E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

What Are the Chances of Pragmatic Pathways for Social Business?

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo's Surroundings in the SpringIt looks like the blog post I put together on “The Fallacy of Social Networking” seems to have hit a chord with a large number of folks out there and while I am still catching up with plenty of the conversations that have sparked as a result of it, including some pretty compelling commentary on the article itself (Thanks much everyone for those lovely comments! I will be getting down to them shortly, too!), I thought there was one in particular that pretty much caught the overall sentiment of the blog entry itself that I thought was worth while bringing it up again over here to try to describe what John Hagel himself states pretty accurately under his famous quote “We all live on the edge […] specially, under plenty of mounting pressure“, as we have been experiencing over the last 4 years and counting: “So now the fight is really on!“.

That quote is coming from the blog comment of my good friend Jemima Gibbons that she left yesterday and that I thought would be pretty much descriptive of where we are with regards to Social Business and the real impact it’s had within the corporate world over the course of the last couple of years. To quote her: 

A friend recently reminded me of the tendency of organisations to “co-opt and neutralise” any kind of dissent – that’s exactly what’s happening with social media now – big business is appropriating it and trying to quash it. Of course it is! So now the fight is really on

Goodness! And that’s only the beginning, because just recently you may have noticed how those kinds of awkward situations are on the rise and perhaps far too often laying out a landscape that I am not too sure we would want to dive into too much, although if you have got some additional ones you would want to add further along let us know, please, in the comments. We would very much appreciate it. My latest favourite example though, which has happened to be all over the place at this stage, on mainstream news media, TV, radio, social networks, blog articles, etc. etc. is the one from Guy Adams which ended up eventually on what I feel is the quote of the year so far with regards to the real power of social networks, beyond just the business world and well into our society as a whole for that matter: 

As a journalist, you know you are doing your job properly when you manage to upset rich, powerful and entitled people who are used to getting their own way. And you know you’ve really got under their skin when they pursue censorship, the avenue of last resort since time immemorial

That quote on its own clearly reminds me as well of Manuel Castells’ interview that I shared over here, where he was talking about censorship happening quite extensively within major mainstream news media (Mainly paid by governments and financial institutions) and how only decent journalists, as individuals, would be capable of standing up and fight out for what they know is the right thing: freedom. As Guy himself nicely quotes: “The internet era is meant to be different“.

Yes, indeed, it is different. Much different. And while reading through a bunch of different resources reflecting on the implications (That piece from Jeff Jarvis alone is absolutely stunning and worth while reading through it on its entirety!), while I am still pondering on the day before yesterday’s article on the topic of that fallacy of social networking, I just couldn’t help thinking of the absolutely inspirational speech from John Hagel back at the Social Business Forum, in Milan, which would fit in quite nicely as an additional follow-up to what we are currently witnessing and that Jemima described beautifully on her commentary. Here’s John’s full dissertation if you would want to start watching through it right away: 

From Stress to Success – Pragmatic pathways for Social Business – John Hagel from SocialBizForum on Vimeo.

The video recording lasts for about 22 minutes, and it would be totally worth it your time going through it, but if you would want to hold it, allow me to share with you what I learned myself from having listened to him live when he delivered that mind-boggling keynote and what other thoughts I have been building over the course of the latest happenings out there on the Social Web. It will help provide lots of background on where we are, specially, in a business context, and describe, hopefully, where we are heading altogether. So here it goes…

John starts his presentation by sharing a bit of background about where the business world is at the moment, suffering from that ruthless mounting pressure that is compounded by social technologies in full force working with practices, technologies and institutions built from previous period(s) and how the latter are facing plenty of new challenges in today’s more than ever complex, networked and interconnected world.

[Ohhh, excuse me for a minute, that’s all what it would take me… Please do allow me to go for a little deviation on this reflection and share with you this brilliant one minute long insightful commentary from Carmen Medina on the changing role of leadership and how it is affected by social technologies, amongst other different elements, specially, in the area of decision making]: 


Ok, back on track! Like I was saying, John described pretty nicely all of those various different pressures that business have been exposed to over the course of the last 3 to 5 years. And he also mentioned how the use of these new technologies will help address some of those challenges, although he admits there are still a number of obstacles, stating how those who overcome them will seize huge opportunities. And eventually succeed as Socially Integrated Enterprises.

However, these social technologies can’t just be simply inserted in today’s organizations. To implement them we need to commit into full frontal organizational change, not only within the business world, but also in our societies, our governments, our education systems. Our selves. That’s how deeply rooted it needs to go before we can start ripping off some of the various different benefits of shaping up organisations to survive through the 21st century and beyond. Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo Surroungings in the Spring

There is an interesting point that he makes though, and that’s just the fact that we need to understand and fully embrace how the key to it all is that most of these changes will fail, only a third will succeed, and that is because of the implementation of these social technologies as a rational process. However, John claims, and rightly so!, if I may add, that change is a political process, not a rational one. It involves enemies, whose main interests are deeply challenged by change and threatened by change itself at the same time. Along that way as well, there are some champions for change, who would need to be strengthened as well or they will fail altogether, because the enemies of change hold the power and that’s ultimately the challenge of any large scale organisational change. WOW!! Too many challenges and obstacles right there!! Truly fascinating! And a tad scary, too, don’t you think?

