Here at Interactyx we live in the world of “social business”; everything we do is social in nature from our product – TOPYX, to our marketing, to our customers. So what is it?
I came across an interesting BLOG from Anne Marie McEwan on the Human Capital League site: You say social, I say social. Let’s call the whole thing off. I didn’t mean to get drawn into the social business thing again, I really didn’t. The reason I think it worth wading into the various discussions, erm … positions that people are doggedly adopting, me included, is that this issue is so important. From where I am standing, business is so obviously social.
Some of you will know that I am deeply influenced by the social psychologist, Karl Weick. I am of course aware that there are countless other prominent social psychologists. It just so happens that he was the first one I stumbled on serendipitously and what he said made such a lot of sense to me. I had a first go at making the case for social business in an earlier post, Business Is Social – Get Over It!
Weick Once More
Returning once more to Weick, he speaks in the Social Psychology of Organising about organizing as flows of behaviors and describes the basic building blocks of organizing in terms of “individual behaviors interlocked among two or more people, who change each other’s behavior”.
People enact processes. Value is created through people, their relationships and what they do together. Simples (Orlov, A. 2010)
He does a brilliant thing near the back of Social Psychology. He says that if you can understand what happens when nine people work together, you can understand what happens when thousands work together. He start off with two, add a third, then a fourth, then five, then seven and finally he gets to nine. At nine you potentially have three groups of three, with already hugely complex inter-group and intra-group dynamics going on.
Out of this analysis fall all the major themes arising from flows of behavior among people: the influence of culture, power, control, collaboration, cooperation, conflict, psychological needs, emotion, alliances, cliques, group dynamics etc, etc …
Weick’s first-principle, socially dynamic view of organizing convinces me and is what I mean by social.
In the course of working on a reflective piece of writing for a client this weekend, I discovered this article in the Guardian from a couple of years back about Gillian Tett of the FT. You may remember that she warned of impending catastrophe in the financial markets. Reading the article, I was delighted to see that it was her knowledge of social anthropology that alerted her to the dangers in what she was seeing unfold. Two particular points she makes jump out at me.
The first is about the dangers of specialization in silos and not adopting a systemic perspective of how different bits of systems impact on other bits. The second is that human activity, as well as being systemic, is culturally situated, influenced and determined. From the article:
“I happen to think anthropology is a brilliant background for looking at finance,” she reasons. “Firstly, you’re trained to look at how societies or cultures operate holistically, so you look at how all the bits move together. And most people in the City don’t do that. They are so specialized, so busy, that they just look at their own little silos. And one of the reasons we got into the mess we are in is because they were all so busy looking at their own little bit that they totally failed to understand how it interacted with the rest of society.
To my mind, what she was saying is entirely consistent with Weick’s focus on socially influenced dynamics among people. How much more convincing do you need that business is socially and culturally situated, and that failure to appreciate that can have potentially catastrophic consequences?
“A social business is an organization designed consciously around sociality and social tools, as a response to a changed world and the emergence of the social web, including social media, social networks, and a long list of other advances.”
Whereas I think business was social before the arrival of social tools, Stowe is explicit about social tools being integral to what I see at the next iteration of social business. According to Manuel Castells, social tools present the opportunity for an explosion of shared tacit knowledge, since they create the possibility of “the extension and augmentation of the body and mind” within networks of interactions that have global reach.
Stowe says that social business is important because:
“The context for business has changed dramatically in recent years — a shifting global economic climate, accelerating need for sustainable operations, and a political and societal demand for increased openness and transparency in business”
We have been here before. This is what I said in 1999:
“The external business environment for manufacturers was already highly pressured two decades ago, including:
- time-based competition
- cost competition
- customer demands for quality
Product variety made possible by technological and business process advancement increased customer expectations, leading to time-based competition … globalization of distributed manufacturing was putting additional pressure on manufacturers to achieve product variety and quality at no additional cost.”
Factories are highly social places The next iteration of social business, or what I am calling second wave smart working, builds on what we know from work philosophies associated with lean, quality and agile manufacturing – based as they are on recognizing and enabling the contribution of shop-floor operator tacit knowledge, and their willing collaboration in problem-solving and continuous improvement activities. Continuous improvement back then (CI 1.0) is now technologically augmented collective intelligence (CI 2.0).
As Martijn Linssen says, this about social evolution not revolution.
The transition to new working practices back then was painful with businesses “failing their ways to various levels of success”. Many businesses did not make it and many others could not sustain improvements because they tried to implement programs rather than fundamentally committing to a new philosophy of work based on participation that recognizes and enables collaborative tacit knowledge-sharing and problem-solving.
I think that the shift to a new iteration of social business will be equally painful and resisted. Just because the need to change is urgent isn’t to say that it is going to happen. The pull of the status quo is strong.
So how are you wading into the waters of social business?
Please share with me what your organization is doing to promote social business or are you still holding back, if yes, why?
VP, Business Development and Partnership Programs