Progressing Backwards

I had an opportunity to attend a session at DevLearn titled “What Does Community Mean in 2017“. Julian Stodd and Trina Rimmer provided both theoretical and practical thoughts and experiences throughout. I was left thinking on this flight home about how today we truly believe anything is possible and that anything can and must happen quickly. But the notion that one can create a community or worse can do so with a click of a button is equally puzzling and disheartening. Many justify this by simply removing key principles of community and altering the definition. In the name of some twisted progress or economic purpose they ignore long held research about nature and human history. Community has gone from being about groups with a shared purpose, building trust through sincere and consistent behavior and necessary interdependence between all members to now being pitched as followers of a Facebook page who periodically “like” a video.

The word community for many equates to a feature on a social platform or the activities of traditional customer service now done online. You may say “it’s just a word” but I say it’s a slippery slope when people try and remake human activities in technology. Fortunately 10,000 years of human development can’t be changed with the advent of Web 2.0. Call me negative, but I celebrate the many failures of social platforms that I read about and the struggles of strategies formed around re-engineered concepts. These failures are usually a result of trying to simplify the complex through bells and whistles and reduce human social institutions to being just words. I have faith that slowly, like the march of evolution itself, our technology will actually come back to meet us right where we are and who we are.

The Promise of Social (The ESN edition)

Let’s take a moment and look at the idealistic, hopeful “promises” (the promise so many still speak of and fight for at least those who haven’t gone “corporate” so to speak) we saw emerge from around 2007 and compare them against the “common reality” we see in many organizations today.

 

Promise: Organization-wide transparency & openness
Common Reality: Organization-wide monitoring, measuring, judging and manipulating

Promise: B2B and B2C networks
Common Reality: Another sales channel

Promise: Social platforms to make work easier
Common Reality: Social platforms are another layer of work

Promise: Social Leadership
Common Reality: Executive broadcasting

Promise: Online customer communities
Common Reality: Customer service system

Promise: Platform owned by the workforce
Common Reality: Platform owned by IT

Promise: Increased connection for employee community building
Common Reality: Increased connection for expected employee work collaboration

Promise: Make work more human
Common Reality: Make humans work more (always connected is expected)

 

Of course this is not the truth for all organizations, some are meeting many of the promises but I don’t think that is the norm by a long shot. And this post isn’t meant to be a cry of surrender but rather a call to action. If you see it this way too, we need to be asking – Can we ever reach the true promise of (enterprise) social technology and if so, how?

 

Social Business is Business as UNusual

Some of the weakest value propositions still offered by enterprise social tech vendors today are 1. having less email and 2. fewer meetings. Seriously? Is this the best we can do? So what? And sorry, please don’t assume that less of one thing means more of something else (collaboration).

The promise of social technology is (or was) about doing the work of working differently maybe even changing business structure altogether. We know that when diverse people connect and can talk openly, interesting things can happen –  new ideas are fostered, innovations take place, and problems get solved. But it still takes the right people, in the right systems, in the right culture and the right kind of talk; real, honest talk. Technology alone is not going to magically make this happen. Getting it “right” is hard work and takes time.

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A Tale of Two Socials

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. – Charles Dickens

Social has come a long way, the notion of its importance in business reborn through works like the Agile Manifesto and Cluetrain over 15 years ago and propelled first by Web 2.0 and then through enterprise social technology. But there now appears to be a division of direction.

On one hand social and social technology can extend and expand human interactions like nothing else. It can transform business from the industrial models, and change the very nature of work. Yet today much of the technology (and the vendors building and promoting it) may just be But such awful workers, and such awful work!helping business be a faster, a more effective business as usual. Simply, enterprise social is supporting today’s work, not creating tomorrows’.

Wasn’t there supposed to be more?

Social Has Gone Corporate More Than Corporate Has Gone Social
Early social brought diverse people, groups and ideas together. The tools were simple and allowed people to be creative with their use and that was often the draw; autonomy and creativity. This however was not what business was buying, even though it is just what they needed for the innovation they sought.

The reality is that conversation and idea sharing are messy things, difficult to guide and even more difficult to measure. Vendors either couldn’t articulate this or they didn’t bother since it didn’t fit into the purchaser’s mindsets and models anyway.

Goodbye Connection, Hello Collaboration!
Collaboration became king to the point today that many wrongly see “social”and “collaboration” as identical. Collaboration in itself isn’t a bad thing, what is though is having collaboration become expected rather than encouraged. The command and control message within the social technology medium is this:

“We bought this platform, now go use it.”

To appease leaders, and to better ensure the tool fit measures of success (i.e. ROI), vendors focused on dashboards, and monitoring and measurement were promoted mostly for tracking the most frivolous of activity.

The Rise of Chat
The growing use of chat and chat platforms today is an indicator of this “social” conformity. Chat doesn’t scale. Chat won’t get you to transform. Transformation takes much wider connection and collaboration. Business loves chat; it’s about team-work not net-work; it’s about supporting how work gets done today… in silos. Again, faster, more efficient business as usual.

The User is the Loser
Another sign of stagnation is the emphasis on the terminal goal of user adoption and not work adaptation (the measures mentioned before support this). Of course using a social tool is a step forward, so too is working out loud (a collaboration invitation) but adapting work in a social environment is what can change the very essence of the work being done, where power and authority reside and therefore alter the organization itself – the true promise of social.

 

Yes, we should be disappointed at the state of enterprise social but not surprised. Change is rarely revolutionary and business is business after all, with the goal of most being to win the game and far fewer out to change it. All is not lost however…

We need new skills not new features. We need more understanding and growth in Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and new organizational structures for learning and working like 702010 frameworks to not merely influence but alter the systems that currently bind us. For these, look no further than the work of Harold Jarche (Personal Knowledge Mastery) and Charles Jennings (702010) for details on explaining individual and organizational approaches.

Ultimately the minority that believe and embrace the power of social to upend the 20th century systems are those that will conform to social, and not work to conform it (to their current models). It will take some very special people in leadership roles and not special technology; People that can cast aside the very systems that enabled them to become the decision-makers today, those who really know that what got us here, won’t get us there.

 

Voices on The Wire

VoicesOnAWire_CroppedEven after over 10 years of Social Media being in the public consciousness, organizations still struggle to see how it differs from other technology in the workplace. Most often they implement it as they would any other IT project. They wrongly lead with technology, the features and the functions. But it’s not media, it’s social media. The term “social media” begins with the most human of behaviors; personal interaction. But if IT horse blinders weren’t enough, many also have a limited understanding of what’s behind the word “social.” Yes, social is communication, it’s sharing and collaboration but it’s also humor, it’s snark, it’s empathy, it’s thoughtful, it’s spontaneous and it can be calculated. Behind all social interaction is emotion, social media is affective media.

Successfully supporting social in an organization is first about understanding psychology, sociology and then technology. It’s about the voices that will be on the wire, not just the wire. So listen in now. What do you hear? Are the voices in your organization open? Are they honest? Are they cooperative rather than competitive? If they’re not, shouldn’t the wire wait?