Social Business – *The* Ecosystem

Gran Canaria - Roque Bentayga & Mount Teide in the SpringAs I am about to finish off my last round of business trips that I started by mid-May, and which I am completing beginning of next week till after the summer, having taken me to some wonderful cities like Rotterdam, Seville, Barcelona, London, Milan, Boston, Madrid and Seville again, I just couldn’t help reflecting on a relatively recent blog post put together by the always inspiring David Armano that I can surely summarise it as perhaps one of the best reads you will do this year around the topic of Social Business. Yes, that powerful. Why? Well, more than anything else, because it’s probably one of the best, most comprehensive reads you will do to find out where Social Business comes from, where we are nowadays and what lies ahead as our next challenge. Main key thought? A new reality: despite the good number of years that have just gone past, we are just getting started

And we are just getting started right at the stage where most folks are experiencing a growing, and rather worrying, sense of Social Fatigue  that’s probably starting to take its toll, if you start looking into the recent news items about people on the move, away from the current Social Business scene, when, in reality, I, too, would consider, like David himself, the good fun, and the good fight!, is just about to get started when we move into the real Social Business, as I have recently blogged about under “Social Task Management“.

Something that, over the course of the last few years comes to confirm Euan Semple‘s hunch that the true social business transformation will be taking place over the course of time, 50 years, to be precise, at least. And I can imagine how most people would be scared, terrified and perhaps a bit disappointed that it is going to take that long, when I have always felt that this social transformation has never been a project with a deadline on it right from the start. It’s a journey, towards a final destination, we all get to define, participate in and experience in full force. It’s a living thing, a philosophy, a new mindset that will help us separate the business models from the XX century into the ones from that new Knowledge Economy that will help shape up the business world to meet the demands from the XXI century: sustainable, profitable, meaningful and purposeful growth.

And what most folks may not be realising about is that we have been provided with that unique opportunity to help shape up that evolution of the business world into what we all know it can deliver and excel at: sustainable purpose of wanting to do things just right. Better, smarter, but not necessarily harder. However, and like in almost everything, no-one ever said it would be an easy transition that would not require lots of effort, energy and hard work, even understanding that there are some risks that would need to be taken into account as well, just as much. But, goodness, what a journey, don’t you think? Even if we don’t get to see the final destination, the final frontier, it would be quite an experience for most of us, driving the change, that we should treasure and nurture big time. Think of it, we are *the* original settlers. The ones who, after having planted the seeds and when the right time comes along, would be the ones treasuring those memories of where it all begun. The ones who soon enough would be able to claim “Yes, I was there! I was part of that social transformation. Yes, we changed the world, for good! Yes, we were, and still are, proud. Very proud“. Now, how many people would be able to live that? Think of it. Think of why you got involved in it in the first place. You know, that initial hunch for which you know the battle would be worth it. Well, it’s been, it still is and it will remain to be!

Indeed, in that very insightful blog article David Armano gets to describe what a bunch of us have been saying all along, that more than talking about a Social (R)evolution what we have been witnessing over the last few years has been much more of an evolution of what started a couple of decades ago perhaps. With some very distinctive phases, each of which have taken us to where we are today. To name, and to quote David: 

  • “Digital: The Interactive Revolution
  • Digital Information Goes Online
  • Digital Business: The Transactional Era
  • Social: The Human Web
  • Social Media: Global, Local, Mobile Connectivity at Scale
  • Social Business: Connected, Adaptive & Intelligent”

In order to get some further context from each of the various phases I would strongly encourage you all to go ahead and read David’s article. It’s worth every word of it. In it you would find priceless quotes, golden gems, that would surely help confirm why we are all involved in this social business transformation in the first place:

“[…] It is this kind of connected ecosystem which is linked to the idea of social business as well as the ability to adapt to conditions based on the intelligence a business can interpret. In the immediate years to come, the amount of data available to the average business will be infinite, however the data will be meaningless without the ability to interpret and act upon it”

Or this other one, just as good, if not even more powerful altogether: 

Tomorrow’s business models must not only be able to adapt to change, they must help drive that change

Absolutely, and that’s where the Social Business Ecosystem kicks in eventually. And it’s an ecosystem that we are all rather familiar with, since it’s been talked about from the very beginning. It’s a customer centric one, shifting gears from what we have been having from the past; one where vendors, i.e. employees, customers, and business partners (Along with Industry Analysts, Alumni and plenty other thought leaders, trust agents, entrepreneurs / intrapreneurs coming together) embark on addressing and fixing customers’ business problems, instead of just trying to sell you the best next thing, which we all know is not going to come around. At least, this time around. 

However, on this entire ecosystem we seem to keep missing a critical factor that I was perhaps a bit surprised not seeing it emerge clearly on David’s blog post or other Social Business reading material over the course of time, maybe because of the aversion we seem to have developed against it over the course of time: your / our competitors. 

Yes, whether we like it or not, they are there. They are part of our / your social business ecosystem, they are the big elephant in the room we cannot longer ignore, nor neglect. More than anything else, because without us realising about it, they are our best allies to keep pushing the limits. To become better at what we do, to deliver better products, to provide better customer service, to keep up with that rampant innovation that never stops. Eventually, to serve better our customers.

