Social Business Adoption – The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics

Gran Canaria - Risco BlancoA couple of years back, Giovanni Rodriguez put together a guest blog post over a ReadWriteWeb on the topic of Enterprise 2.0 Adoption: Does It Have To Be So Hard? and it’s rather interesting to see how almost three years later the challenge seems to be there still, alive and kicking: Social / Open Business Adoption is hard. Well, it should well be. If not, what is the point? What’s the challenge? Where is your vision? Where is the business value? What are your goals? Think of it, if social / open business adoption would have been really easy most of us would have gotten pretty much bored right from the start and would have moved elsewhere already. Whether we like it or not, we, social / open business evangelists live on the laggards, the critics, the skeptics. They are the ones who keep feeding us with their negativity, who make us stronger by putting up a good fight, the ones who makes us think whether what we do is worth while or not. In short, they are the ones who will make your adoption efforts a real success or just another IT project failure. So what can we do to channel through all of that extra energy they have? Should we ignore them? Should we help them? Should we focus elsewhere? Social Business Adoption, if anything, needs to be inclusive, at least, make it a personal choice for people to dive into, or not, and help them make up their own mind.

Earlier on this year, at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit event in Paris, there were plenty of reservations from both social business evangelists and practitioners, in general, about the whole aspect around adoption of social technologies. Apparently, plenty of people have got issues with key concepts like drive, adoption or even social for that matter, amongst several others. And while being asked about it, I mentioned how if people have got issues with words like adoption, we may as well end up raising up the game and instead perhaps switch to what is really all about: Adaptation. My good friend, the always rather insightful and smart Ana Silva, captured this shift rather nicely at her #e20s highlights blog post. Worth while a read for sure.

That you have got issues with Social then switch over to Open (Business). That you don’t feel comfortable with Drive then go back to basics of what online interactions have been all about over the last couple of decades: (online) facilitation. And so forth. The idea in here is that by building further up on your adoption strategies the only thing you are doing is making yourself stronger by the day in your arguments and counter-arguments, so that when the time comes you can face the laggards, the critics and the skeptics and have a good chance of helping inspire and model new behaviours, a new mindset, even for them. 

I have been doing work as a social computing evangelist for over 12 years and if there is anything that I have learned over the course of that time is that adoption / adaptation is a rather tough sell. It’s hard work. It’s lots of hard work. It’s actually pretty tough breaking up people’s habits, specially, the bad ones, because they are the ones that are most ingrained into how people get their day to day work done. No-one said that enticing those new behaviours into openness, publicly and transparency through social technologies would be a piece of cake. Yet, it’s the most rewarding of activities you can embark on as a social business evangelist, more than anything else because for as long as there is resistance / reluctance about it all, you will still have a job to do. 

That’s essentially the role of the social / open business evangelist, that is, to make ourselves redundant and make our job roles obsolete, so that by the time that happens we would be ready to make the move into the next thing, whatever that may well be, while businesses become truly socially integrated enterprises. That’s why I have always felt that my mission is to make myself redundant. All along. To work my way into helping my fellow colleagues understand what social / open business is all about. To help them adapt to a new way of doing business, where open knowledge sharing and collaboration become the norm and where practitioners, instead of hoarding and protecting their knowledge, working in their own little silos, fighting with one another, they would eventually be caring and helping each other in a truly open and collaborative manner, where instead of stabbing each other to see who will get their bonuses, they would showcase, instead, enough empathy to care not only for themselves, but also for those around them: their networks. Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the Winter

And, as you can imagine, it’s not easy. It was never meant to be easy. Like I said, it’s actually quite tough, but, goodness, is it worth while all along? It surely is! It’s what would allow each and everyone of us, social / open evangelists, to grow in our skills, our experiences, our know-how, our collective intelligence and knowledge shared. See? We thrive on that negativity. We get bigger and bigger every time we get exposed to their negativity and reluctance to open up. We keep developing a whole bunch of various different strategies that, eventually, would help tame down every single one of your negative responses, to the point where you eventually might run out of steam yourself. Like I said, we truly thrive on that negativity. 

The thing is that things weren’t always like that. I remember the time when, back in the day, there was lots of excitement about Social Business. Yes, I am talking about those first, second or third waves of early adopters who understand what a game changing Social Business is all about. I have seen it with plenty of the customers I get to talk to, as well as my fellow colleagues. It’s what a bunch of us have been calling the Post One Year Challenge. Essentially, the initial enthusiasm in terms of adoption would last you probably for about a year or 18 months before the good fun starts. Yes, indeed, before the laggards, the critics and the skeptics start noticing they are the only ones left on their own little boats. 