However, it gets better, because over the course of his presentation John gets to share as well the key to make it all work and that is all about how do we strengthen the champions and neutralize the enemies. We need to start thinking along those terms, if we would want to succeed. “Information is power“, as I quoted in the day before yesterday’s article as well. Institutions are designed to provide some participants with some unique information and that gives them their power. However, here comes the disruption. What do these social technologies do? What key role do they play in the whole power, political, bullying dynamic within organizations? Well, they amplify flows of knowledge and information, inside an organisation, but across organisations, too! They involve an ecosystem of institutions of participation in these flows of knowledge, like I have blogged about a couple of weeks back, as the main core engine for how business gets done nowadays. 

It keeps getting better, because, according to John, organisations themselves know how their positions of power and influence are now being undermined. So how do we confront that power? What do we do to achieve the change we have been envisioning all along? He talks as well, as part of the mix, about the power of social business and the role of evangelists (those champions) along with the power of social technologies and the use they make of them for their day to day workflows. Evangelists have got a natural temptation, apparently, one that I didn’t know of before listening live to John, so it was a new learning experience for me as well: they put a lot of money, invest a lot of money, knowing it will take time, but everything will change eventually; however, we need to invest on it now to make all of this information readily available out there.

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo, Mount Teide & Roque BentaygaThat’s where Community, Relationships, Creative Conversations are coming back, like they used to by the late 90s and early 2000s and, once again, we are, essentially, putting the enemies of change on notice; we are telling them what’s coming in terms at one level they are not going to understand, because business is business after all. Community is what you still do after work… And I am sure that if you are an online community facilitator at this stage you would be nodding your head in violent agreement feeling how that description is scarily and soaringly rather accurate altogether.

Indeed! And that’s where the passive resistance comes along, with plenty of plotting around all over. At a time of mounting pressure, John adds, that passive resistance is even more furious, so that organisations and those enemies can remain within their comfort zone of what we do today, and therefore refuse the urge to change. We see fragile pockets of success, but often, the potential of impact is much reduced because of such resistance. And that’s why we may be perceiving today, right as we speak, how we are not as successful as we could have been from day one. I guess you can never get enough of it, right? The more, the better. 

Well, this is where it does get even more interesting from Johns presentation, because from there onwards, towards the end of his dissertation, he comes to describe a couple of rather pragmatic pathways to avoid direct confrontation with those who are reluctant to change: 

  • Focus on Metrics That Matter: That is, focus on the operating metrics, the essential KPIs of each and every business. Address the pain points in whatever the business operations area and inject whatever social software component(s) to try to address and fix that pain point. Don’t focus on figuring out the Return On Investment (The good old known ROI) of Social Media and the overall use of those social technologies, because that’s pretty much a distraction imposed by those resisting the change, so that they can win plenty more time while everyone else tries to figure out what we just simply don’t need to.

    There is a great chance that, eventually, focusing on those core operating metrics there would need to be very little investment in most cases, since it just tries to address a single pain point or two, so there won’t be any leap time. There will be, however, a good measure of progress by tracking how business operations are improving overall, demonstrating tangible performance improvement(s). Yes, John is spot on with regards to this one, since the enemies of change themselves are going to have a tougher time to object since you will be demonstrating how social technologies can affect key business operations that will impact them altogether right where it benefits the most: business growth. Even if you are an skeptic.

  • Starting on the edge: The good old known mix of pull vs. push and how you could turn mounting pressure on improving overall business performance into something positive through social networking tools, community, relationships, creative conversations, etc. etc., pretty much like you can do with judo when you get to maximize your overall performance based on the strength of your opponent by using their force to your advantage as you swing along. Something that I can relate to pretty well, by the way, if I come to think about “Thinking Outside the Inbox“, back in the day, to then living “A World Without Email” and, finally, in 2011 / 2012 landing in “Outside the Inbox – The Documentary“. Indeed, what are the chances …

Not too bad, eh? I know! Just brilliant, altogether! That’s pretty much an overview of some of the major key points you will be able to immerse yourself in by watching John’s 22 minute long worth while watching presentation. Perhaps that’s essentially what we would also need to do and embark on: re-find that purpose, that meaning, that focus on what Social Business can do to help accelerate better business outcomes and truly delight customers by not focusing on the low hanging fruit alone or whatever other silly battles, but eventually figure out a way to help us seize that “opportunity of minimizing the power of the enemy and maximizing the power of the champions, i.e. the evangelists. I didn’t know it back then when I put together that rather controversial blog post under the provocative heading “Dear Social Business Evangelist – Where Art Thou?“, but I guess that’s the exact role I would be looking forward to seeing Social Business Evangelists embarking on from here onwards…

So now the fight is really on!

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  1. Great writing, Luis. It feels like we are getting closer to the edge by the day. John’s example of a socially enabled Q&A forum at SAP is enlightening. It’s so simple. Yet so much more powerful than a process that is hidden away and controlled by few.

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