I have always found it a fascinating topic seeing how plenty of businesses keep stating that one of the main reasons why they have embarked on this Social Business journey is because they want to be out there, where their customers are, BUT also where their competitors are, so that they can cross check, participate and dive in those conversations and keep the record straight where it belongs. However, time and time again it’s those very same businesses that don’t consider competitors part of the equation and have always been rather reluctant to share openly their knowledge on the Social Web fearing that they may eventually use that knowledge against them in their next customer visit. 

Very shortsighted if you ask me. Why? Well, because no matter how much of your knowledge you share out there, as a business, out in the open for everyone to enjoy, like KM extraordinaire Bob Buckman would say even today, the person or entity who / that still knows the most about that piece of knowledge is yourself. And no-one else. That all comes back to our, human beings, innate ability to be very bad documenters, so even if we would want to transmit and share all of our knowledge we would always fail to share it all: experiences, know-how, expertise, skills, connections, etc. etc. You name it. We just can’t. We just won’t. It’s a limitation of our human condition that if we would all acknowledge right from the start we would be much better off eventually. Embracing that limitation on how we share our knowledge across and collaborate would probably help us even get much more out of those social interactions in the first place. No-one is perfect. No-one should be.

Thus why do I keep insisting that our, and your, competitors, should be part of the mix? Mainly, because they, too, are part of the conversation. Your conversation. Our conversation. They can certainly add plenty of insights for your customers to know that you may never have thought about altogether in the first place. They can keep you real, down to earth, they can tell you and your customers when you are selling smoke (Or set the record straight if you go out there and claim you have invented Social Business, when it’s been there all along years before already! Or when you state that you invented social software tools when they were already there 10 years before you event started thinking about such concept of social networking). [I was going to include the references to those comments, but I think I'm going to leave them out as a little game to see if folks would identify where they come from originally. Any guesses? :) ]

But if there is anything that competitors would be good for you, and your social business ecosystem, it would be how they have become essential to help your products grow further and become better. They can help you, along with your customers, identify what works, and, most importantly, what doesn’t work. They can help you keep innovating by reminding you not to stagnate and keep providing key, top quality products and services, because if you don’t, they will take over your conversation with your customers and before you realise your are out of the equation to never come back. That’s why competitors are so important in that ecosystem. And that’s why if you look into a good number of very successful large enterprises from the last 10 to 15 years and see where they are now, one of the many reasons probably was their thinking that competitors would never catch up, but, guess what, they eventually did and big time!

The truth is that we still need to do a lot of work in this area, because right now, they are not part of our ecosystems. In fact, we all seem to keep running away from them like the plague, thinking that the moment they know and understand our weaknesses, we are lost and customers will flock away. Well, that’s quite the opposite, if they know and understand your weaknesses they are, without knowing it perhaps, going to make you stronger, because through them you will be able to identify those weaknesses and work your magic to try to address them and keep you moving forward to convince your customers your aim for always wanting to improve their own experiences and address and fix their business problems, without you being right at the center of the attention. You no longer are. You never have been. Call it coopetition or whatever other fancy term you would want to use, but we cannot longer deny their key role in the whole co-creation process along with your customers and business partners. 

That’s why we are all at the beginning stages of this fascinating Social Business journey that David mentioned on that article. And I’m saying at the beginning as well, because until we incorporate our competitors on that ecosystem, as being an integral part of the conversations, we are not going anywhere. They are just as critical for your business to keep thriving as your customers. Just think of it, what do you think will happen when all vendors get to provide very very similar solutions to address customers’ business problems? Where is the competitive advantage going to reside? On the products and services they can deliver or, rather, on how they are going to be looking after that whole Social Business Ecosystem where the conversations and the connections are king, yet the content not so much; where your customers are king, you not so much; where your customers will be listening to your competitors just as much as they would listen to you and you would need to prove you are worth it.

Because you are, right? Well, we will have to show it and demonstrate it. Everyone. Every day. And not just to our customers, but also to our competitors! And interestingly enough that was also one of the major conclusions from the recent Global IBM CEO Study 2012Leading Through Connections” where partnerships, even with competitors, would be key on that whole process of co-creating the next generation of better products. And I quote: 

Over the past few years, organizations have made strides in becoming more open and transparent with employees and customers. But being open is harder with partners. “We tend to see everyone as a competitor,” admitted a banking CEO from Vietnam. “We need to see them as partners. We need to find win/win solutions and share profits. But this is a cultural shift; it’s hard to change

Yes, I know, the quote itself relates a bit more to partners and the relationships you build with them, than to competitors per se, but why couldn’t we consider our competitors part of that partnership ecosystem on that Social Business work environment. Specially, if we consider the following quote from the same study as well: 

Partnering, of course, introduces new kinds of risk. In a world of increased transparency and instantly disseminated social media, organizations are often judged by their partners’ actions, not just their own. The practices of any part of a globally distributed supply chain can tarnish even the most highly regarded brands

Not sure what you would think, but in that context of openness, publicy, transparency and trust that Social Business inspires, somehow it doesn’t make much sense if we keep leaving out of the equation the one specific group that, it is true, always aims at taking the money away from you, but eventually what they are trying to do is show you your weaknesses, so you can work on them, address and fix them (If you can) and come back for more. Talking about radical leadership, rampant innovation, Open Business and transparency.

There you have it. Social Business – *The* Ecosystem. 

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