And that’s just the time when we need to be the strongest. When we need to be the most resilient, perseverant, perhaps somewhat stubborn, and fully committed, of social / open evangelists out there than ever before, so that we can prepare a good number of arguments and counter-arguments to face those critics. Constructive criticism, dissent and critical thinking (Worth while reading this superb blog post by one of my favourite thinkers at the moment, Anne Marie McEwan) are essential traits to a healthy corporate environment where you can keep challenging the status quo of how certain things have been running, where you are always looking for room for improvement on how you work and interact with others. In short, where you engage in really passionate conversations that help you question everything you have done in the past. That’s both your growing and learning paths. That’s all along what will keep you going for years to no end! 

And that’s essentially what I have been experiencing over the course of the last couple of weeks in the new job that I have moved into within the IBM CIO Organisation. During that time I have been exposed to plenty of fellow colleagues, laggards, critics and skeptics mainly, who know plenty of what we have been doing over the course of the last decade in terms of accelerating our own pace into becoming a socially integrated enterprise, but they still haven’t jumped into the bandwagon, because they feel there isn’t anything in it for them, never mind how little they have tried it all out in the first place.

The interesting thing from these occurrences and conversations is that over the course of that time I have grown bigger, much bigger, in terms of building my own strategies around social / open business adaptation, to the point where in the last couple of days I have been involved in some rather extensive discussions on the topic at hand and I am still feeling like I am just getting started. Like I mentioned above, I realised a while ago, perhaps a couple of years back, how I keep feeding myself from people’s negativity and aversion towards embracing Open Business. The more reluctance I get exposed to, the bigger I get and I am finding it really fascinating how that growth has accelerated tremendously in the last two weeks. Knowledge and experiences around living social that I thought I didn’t have anymore are coming back in full force and with first hands-on experience, walking the talk, that I can relate across using one of the most powerful means of transferring knowledge: telling stories

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the WinterPlenty of people keep asking me and wondering where do I get the energy from, the enthusiasm and the passion for it all, to keep pushing and challenging folks back in a healthy, constructive, but perhaps provocative manner altogether and I keep telling everyone that, to me, it’s something you build over the course of the years through three basic key traits: resilience, perseverance, and, above all, patience. Lots of patience that will always try to help you understand the other side, their point of view, their business pain points, their productivity black holes, and what not, so that you can eventually come back in full force with plenty of ideas, stories, experiences, know-how AND your networks to help amplify the conversation and help them overcome each and everyone of their issues.

After 12 years of doing that I’m sure you may all be wondering whether I am getting tired of it all and start thinking about moving on, or not. Well, the reality is that I feel I am just only now getting started with it. Time and time again I have been working with a whole bunch of really smart, insightful and rather talented group of evangelists, but right now, in this new job, I feel we have all just been giving a new mission: keep feeding on that negative feedback shared across by those who can’t, nor won’t, adapt to a new way of working, and try to turn it all into something positive. Something they can relate to, something they can touch, feel and experience themselves. Something that has now become one of my core activities as a Lead Social Business Enabler: help provoke their own heartfelt business transformation.

Not mine, but theirs.

Game ON!

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14 Comments »

  • Yes, great to see your level-up to “adaptation”! To me, things have *already* regrouped/reshaped/shifted outside the enterprise and the question now boils down to how the organization and the individual can/will react to this (in order to survive long-term).

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Joachim, yes, sir! It’s been a few months now since I switched over to Adaptation, more than anything else, because it is much more enticing and inspiring to help facilitate adaptation to new behaviours and mindset than to drive adoption. Sounds much more energising altogether in terms of getting people on board, specially, this particular crowd I am referencing about above.

      I think you are spot on with you thoughts about how orgs. and knowledge workers can adapt to a completely new reality out there in the Social Web and I still see how those “behind-the-firewall” interactions would help both orgs. and employees get comfortable enough to make the jump. Kind of like what Euan Semple has been writing about lately in terms of the oxymoron of having companies behaving 2.0 out there, outside the firewall, when they are still 1.5, or 0.5 behind the firewall.

      Fascinating journey altogether, indeed! Specially, the long term one!

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  • Luis says:

    Buen articulo tocayo ! And good to read before starting a new day, optimism is what we must never loose
    I would say, it’s not about what firms adopt, it’s about why and how they change. Helping in there is a never ending bliss

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      ¡Hola tocayo! ¡Muchas gracias! Appreciated the kind comments and surely spot on with your commentary about always being an optimist in this regard. Carmen Medina actually calls those folks the outrageous, optimist heretics, the rebels at work, and I do strongly believe she is just dead on in terms of how change happens nowadays right around the edges, versus the centre!

      And tackling the big beasts of the WHY and the HOW is where all of the good fun is at the moment!

      Bring it on!

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  • Luis

    Like / +1:
    Open business > Social.
    Adaptation > Adoption.
    Thanks for the stim. These are ideas I can take to work, sleeves rolled up.
    Also, that we need a good challenge to motivate us. When resistors come at me, I know things are moving forward; and I “slough it off like a snake’s skin.”

