Open Business – From Adoption into Adaptation

Gran Canaria - Ayagaures in the SpringAs I have mentioned in a recent blog post, you would remember how I have now moved into a new job role within IBM, as Lead Social Business Enabler for IBM Connections (both internal and external), where I am much more heavily involved with IBM’s knowledge workers’ own adoption efforts of social business and social technologies. So far, the journey has been incredibly fascinating, if anything, because we are just about to enter the last stage of Social Business Adoption and Enablement: Adaptation. And this is the best part, frankly, I am not really too sure we are ready for it just yet.

If you have been reading this blog for a while now, you would know how I have been involved with social networking tools since early 2000 to 2001 when I was first exposed to instances of wikis and people aggregators. And throughout all of that time I have seen a good number of different tipping points and different phases of adoption that have marked a rather interesting evolution into helping social networking for business become the new fabric, the new DNA, of the company in terms of how we collaborate and share our knowledge. There have been plenty of interesting and relevant challenges, and yet, the toughest is still awaiting us.

Having been involved with social networks inside the company from right at the beginning has given me the opportunity to witness how different waves of adopters have been able to embrace social technologies, at their own pace, in order to help themselves become more collaborative and effective by ways of opening up their knowledge sharing processes. At the same time, it has allowed me to witness how over the course of time those waves of adopters are getting narrower and narrower. Early adopters, first, second, third waves of adopters have all gone through that transformation of how they work and everything. And while there have been some good challenges, I feel the most pressing ones are yet to come. And for two different reasons:

The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics

The first one is that the one or two waves of adopters who still have got to make it across are probably the most intriguing, because they are the ones whom in another blog post I have called The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics. Yes, these are those knowledge workers who have already tried and played with social networking tools in some form or shape, and who have definitely heard and have been exposed to social networking and they weren’t very convinced. In fact, quite the opposite. It just didn’t click for them. They saw it, they dived in, it didn’t meet their needs and wants and they moved on back to where they were. 

Slowly, but steadily, they turned themselves into skeptics with the earned right to voice out their concerns, issues and what not, in order to make the point across that they are not going to make the change over, no matter what. At least, for now, or till the point where things have changed and shifted so radically they won’t have a choice anymore.

And while I think you folks may highlight that as a potential issue in terms of the overall social business adoption strategy, it’s perhaps the one group left we should not try to keep convincing of what lies ahead, but let them re-discover it at their own pace and everything, over and over again till it hits, if needed be, at their own time, at their own pace. Indeed, there will always be different waves of adopters and each and everyone of us, social software evangelists, should be ok with that. The sooner we are, the much better of we will all be eventually. If not, we are the ones who have got an issue, because we are just not working hard enough to understand their context and different working styles and adjust accordingly. 

Social Business Mandates

The second reason, which is the one that has got me extremely worried at the moment, is that one where we have failed in inspiring to transform our very own knowledge workforce and switched gears thinking that Social Business Transformation can be accelerated by mandating its adoption, whether you, the knowledge worker, like it or not. Yes, I know we are all excited and rather committed to provoke the change, no matter what, even if we decide to go ahead and mandate such shift. But it is just so flawed, it’s scary. Very scary altogether, because it just shows how we haven’t learned much in the last decade. 

Social Business transformation is not a project team, it’s not something that you start by date X and you finish it off in a year or two. And then you are done and time for you to move elsewhere. It’s not something that you put together with a group of folks picked up by you to force it down to the rest of the employee workforce, just because you are in one part of the organisation that feels it’s entitled to push down those corporate mandates. Specially, onto those who still haven’t made the switch-over. Gran Canaria - Risco Blanco in the Spring

It just doesn’t work like that, I am afraid. Even more so when those corporate mandates are pushed down into people’s throats by that executive hierarchical structure understanding they are entitled to do so, just because of who they are and the position they hold. No, I am really sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that. Today’s corporate environment is a whole lot different than what it was 10 to 15 years ago.

In the world of social networking for business it’s never been about mandating and forcing certain behaviours or a specific mindset (That one of Openness, for instance). It has always been a personal, individual choice of the knowledge worker him/herself to have a play, to try things out, to find new ways of working where openness, transparency, trust, etc. become the norm in terms of how we share our knowledge and collaborate effectively together. And it will always be that: *a* personal choice.

So I cringe, and I die a little bit inside as well for that matter, whenever I bump into a group of fellow colleagues who have been mandated by their corporate executive(s) to use social software tools, or, else! Or, even worse, when knowledge workers are expecting to be told / mandated by their management teams that they must do it, or else. Yes, I admit it, it drives me a little bit crazy as well, because it sounds as if they have failed to inspire to transform and, instead, use their position, power and entitlement to enforce it, so that they could put a little checkmark, right next to their yearly performance evaluation, that they have been social and time to move on. 

