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The Web, The future of Business and Being Prepared

On Wednesday FutureLearn was launched in the UK. An ambitious initiative which sees a group of Universities entering the MOOC (massive open online courses) learning space offering a range of free courses in flexible formats through a variety of devices.

It’s an extraordinary development and is the logical extension of initiatives like the Open University which tapped into the technical innovations of its time with TV led teaching, distance learning and videotapes.

A fascinating range of courses are on offer, on subjects as diverse as Richard III, Game programming, Branding, Higgs Boson to teeth photography – yes, there is one on teeth photography, I didn’t make it up.

But one that caught my eye is perhaps oddly a nod towards the FutureLearn initiative itself. Called “Web science: how the web is changing the world” it is offered by the University of Southampton and describes the course as being about “how the web has changed our world in the past 25 years and what might happen next.”

That could be fascinating and I hope it looks at the extraordinary impact and possibilities that the web has had on the world of business.

In much the same way as some of us can look back over a period of development in innovation in the delivery of education, we can also reflect on the transformation in our business lives brought about by social and collaborative technology. In my first role in business, at a 50 seat firm more that 30 years ago, we had two phone lines into the building and a manual switch board who might place a call for you if you asked nicely. Manual typewriters, routine casual sexism, bad ties and rigid hierarchy were all de rigueur. Suggesting that everyone in the firm might have had a phone on their desk would have been quickly dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic, had we had the opportunity to speak up about anything. What would my old boss have made of smartphones, social media and wikis? Doesn’t bear thinking about.

But the developments are never ending. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, open innovation, social business, collaborative consumption, the makers movement and social knowledge are all founded in the possibilities for interaction and collaboration that technology provides. They force us to rethink many of our most soundly held thinking about how business is done, and consider how the previously uneconomic becomes suddenly economic, the impossible possible and the unthinkable thinkable. This constantly innovates new threats and opportunities for all business on all sector and all locations.

In such a fast moving and disruptive environment it can be hard to keep up. And that is where we come in. We are constantly investigating the emerging waves of the digital business world and love to help our clients understand, innovate and thrive in a world changed and enhanced through the advent of social and collaborative technologies and the cultures that underpin them.

We don’t predict the future, we just help guide people through it.

More Maslow Musings

More Maslow Musings
Barry Wellman’s kind post to the earlier Maslow post made me meditate a little more on Maslow. Pyramids turn up in management thinking all the time, the same sort of regularity to the 2×2 matrix, and I  get a bit uneasy whenever I see them.
My caution may be a little bit irrational I suppose, but I think it is founded in the notion that with most of the pyramidal arrangements typically we are encouraged to aspire to a linear journey from the base to the peak and that the peak is expressed as a constrained area by comparison to the base – hence the pyramid. It is intended to reflect scarcity through a paucity of achievement at the peak. However I fear that too often it is deemed to demonstrate a constraining factor based on the limiting of availability. So if we were to extend this to a Maslow example we go from saying that few achieve self actualisation to few want to or can achieve self actualisation.
At its worst (and in my view deeply mistaken circumstances) Maslow’s model can and is used in this more negative way in an organisational context where motivating factors and behaviours are overlaid onto a typical organisational hierarchy. The hierarchy implies that exclusivity of self-actualisation is only applied to the executive or C-level roles, and that those lower down the pyramid’s layers and hierarchy don’t, won’t or can’t find these more “enlightened” motivations attractive or available.
I have always felt this is thoroughly mistaken, and believe that the social media environment is a remarkable demonstration of an alternative model where people engage for all sorts of motivations. The point of entry is not necessarily through the base and, perhaps more importantly, it is not some exclusive group that is self-actualised. Indeed, we often refer to the transformational possibilities of the online environment through its capacity to lower barriers – not through raising aspiration. Perhaps this changing model is reflected in social businesses moving towards less hierarchical models by acknowledging the breadth of aspiration and multiplicity of motivation.
So, in this context, perhaps a pyramid is not a useful shape – maybe a simple box where each level is equally well represented would help with people entering at any level?
But for me this still doesn’t go far enough as you are bounded by imposed perceptions of what are “important” motivators. Entering at the “top” doesn’t make us all “meta-motivated”. Surely then we can find a path through a basket of motivations, individually selected and reflecting a much richer and complex mix of behaviours, with no specific linear path through, and with equal implied value and importance.

So does this take us to a segmented pentagon model?

I am not sure what the conclusions to all these musing are – but it perhaps should act as a reminder to us all that our motivations are complex and mixed and that rigid or linear models of thinking have IMHO less strength in the complex hyper-connected organizations we can now inhabit.