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Jonathan! You are most welcome! Greatly appreciated that kind feedback! Actually, I am starting to think as well that whenever people resist your ideas and are a bit reluctant of change is because you are reaching somewhere: their uncomfort zone(s), which means they are already questioning how they get work done and everything, making you aware that’s the perfect occasion to keep the conversations going so that you can entice that change sooner than they think… Funny enough, this whole week has been like that for me with a bunch of folks who still feel the world of today is the world of the 80s and 90s … My goodness, the work reality that awaits them in as far as a year or two! Going to be lots of good fun watching and experiencing their change(s) :-D

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  • Anne Marie says:

    Loving your reflections, Luis.

    You say that people need “Something they can relate to, something they can touch, feel and experience themselves.” Yes!

    You were kind enough to say that I am one of your favourite thinkers *blush*. In fact, all I do is listen to others and try to make sense of what they say in the context of my own experience and perceptions.

    Someone who is heavily influencing me just now is Nick Shackleton-Jones, Director Online and Informal Learning at BP. Some months ago I came across a blog post Nick had written about the Affective Context Model of Learning. My very simple interpretation is that in affective learning, people will learn when they really want to. When they are emotionally invested. When the personal benefits outweigh their fears or takes them out of their comfort zone.

    We can all relate so much to this, I think. For myself, I learned to drive last year when in my mid-50s because I was moving to live in a rural area. Passed my test first time. I am also putting significant effort into learning French. It is a struggle but the idea of being fluent gives me such a buzz.

    Anyway, I see links between what Nick is saying and what you are doing. Here’s the blog post – you may already have seen it:

    http://www.aconventional.com/2010/05/towards-working-theory-of-learning.html

    As you know, learning in the workplace is my thang. Onwards into sunny uplands :-)

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Anne-Marie, thanks ever so much for those wonderful comments and additional feedback input! Loved this quote: all I do is listen to others and try to make sense of what they say in the context of my own experience and perceptions. Yes, indeed, and you are extremely good at that and we thank you for that, because it comes up amplified like you wouldn’t believe it, which is why these conversations and the ones we usually have F2F are delightful!

      On the topic of Learning, absolutely spot on! I wasn’t aware of Nick’s blog post, nor his blog, and I have already subscribed to it! Fascinating to see how fear keeps coming up back and forth all over the place when facing change and everything and this is just quite timely because the other day I was having a phone conversation with one of our executives and he described it quite nicely how, if we would all want to, we could overcome fear in whatever the circumstance, context or scenario: a strong sense of purpose in terms of achieving the goals that we have set our mind to do just that.

      Your examples are wonderfully descriptive in terms of having achieved your goals, despite the fears by having a rather strong sense of purpose, wanting to succeed. I think that’s why vast majority of those laggards, critics and skeptics are in the process of embracing: a bigger, stronger purpose than whatever they were doing in the past in their little silos / corners where no-one is looking. Now, everyone *is* looking :-D

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  • Brett Miller says:

    Great post, Luis. The bit that really struck me:

    “That’s essentially the role of the social / open business evangelist, that is, to make ourselves redundant and make our job roles obsolete, so that by the time that happens we would be ready to make the move into the next thing, whatever that may well be, while businesses become truly socially integrated enterprises.”

    When most of the people I work with are saying, “I’m glad that’s finished,” I am usually thinking something like, “OK, that’s done; what’s next?”

    Oh, and a belated congratulations on your new job. Sounds like you found the perfect position (and they found the perfect person!)

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Brett, thanks a lot for the kind wishes on the new job and for dropping by sharing this wonderful feedback! Yes, indeed, that’s what I keep telling folks about: always be ready to be on the move for the next thing, because you never know when it is going to hit next! And also why I keep telling folks that social networking is going to stay with us for a long while, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we cannot explore other options, like, in my case, I am doing now with Open Business, which I actually find a whole lot more rewarding altogether! :)

      Lots of GREAT fun ahead, for sure!

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  • Great post. Working on this weeks thedigitalattitude,com blog on the “Delivery Professional’s Social Dilemma” because, just as you say here, the adaption issues are hard. Getting delivery people to move off the traditional communications paths and leap into Social Project Management is a challenge that I think is not being taken up enough. For Social PM to work we need seamless online collaboration within a project team, while still maintaining rigorous PM techniques to deliver. Perservance for sure.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Lorian! Many thanks for dropping by and for sharing along that rather thought-provoking thought! Fantastic! And I don’t think it would be just related to Social PM, to be frank. I think anything that requires plenty of structuring in terms of delivering team work is going to demand plenty of innovation and creativity in terms of how to apply social principles into getting the work done, while collaborating more effectively.

      I bet that one of the key challenges is going to be PMs where they feel they would want to retain their power AND control, by not relinquishing information across to their employees, so that these would be able to make better decisions and therefore perhaps send the message across those managers are no longer as needed as they thought they were!

      Yes, perseverance ADN resilience, for real! (But lots of good fun, too, to break the mold and help folks understand how work is changing into becoming more open, collaborative and transparent while still keeping that focus on delivery)

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