Open Business and The Power of Habit

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringIf you have been reading this blog for a while you would remember how all along I have been insisting on the fact that for businesses to facilitate and adapt to that Social / Open Transformation technology is nothing more than just an enabler, it’s the icing on the cake, and how the key to become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise there is nothing more than just acquiring a new set of behaviours, a new mindset, in short, a new core of good healthy habits to get things going on that journey. It may well be much easier saying it out loud than writing it down, but what is a habit though? Is that something that you inspire in yourself, and / or in others? Is that something that you aim to acquire by osmosis mimicking what other people may be doing already? Is it that inertia that keeps coming up without questioning the status quo of how certain things get done around the workplace? Well, may be not. A habit is, apparently, a reward.

Over the course of the last few months I have become very interested in the whole concept of behavioural dynamics, about how we may be able to influence the behaviours of those around us, and the good old habits they may have accumulated over the course of the years, in order to think differently in terms of how they share their knowledge across and collaborate perhaps much more openly and transparently through social technologies versus whatever other traditional means. And all along it looks like I haven’t been the only one interested in that topic judging by the extensive amount of additional reading materials in terms of blog posts, articles, dissertations, reflections, infographics, and numerous, never ending, Top N Habits posts to perform or do XYZ, you name it. Plenty of extensive reading on the topic of habit formation, too, I can tell you.

I would event bet you all may have your own favourite picks that you may have curated over the course of time in terms of what would be those desired good habits (Even for Community Managers!), or whether they are related to keeping up with healthy habits, or perhaps enjoy the odd pleasure of showing your gratitude. You may even want to break away from your email habits altogether (As my good friend, Oscar Berg brilliantly wrote recently at CMSWire) or from any other bad habit from that matter!

The thing is that habit formation is hard. And yet, it’s of paramount importance, because habits are at the heart of our successes and our failures, apparently. So when thinking about that Social / Open Business Transformation I just couldn’t help thinking whether we have got it figured out how we can inspire those new habits in terms of how people connect, collaborate and share their knowledge across. Whether we can model new behaviours and new habits and, if so, how can we achieve such goal, because something tells me that it’s not going to be an easy one. You know, they keep saying how for a human being to acquire a new habit for a particular action, it needs to be repeated, at least, 31 times. I know, that’s a lot! Well, that’s what would take us to build a new habit into what we do on a regular basis.

Interestingly enough, a couple of months back, I bumped into this superbly done short video clip (Under 3 minutes) from Epipheo that pretty much describes The Power of Habit from Charles Duhigg and which surely makes up for quite an interesting watch altogether. No, I haven’t read the book just yet, in case you are wondering, but I finally managed to buy it for my Kindle for my upcoming, and ever growing, summer reading.

The video though clearly highlights what’s perhaps the main challenge we, social / open business evangelists, keep facing when helping fellow knowledge workers adapt to those new behaviours, those newly built habits, in terms of whether they are going to succeed in the long term or not. Here it is, so you can have a look and see what I mean: 

Apparently, a habit is based on three components: a cue (the trigger), the routine (the behaviour itself) and, finally, the reward. I am sure, at this point in time, you may know exactly where I am heading, right? Well, may not. If you look into how most businesses have been facing the adoption / adaptation to Social Business as their new fabric, their new DNA in terms of how they get work done, you would notice how time and time again we do have the cue, we do have the routine in place as well for that matter (The hundreds, if not thousands, of use cases), but more often than not we seem to lack the reward. And I am not just thinking, perhaps, about tangible rewards, which is, I am certain, what most people would be thinking about out there. I am talking more about the long term reward of that habit, that is, of how we are transforming the way we work, interact, build relationships, while still keeping the focus on the business results.

That, to me, seems to be missing from most of the various different deployments of Enterprise 2.0 to help further along with the overall Social Business strategy; to the point where it is no longer surprising the apparent high % of failed deployments of social networking platforms for business, if your vision and focus are on the behaviour and the mindset (which is where it should be, in the first place), as Gartner recently indicated.

Somehow, it’s probably now a good time then to dive into the world of psychology, behavioural dynamics, and social sciences in general to understand how Social / Open Business has never been about technology, nor the business process themselves, but about the people, their mindset and their behaviours. In short, their day to day work habits they have accumulated over the course of time and the rewards in place to realise that long term vision of becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise. Somehow, and like I have mentioned above, we seem to have the cue, the routine, but we better get our act together around the reward piece, because otherwise those new habits would not stick around for long, before people would move on to something else. And, once again, we would be going back to square one. Remember Knowledge Management?

We shouldn’t have to go back.

Instead, I do want to have my small piece of chocolate today, and you?

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Worth while sharing it along?

3 Comments »

  • Jack Vinson says:

    Ah, fun! This thinking reminds me of the Heath brothers discussion of the Rider, the Path, and the Elephant.

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  • Marie-Louise Collard says:

    Thanks Luis – your posts always give me plenty to think about !
    I find it interesting that almost every video or discussion I happen to have come across when talking about Habit and Behaviours and how we might change them – use “smoking” whether graphically or in the narrative.. But no-one seems to mention that despite its association with clear cues and certain routine behaviours the power of this habit is a physical addiction to nicotine – a drug we all know can cause life threatening health problems. Changing that kind of habit involves physical withdrawal symptoms which is why, in extreme circumstances, medical intervention is required. So why is there still a need to use this analogy when trying to talk about changing work related habits?
    Do they carry health warnings too?

    As to the subject of reward – is it not difficult to ask for behavioural changes and habit breaking moves if the reward is “long term”? We live in a world where instant gratification is everything – whether 6 second videos, instant messaging, bitesize information, live coverage etc – a reward every second for doing very little. So how do we persuade people on the basis of long term reward in a culture that screams out the opposite?
    Humans rarely break long term habits in a second – and whatever gamification or reward you offer has limited shelf value and needs to be updated all the time to keep momentum going. So what’s the answer?
    Changing work behaviours involves different patterns of behaviour and a multitude of different people all with their own particular habits – so there is rarely “one suits all method”. But perhaps (not the first time I’ve raised this I know) a constant cycle of demonstrating why social is there, what it’s uses are and how it can benefit – in a constant drip feed method together with celebrating the successes where its proven and as progress is made, is a better more long lasting way than trying to pinpoint rewards – short or long term?

    As always Luis – food for thought – and thanks for providing the excellent fodder!

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