took it.

Mastery: success is personal. It is in feeling you are improving and seeing results. In my first class, feeling lightheaded, I had to step out for 5 minutes while she carried on with the class. The next time I felt like vomiting at one point and my transition between exercise (15 seconds) was slow but I pushed through. by my 4th class I wasn’t the quickest and I wasn’t the most technically sound but I didn’t feel sick, and I didn’t stop. Additionally my form has improved as she isn’t assisting me as much anymore in adjusting my position.  I am gaining mastery!

Purpose: I’m getting older. Each year I run, I seem to get a whole new injury (calf, foot, achilles, etc). A diverse exercise class like this serves to improve many supporting muscles, thus making my running more efficient and less damaging. I exercise in order to run better, longer. My purpose is clear.

The elements are present to maintain my motivation; control, growing success, and a goal.

The structure of the classes surely meets the 3 points above but now that I know this, can’t I just do this all on my own?  No.  The one element not included here is that which ties them all together – Social, which in my opinion is critical.  Don’t confuse this with just being around other people who share a common goal and some rah-rah. Social is being human and all the “real” that comes with it. Trish and her instructors connect with those in class; sincerely. Its nothing they do intentionally, they just show their humanity by sharing their stories, making mistakes, they laugh at themselves, they’re open and transparent. Sure they know more than any in there about exercise but they listen, inquire and want to improve. It’s a connected experience.

As I reflect on this seemingly unconscious motivational approach I wonder how well we (learning professionals) do the same in our efforts to help people improve work performance?  
  • When formal course development is warranted are we involving the learners in the process?
  • Are we designing to “their” goals as well as that of the organization?
  • Is instruction encouraging and helping them see even incremental success? 
  • Is failure treated as a part of the learning process?
  • Are we offering alternatives to the traditional course model? Blended, performance support, coaching, mentoring, networking.


What about in the use of internal collaborative tools? 

  • Are certain behaviors being demanded or do people have the time and space to experiment and learn? 
  • Do they have a voice to express their concerns, fears, needs? 
  • Are business results noted and shared or are we caught up in counting likes and shares, uploads and views?  
  • Is the purpose clear? Is the tool helping them solve a problem specific to them?
  • Is Be Human a key component to adoption and use

You’ll know motivation is there when people fumble through the “exercise” of learning (or connecting), when they struggle, when they’re slow to start but keep coming back. You’ll know to keep encouraging and stay the course… they’re hooked.





Speaking of exercise I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that I run for charity.  Any donation amount (really, any!) will go a long way for me to help fellow Central New Yorkers and the Upstate Medical Foundation.  Check out my donation site and please spread the word and or give what you can.  Thank you!


Where’s this all going?

After I gave a local ASTD Chapter presentation I was asked by some attendees if I knew “where’s all this going?”

Where’s what going? I responded.  “All this change, you know, due to all the technology and connectedness you speak of.”

I expressed that traditional “systems” will continue to get disrupted. But I thought that the term disrupted sounds kind of vague.

So I shared that I see disruption more as decentralization.

Humans are good at pattern recognition and when we look around and try to understand what is happening, what is coming, what are the trends in our work and lives one word comes to mind for me – Decentralized.

disconnected to high dynamic by Harold Jarche CC BY-NA-SA


So much is coming out of the hands of some central authority and into those of the individual. The authorities are us or other people or technologies we grant authority to.
Just think about the last trip you took. Likely booked online, no travel agency. On the way to airport you likely pumped your own gas, no attendant. You checked your Waze app to determine the fastest route, no waiting for a radio traffic report. Your lunch was relatively fast food, no waitstaff. At the airport you likely used a kiosk to print your boarding pass, no agent.
I. Me. Singular. Independent.
Learning is right in this mix. I can learn when I want, when I need to, where I’m at (physically), and where I’m at (cognitively), where I’m at in my work, and I can learn with whom I want and in the ways I want.
It’s all on me. As it really has always been… and should be.