vox populi


Recent network conversations, some I’ve been a part of and others I picked up on, have led me to question who really gets all this discussion around social business and organizational social networking. The first was prompted by seeing Alan Lepofsky engaging his network with tweets like this:


Later, I joined #H2HChat which focused on a book about “Human to Human” and social business. I left feeling a bit disillusioned in that a conversation that would appear to be about human nature and behavior was ultimately about tools, making me further wonder who really gets this? Furthermore the articles and posts I read share summaries of data and research into business and where things are trending. Anonymous survey and high-level discussions are happening but who is having granular conversations that provide level-setting information and the frameworks for change?

Finally, in some 1:1 texting with my sister-in-law, who reads my blog but doesn’t really move in this “social” space, gave me a fresh perspective as she is honestly intrigued and raised some good thoughts/questions. She texted:

… for a company to make a mindset shift I can only imagine that there is a high level of skepticism from employees. Like… Why is the boss being more open, asking for ideas etc? Am I going to get a pink slip if I collaborate with dead beat Dave, how will I get ahead? More to your overall message I think mindset shift requires not only personal growth but also a community acceptance.

I suspect many people (leaders, managers, and workers) feel and think this same way. Social business doesn’t even have a clear definition for them let alone a reason to be pursued or a clear path to that end. It appears to me that I am having a lot of conversations about this subject with people who generally get it. However I want to have more conversations with the others, outside of these circles, the ones who don’t get it or don’t care. It’s time to hear from the voice of the people (vox populi), the “Man on the Street” about this topic.

Euan Semple, author of Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do, has said that Change Happens One Conversation at a Time, so with that, I plan to embarking on some personal work to gain perspective. I look to physically sit down and talk to anyone who is curious about these ideas, terms, notions. I want to listen and if I can, offer some ideas or at least points to ponder. My first opportunity is coming up with a VP at an organization I used to work for. Another in the works is with a more traditional Director of L&D, and a third is with a Human Resources leader at a defense contractor. All are going to be local and face-to-face over coffee or lunch. Although I’m not really sure the best way to start these conversations, I do like how my sister-in-law began our chat with “that’s a good question.” So maybe that’s what it needs to be – a good question put out there that one feels they must learn the answer to. What then is that one question around this central idea of social business? Maybe it will appear in my first meeting or it could be as simple as “what do you know of social business?”  I look to share here what I am learning, what it means, and how it can move the conversation forward.

Network Navigating

I’ve written recently about the futility of organizational internal social efforts. Their efforts to corral conversations into an ESN is ineffective and short sighted. Wirearchy is here. It exists with or without ones conscious effort as our networks extend in multiple directions and multiple “places.”  We will go to where our people are and if our people overlap, all the better, but the reality is they rarely will. For example my running community members have zero interest in my social learning and social business discussions. 
So it is that we must learn to move in and out of various channels of conversations and relationships, adjusting as we need to to make it all work. However in the networked age this seems as overwhelming as the amount of information that comes at us.

Do choices have to be made? Of course. It’s really no different than our behaviors prior to the advent of social technology. We made room and found balance then in things like our physical meeting spaces, telephone conversations, email, etc. We made choices then of how and where we would spend time. We (often unconsciously) seek out the people who matter most and in that seeking we inadvertently learn to navigate the places that keep us connected.

My networking “places” are as fragmented and unique as my relationships. Here are a few of my places I visit daily which I’m sure look much like yours.

  • Twitter for amazing global relationships and conversations
  • 2 Facebook groups for specific professional development and a book club
  • LinkedIn for local ATD conversations and sharing
  • iMessage groups (smaller, family & friends)
  • Skype group for larger L&D discussions, tips, needs
  • Evernote chat for project collaboration
  • Yammer for organization cooperative and collaborative activities
  • Slack for idea sharing in L&D topics for various activities

This is our reality. I doubt highly that as social tools evolve there will be one tool to rule them all or a way to link them. This reality may be inconvenient to many but social networking has always been inconvenient to some extent. Waving the white flag is not an option. We will learn these new network navigation skills through experimentation, increased exposure and they will strengthen with deeper experiences in the context of connecting. With modeling and guidance by those in the know, the learning curve can be reduced more quickly but even without the experts, we will learn to navigate, it’s what we are built to do.

Social Inconvenience is Important

Social networking is not always convenient. Our networks can be large, small, and many are in niche areas of interest but in all we’ve historically driven for miles, run in groups, flown to new cities, met in questionable venues and navigated personality differences to connect with the people that matter. 

The inconvenience of connecting with our network is never so great to dismiss them, we work at what brings us value.  Social tools are our new places. We comment “in” and post “on” no differently than when we meet “at” or go “to”.  Our new places for social interaction are equally numerous, unique, and sometimes as difficult to traverse. Yet after clearing the initial hurdle of a new social technology, we happily find our people and learn to move within and between new tools no different than we do new physical locations.