And if there is anything wrong with that is that they have enforced the very same kind of mentality and behaviours that social business has been trying to fight all along: corporate politics, bullying, power struggles and hierarchical clashes. And it gets even worse when they have mandating their team(s) to become social and yet they haven’t even explored it themselves, can’t be bothered arguing all of this social networking stuff was not meant for them or whatever other lame excuse. Whoahhh? Really? Is that what *you* really think?

See? To me, that’s the main key difference between a manager, ruling by command and control using their position of power and entitlement, and a true leader, inspiring a new behaviour, a new mindset, walking the talk, taking the lead, while learning by doing, on what all of these social networking behaviours are all about and which this snapshot shared below (Courtesy of 9GAG) captures it very nicely: 

The biggest challenge with all of that is not that senior leadership, no longer believing in the power to transform through being a living example of the shift, but it is actually the folks, right underneath those executives, who execute those orders, because they want to please the command from the ranks above. Never mind thinking about questioning the validity of such assertions, or challenging the status quo of something they know it’s wrong, or even rebelling against it since they know very well it just won’t work. It’s just as if they have drunk so much kook-aid from the whole thing that they are still drunk with it and can’t see anything around them anymore. 

And this is where the corporate rebel side of me, the hippie 2.0, the heretic, the outrageous and optimist free radical me is coming back and in full force to fight it back as much as I possibly can, because I feel that if I don’t do it, no-one will question it, and everyone will just basically conform with it. No, we shouldn’t.

We should keep up the fight and help out our leadership, regardless of the company (As I am sure there are plenty of businesses out there going through the very same thing as I get to write these few thoughts), understand their new leadership role, that one of being servant leaders, that one of provoking that social business transformation by themselves and for themselves first, as a personal experience, so that they can comprehend better the new dynamics of engagement, those where “knowledge is power” transforms itself into “knowledge SHARED is power”, where traditional command and control management progresses through into doing is believing leadership.

And this is exactly what excites me about my job, that, 12 years later, I still feel like I am just getting started with my social networking evangelism efforts, that there is just so much more to explore, discover, play with, learn and experience that we are just starting to scratch the surface of the tip of the iceberg. The difference between today and those many years back though, is that I have now got all of those years of additional experience, skills, knowhow, pragmatic way of 2.0 thinking and so forth that I can apply further along that I have finally decided to make the switch from Adoption and move on…

Earlier on this year, you would remember that blog post I put together on me making the move away from Social Business into Open Business, well, a mere 5 months later, I am making the move from Adoption into Adaptation, which I think is much more appropriate for what all of the business world is trying to do with Social Business. We are not doing Adoption per se anymore, specially, driving adoption. Instead, we open up the door to adaptation, where we help knowledge workers adapt to a new way of working, where we become more open by nature, more transparent, more trustworthy, hyperconnected, networked, engaged, participative and so on by doing something we, human beings, have always been very good at: sharing our knowledge.

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringThe Industrial Age neglected our ability to adapt. Instead we became machines; robots and drones capable of putting together a massive amount of silly hours working really hard, without applying too much (critical) thinking, or even questioning the status quo, so that we could just get a pay check at the end of the month, hoping that one of those years we might potentially become part of the executive chain that everyone aspires to because we feel things would be much better. No, they were’t.

Indeed, things never got better for the vast majority, only for the very very few. In fact, they got worse, because with the current work pressures people are behaving even more like corporate drones understanding that if they don’t put enough hours during the work week (7 days a week!) they may get fired altogether together for not being productive enough. How flawed is that? I mean, how can we keep ignoring over 150 years of research on what’s obvious?

Perhaps we should get fired. Maybe we need to go through that massively rude awakening to understand how we need to go back to basics: our very own human nature. They say that we are one of the very few species in this world that can adapt adequately to any given environment, no matter how harsh it may well be. Well, perhaps we may not have adapted well enough to a corporate environment where we have been eaten up alive by the status quo, because we just haven’t challenged it well enough like we have done with other environments.

The difference between last 50 years and now is that for the first time ever, we have got the tools, the social technologies, to help us provoke that transformation of how we do business and how we should behave in the new business world that aims at sustainable growth, equity, parity, earned merit, digital reputation, etc. and how the sooner we may be switch from adoption to adaptation, from corporate mandates to servant leadership, from corporate drones into human beings with an ability to think and make beautiful things, the much better our societies would become as a result of it. Not just for each and everyone of us, but for many future generations to come.

