Monday, January 26, 2009

Business design for social animals

Some interesting themes have emerged from Peter Kim's Proclamation of Transformation and the lively, ensuing conversation over the past 2 weeks.

Critics might find it ironic that I - Pete's colleague - would echo the meme, part of which shudders at the reverb... My goal is to add some depth by offering my social psychological perspective. Hopefully, some fresh, authentic thinking.

It's funny that people point out the divide between people who talk about “social media” and those that engage in Web/Enterprise 2.0 (or social software to transform the enterprise). The biggest chasm, more surprising to me, is between social psychologists and this broader, living and breathing conversation.

Hopefully, over time, my blog will pull other social psychologists out of the woodwork to contribute to our collective discussion about designing businesses on fundamentally social principles: connecting with people, interdependent cultures, purposeful collaboration, and effective communication, to name a few.

I’m not suggesting the chasm doesn’t make sense. Social psychologists don't necessarily know about the bottom line. Few have the privilege of using "real world" data to see what increases profits, enhances workplace productivity and mitigates risk. But they know a heck of a lot about the paths towards those goals. In the most postmodern sense, a collaboration would be ideal…

So here are a few things I believe in, along with some misconceptions that have jumped out at me as we’ve introduced our ideas on transforming business:

1. Socializing the enterprise is a fluid articulation of how we work, as social animals.
Misconception: We're making assumptions about what people want. Not everyone wants to actively share, be part of a community, or be informed about others’ every move.

2. The future of the enterprise is not a battle of Technology vs. Culture. Both are integral, and interdependent.

Misconception: Pick your poison, it’s one vs. the other. Either technology is an agent of change, or the organizational culture relinquishes its hierarchical control and walks the walk.

3. Everyone is ready; anyone can be receptive – whether you Twitter or grew up in a Stone Age society, see my first point. Designing a social business is the Gestalt. New social technologies are the parts, not independent precursors.

Misconception: Wait! There are early adopters who blog and Tweet and then the naïve masses who need to set up at least 15 accounts before joining the movement and really 'getting it'.

Look, it is early. I’m not denying that. I’m proposing that we are social animals and can organically embrace these ideas with some hard work to free ourselves from path dependence. Balance will be key across each point: We need to find the nuanced sweet spots between public and private; technology and culture; old and new. And that's what we're working on.

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