Organizations though, forever looking to catch lightening in a bottle and corral an advantage, provide their employees approved “places” to use for this activity, often a single place like an ESN. This of course is typical of business as usual and is equally unnatural, as are most organizational decisions which aim to control and guide human behavior. Hierarchy though is no match for Wirearchy. Technology affords us the opportunity to extend our relationships and conversations further and expand farther than ever before. These actions should be encouraged by employers not discouraged, as today an employee’s value is in the quality and diversity of their connections. 

Real knowledge doesn’t exist within us but between us, in our conversations

No doubt some enterprise social tools are used successfully for sharing and learning on the inside, but much of what influences this sharing and learning came from the outside and this is where organizational leaders miss the mark. By trying to drive people to a single location and expecting community to flourish and innovation to follow is a mistake. The organization needs their “place” to be in the mix of places but not sit above them all. Encouraging relationships to form with diverse people, ideas, groups and in different places presents the greatest opportunity for organizations and individuals today.

Social Inception

Have you seen the movie Inception? It’s a fantastic sci-fi film where people infiltrate other people’s subconscious while they sleep and remove information or, in the case of the title, plant an idea. When the person awakens, they think the idea is their own.

Now I do believe that the same idea can spring up independently from different people in different locations at the same time. Historically speaking, you can see that Pyramids of various sizes and constructs appeared all over the globe by different civilizations in or around the same time where the people had no contact with each other.  However time and space are no barriers anymore. As more and people find their voice online, begin sharing their stories, experiences, and ideas, an unintentional form of “Social Inception” can occur. When we engage in social networks we accumulate many ideas from many sources. Some can be fleeting, like those seen briefly in a Tweet. Others are deeper like those in articles, blog posts or videos and of course conversations. For me, I recently wrote about change happening one conversation at a time. The gist of my post was that we can just cut through all the fat about social media technology barriers, it’s really as simple as helping people ask their internal questions out loud to those who are “connected” – Things like “where do you find the time?” “how did you start?” “How has it helped you?”, etc. Good idea? Maybe. Was this my idea? I’m not so sure now. 
When I wrote it I was like, this is an interesting thought, I wonder what others would think? Flash forward to today. I’m scanning some favored Tweets looking for something in particular and I see:
It got me to thinking so I re-read the article. I was left with two thoughts. 1. This is brilliant and 2. Did I steal this concept?! 
Well, no, not consciously, not completely, and not with any intention to do so. I have always been very careful to sing the praises of the trailblazers (not sure that’s a good term but I’m not a fan of the word Thought Leader). I vigorously read and promote the works of Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings and many others in the learning/social learning space… including Euan Semple.  But here, over 115 days ago, he wrote an article of a very similar title to mine. Did I read this 115 days ago, process it internally, experience a triggering event and spew out my own interpretation as something really original? Did Euan plant more than a seed in my mind? Is this more common than I think?

Today information comes at us so fast, influencing our thoughts and practices in positive ways. We consume so quickly that even when we have trusted networks through which we have information curated the lines can blur between what is ours and what is others. Our thought, other’s thoughts, our practices, experiences and reflections all blending together and in the end attribution is practically impossible as you walk away thinking… “This is an interesting thought, I wonder what others would think?”  

Well, then this is all I can offer – my mea culpa moment. For starters go read Euan’s article here, as mine pales in comparison. If you can only read one, go to his.  Going forward, in addition to continuing to recognize the ideas of others in my posts and presentations, I’ll revisit my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) strategy and tools, and I’ll continue to add to my blog roll as it serves as a great list of those who’s work I find inspiring. These people continue to influence my thoughts and practices and I guess, as long as I keep them upfront and getting the attention they deserve, maybe my unintentional imitation is a sincere form of flattery. 
What ideas do you have to create a buffer against unintentional Social Inception?

Enter the Rectangle

Today when we encounter a little white rectangle on a screen, we instinctively know what to do don’t we? 

Keyboard + interface with a text box = type

We also know through experience that selecting publish, send, post, or tweet can initiate a change in both ourselves and others, yet so many still hesitate or refuse to try. What really prevents people from engaging is not a technical barrier, not any more, it’s much more complicated than code and functionality. 

It’s about humility – “I’ve nothing to share.” 
It’s about fear – “how will I be perceived?” 
It’s about confidence – “I don’t have enough expertise in this topic.” 
It’s about time – “I have enough to do.”
It’s about value – “I have better things to do.” 

Too many fight their basic human instinct to connect and share even when it is made incredibly easy. Looking again at the brief list above, maybe the way to overcome the complicated is to simply take it head on. Help people make these internal questions external. Real change happens one conversation at a time, so online or face to face we can start by asking others who are more open how they feel they are perceived, about the expertise they share, about how they make the time and what value they receive. 

Knowledge doesn’t exist within us, it exists between us. But for that to be really understood, one must first get outside of themselves to get over themselves.