It’s the least we can all do. Adapt for our mere survival as a species. The race has already started a while ago. The clock is ticking and faster than ever… Think, inspire and execute. Don’t waste any more time trying to conform with a status quo that was never meant to be. Challenge it by helping people understand and fully embrace how they can adapt to a new reality. Their own reality.

Remember that life is just too short to have to conform with a status quo you never believed in, nor adapted to, in the first place. It’s now a good time to level up the game and demonstrate what we are all capable of in terms of adapting social business gestures to how we work.

Indeed, doing is believing!


Adaptation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”

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8 Comments »

  • Roar Nyheim says:

    Hi Luis,
    I am a long time lurker, but this time I really feel I need to comment. As a fellow IBM employee I get really engaged by your insights and commitments. This blog entry made me happy, even if I do not know if it should.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Roar, thanks much for dropping by and for the feedback commentary! Glad you have been there for a while participating from the distance reading along and that you, finally, made the jump into the lovely waters of participating in the conversation. Much appreciated. Glad you are enjoying these reflections. They are usually thoughts that occupy my mind for a while, before I give them form / shape and share them along. This one, in particular, has been with me for a few months already and thought this time around it was ready to be out there :)

      Oh, if this blog post made you happy, there is probably a possibility that it may have stroked a chord on what you may be seeing as well at your neck of the woods, and why it looks like these are going to be some interesting times, as well hehe

      Thanks again for dropping by!

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  • Interesting post, Luis, which sparks a lot of thoughts…
    I would like to a single point: the Leader illustration. I believe that, instead of being the first in line on the rope, which says at this stage that failure is no more an option, a leader should be the one putting the wheels under the block, opening possibilities, leaving to workers to choice to pull, push, or even make the block fly if ever feasible.

    Those wheels are not necessarily about technology, they can be, but most real new forms of organizations emerge without technology. Think of Gore-Tex, FAVI, Valve Software…

    Which takes me back to your point: “for the first time ever, we have got the tools”. The place of technology isn’t as enabler, but as a co-evolutionary factor influencing people and organizations. Thinking otherwise leads to either technocratism or an augmented version of business-as-usual.
    Technology MIGHT, in some cases (like at IBM, indeed) be the enabler. But organizations should take great care of their own evolution, avoiding to rely on such a causal illusion.

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  • Mike Collins says:

    Hi Luis,

    I’m familiar with the law of innovation of diffusion and always remember seeing it via the Simon Sinek video how great leaders inspire action. I’ve used the early adopters as a big sell for my efforts at social integration more recently using a social platform to create a community of practice in HR /L&D in the UK. Again I’ve used the ‘law’ as a means to explain adoption, encouraging early adopters to get to the early majority and highlighted the laggards as those who are afraid of change etc. Reading your post has made me realise that I’ve also come up against early adopters who are prepared to give to a go but either don’t get it or don’t like it. In my happy world all early adopters stay with it spreading the love and encouraging those early/late majority to get involved. In reality this isn’t the case and as you point out they can actually do much more harm as early adopters who come out of the loop and stick to the old way adopting laggard behaviour and telling everybody and anybody who will listen it’s a waste of time and doesn’t work. They are harder to get back on side than the laggards themselves. This has made me think differently to the whole adoption process. Thanks

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  • Birgit Georgi says:

    Hi Luis,
    I followed your block for some while (not too long) I came to it when reading about “Outside the inbox” and that issue really hits a nerv of me. I get flooded with emails every day, I got quite some inspiration and could at least do a few changes, but still have not found the right social (or other?)media tools to change the situation dramatically. I will try further although I seem to be from these rather old fashion knowledge workers. What I however want to reflect on is that you talk about not getting flooded with information, but reading your lenghty blocks gets me that feeling. There are really interesting thoughts and ideas in it, which I enjoy, but it is so hard work to find them among all the sourrounding not really important text and repetitions. Short and on the point would be beautiful and safe me so much time (just imagine all my incoming emails would be written like this . unfortunately several are). But maybe it is just the way you social media workers communicate and I am wrong here. Thanks nevertheless for the inspirations.

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  • Make latest thinking on this: Adoption (to get started), adaptation (to get others on board) and exaptation (to really get things going):

    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-zjxcTI8LO9c/UZo9MacxYAI/AAAAAAAALJ8/6CvzZUU_3NY/w879-h915-no/exaptation.png

    More details here:
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/100641053530204604051/posts/7zKehf9WC2F

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  • […] a brief teaser for the longer piece, in case you may be interested in listening in: Open Business, Adaptation, #lawwe, business blogging as your personal / digital footprint, being bold, fear and reluctance, […]

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