Monday, June 22, 2009

Social Business Design: a social psychologist's take

If a social psychologist were to design a business, as an experiment of course, she would take all the information she knows about a) person b) environment and c) their interaction and design a system to account for it all.

Aware of people's fundamental need to belong, she might conceive of the organization as a vast network of groups; understanding differences in culture, and cultural perceptions, she might afford a more collective orientation by priming team goals and rewarding participation; knowledgeable about interpersonal dynamics she might enable real-time communication and meta-communication to promote team awareness and smooth interactions; lastly, with a deep knowledge of statistics as the backbone of social science, she would empower participants with individual methods of making sense of information and would constantly measure any changes.

With good Gestalt, the sum of these parts would equal greater than the whole. That is, each one of those four maneuvers would lead to incremental differences, leveraging more people to communicate more fluidly. Together, these would lead to emergent outcomes - new ideas, new directions, unexpected, unforeseen results.

For the past nine months plus, my colleagues and I have been building a business not too dissimilar from this. Specifically we've been figuring out what it takes to design a social business.

In the image above, you'll start to get a sense of the four cornerstones, or archetypes of Social Business Design:
  • Ecosystem - a community of connections
  • Hivemind - the socially calibrated mindset of individuals
  • Dynamic Signal - the constant multi-faceted means of collaboration
  • Metafilter- a method of finding signals in vast amounts of noise
Social Business Design, although new terminology, is rooted in much of the classic thinking about how naturally social we are. It's newly possible because of advances in technology that now support our social ways. It's timely, given changes in work and society, like globalization and our expectations to be intimately involved in various business decisions.

I'm part of a team that's building a social business of our own, to help others design theirs. We've developed consultative and technology implementation services to do so.

We've been working with a few clients already, helping them solve pieces of the overall social business equation. We've also been sharing pieces of our vision over the past few months: Jeff, here; Pete, here; Jevon, here; David, here; and I do, here; although we haven't officially launched or named ourselves yet.

Today, each of my colleagues and I are sharing our perspectives on the gestalt: Social Business Design:
If you want to know more, tune into our panels this week at Enterprise 2.0, livestreamed, with chat. If you're in Boston for E 2.0 and want to talk more about Social Business Design, especially the measurement side of things, shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

consistency, connectivity, and consequences

When consistency and connectivity are at odds, it seems particularly paradoxical.

A while back, the NY Times ran an article about taking advantage of the anonymity of text messaging to help teens get sex education. One of the sex ed volunteers interviewed pointed out the importance of consistency.
"In offering this service to teenagers, he said, “you can’t say ‘I’ll be honest except or until.’ ” That’s often what happens with parents, he added, “when the child brings up something shocking, the parents tend to shut down.”
This is often what happens in business, actually. Particularly when it comes to connectivity: You can connect in this way (e.g. Outlook), but not this way (e.g. Facebook)…

Ironically, the article concluded with the idea that help, as offered through this service, stops at connectivity.
"I don’t want them to feel connected to me,” she said, “because I’m never going to be real to them. I’m a texter. I want them to find someone real to talk to.”
It makes me question the more literal sense of connection people have through technology and whether its dependent on the possibility of “real” connections.

Beyond services like or which have explicit goals of live connections, we know virtual worlds can be deeply emotional, whether or not you go to the Second Life Community Convention. I’ve experienced firsthand how certain flow applications can give you an awareness of your team you can’t have in the office. Neither of these happen in anticipation of live communication.

But then time and again you read about virtual relationships coming to fruition – the fulfillment, closure, and surprises.

Sandy Pentland’s research illustrates the differential value of face-to-face vs. email communication. Whereas email is optimized for brainstorming, face to face is required for integration and decision-making. Is this another way of saying connectivity without live consequence leads to limited intimacy?

Can we fully achieve the leverage of mass connectivity without a sense of consequence? Does consequence better afford consistency?