Maslow Renewed

What is a Social Media failure?

I had an interesting chat with Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner the other day on what constitutes a “failure” in Social Media. Mike makes a stack of really good information available through the site and is a good guy to have an exchange of view with.

I said to Mike that, in my view, the term “failure” is problematic. If we were to look at it from, say, an Erik Qualman point of view we might reasonably ask “What’s the success or failure of a phone?” For me the adoption of Social Media, in a business context, is not a binary failure/success issue. This is because the approach to becoming a social business is actually a change of mode and mindset therefore it is more a matter of degree. So in that context an organisation can either do it well or do it badly or somewhere in between.

Doing it badly does not necessarily constitute failure. The concept of success or failure is often associated, in my experience, with a single application of Social Media for, say, marketing and not as a more holistic and changed mode of engagement and operation across a business. Taking the somewhat constrained view of a single application for adopting Social Media is looking at Social Media as a one-legged stool whereas, I believe, it is much more of a multi-legged stool. If we take the misguided “one-legged” view of the application of Social Media then if that application doesn’t deliver against our targets it can feel like failure.

As it happens Mike and I agree but Mike made the important point that lots of organisations haven’t even a single leg to their stool as they haven’t recognised or embraced the adoption of Social Media and that this is most certainly a failure, and he is, of course, spot on.

The other matter it raised was the issue of setting targets and monitoring progress. Again we agreed that many organisations had insufficient monitoring mechanisms to establish their progress anyway as this is a common error. It is important to set out some measures that you are to apply as you set out on the journey to becoming a social business. However the choice of yardstick and scale is a complex one if we are judging the progress holistically and should include both qualitative and quantitative measure. But without these measures it makes it hard to monitor progress and review and adjust to improve along the way. Note I said improve not succeed or fail!

So a quick chat around some commonly used terminology acted as a reminder of a few key points:

  •  Social Media has profound implication and opportunity for how you do business, all of your business,
  • You need to get to grips with this and soon,
  • You should set out some indicators to help guide your progress to a social business.

So, do it now and do it well.

Social Media inside the firewall

Social Media inside the firewall

We often talk about the social media mindset. It should be clear to anyone by now that what we’ve been going through in the past few years has been a cultural and behavioural shift rather than a technological one. All the various tools we’ve been working with are tools that ultimately enable us to share and communicate with the world, be it the world wide web, our local community, our network of friends, or our workplace. And that’s exactly where we’re going to focus our attention in this and further posts on the potential of Social Media “inside the firewall”.

Social Media can – and should – be used internally as a mechanism for improving business performance. The internal use of social media goes under many names: social businessenterprise 2.0corporate social networking being some of the most popular, and they all include in their definitions different nuances of meaning. It’s basically a way of working that embeds the principles of Social Media revolution: many-to-many communication, collaboration, co-brainstorming, transparency, trust, participation, inclusiveness, co-creation, flattening of hierarchies. After all intranets were born before the internet, and they can easily work in the same way, by providing a platform for conversation, knowledge sharing and creation, content management, crowdsourcing, co-innovation, and so on. And as it’s happening with externally-facing Social Media, it’s not only about reduced emails, but it can have a much more holistic impact, going from improved – and self-organising – organizational structure, reward and recognition mechanisms, workforce motivation and morale, and so on.

As part of our ongoing research activity on yet another interesting aspect of Social Media, we came across an ever-growing number of platforms that are being used as private/internal social networks. We produced the tag cloud you can see below, generated by collating the texts of the descriptions of a number of these platforms (data gathered – among the rest – from the latest Gartner‘s Magic Quadrant for Social Software for the Workplace, and Forrester‘s Wave for Enterprise Social Platforms). Not surprisingly, all the platforms share a clear focus on social, and they often mention words like communities, collaboration, networking, creation, expertise, knowledge, learning, conversation, information.


Analysing their descriptions and functionalities, customer reports,       opinion pieces, users blog  posts we started noticing some common themes and models they seem to be converging around, as well as the advantages and  drawbacks according to the current users. In the same vein, last Tuesday we were invited to London  to an event organized by one of the fastest-growing internal social networks, Yammer, which we’ve been using during Social Media Week Glasgow to collaborate and share information, experiences and insights with other city partners. The event was hosted by Yammer founder and CEO, David Sacks, and enriched with the experiences of Yammer users Peter Kemper of Shell; Laurie Hibbs of Lexis Nexis and Suzanne Masters of ACCA. We will be sharing with you more on the above and further insights on the subject   in future posts.



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