There is no such thing as a social business.
Social Business is an Intention
There’s Enterprise 1.0 over there, and Enterprise 2.0 over there, and we’re all somewhere between the two and some part of that is Social. Embarking on the journey from here to there is to form an intention. This intention can be about the way we want to engage customers. It can be an intention of creating a richly connected workforce so as to reap the rewards of agility, resilience, problem solving and innovation that such a workforce is capable of.
It is about realizing that the power of command and control is great, but limited, and we have reached that limit. It is about realizing that the capabilities, ambitions, insights and preferences of people that have been largely ignored in the 20th century will not be ignored in the 21st, in part because technology has redistributed a little power from corporations to consumers and the workforce, and in part because you cannot command and control your way through the pace and complexity of 21st century business and society, and, to quote a beloved fictional character, "the only way out is through" (bonus marks if you leave a comment with his name).
Intentions are different from goals or missions
Jony Ives narrates this lovely little video about why the next iOS will be flat, not bubbly. This is not simply a matter of taste and sophistication. It is a matter of intention.
In the video he says “Design defines so much of our experience. There is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity and clarity and efficiency ... its about bringing order to complexity.” What Jony is saying, is that they did not set out to “change” the UI. They set out to bring order to complexity, while honoring simplicity. The difference between goal and intention is subtle but important. Intention is a permanent state of seeking, it is never achieved, but always honored.
A goal says -- I want a new UI, or I want to solve a problem, or I want something that will make it clear that this iOS is really different an innovative. A goal has an end state. Goals are good, but they are not intentions, and, unlike Social Business, they can be achieved.
Intention says -- I do not know what my journey is going to look like, but I have certain qualities and ideals in mind. Intention puts your focus on the outcome, not the method, or really the goal.
Do you play tennis? If you remember learning to play, then you know that if you try to hit the ball --connect the racquet with the ball -- you whiff, but if you put a laser focus on the ball and you swing your arm, somehow that ball gets hit. This is the power of intention. It lets the right things happen without examining them overly. (It’s an act of faith that is reinforced by the delight in seeing the shock in your husband’s eyes as his ball comes back to him with equal power. But I digress.)
Actually this theme of faith comes back again and again when we're talking about complexity, emergence and social. That is because we can't explain it -- at least not in rational, reductionist, cause and effect terms. We can only know it. This is an excruciating state of being for biz and science types, but is a leap that must be leapt. This is both why we crave and why we can't have the ROI calculations we seek. We can only look for correlations between social-ness and top line performance. We can't find cause and effect. We are epidemiologists, not chemists. (Ok, really, now I'm done with this. For now.)
Intention means that every step is both unrestricted but well informed by the truths you can find -- that good products are better than bad products. That good products are the result of knowing customer needs and applying talent against them. That respecting the voice and convenience of the customer is a good investment. That there is no executive in your organization that is one fraction as smart as the rest of the org combined.
Perhaps my favorite exposition of intention is an old ad about a faucet. Yes, Kohler did a double bluff on the theme on pretentious design aficionados who come to a pretentious architect and say "design a house around this" -- evoking the idea that they so admire the tacit design principles in the faucet that they want a house that embodies those same qualities -- some of which are nearly impossible to articulate. So they can't be goals. They are intentions.
Intention is a very long view approached by a series of very short steps
If your intention is to be a social business, and you have a vague notion -- and it can only be vague -- that a social business will be more profitable, more resilient, more interesting -- over the next 50 years, and that your customers will love you better, and your employees will love you better and magical emergent innovation will fall from the sky, and you will, finally, get Lew Platt’s wish of knowing what we know -- or at least being able to benefit from what we know, even if we never actually know it.
If you're lucky, you were "born social"
We have been through frameworks, processes and models. We have been through half a dozen years of theories, pontificating, genius and foolishness. We have platitudes, and attitudes, (both entirely skippable. 140 char has its dark side). Many of them have merit and application in certain circumstances, but as a whole they build a holistic and visceral understanding of the intention, if not the definition of Social Business. We have learned a few tangible-ish things, however.
The first is that while some companies are born social, it is very hard to become social -- but it does happen over time. We see this in narrative-lead consumer companies, like Nike and Levi’s, and in (some) places where knowledge and collaboration are fundamental (but not Law. Social and seven-minute accounting don’t seem to mesh).
The way they get there is by taking a zillion little steps toward something. The something they are moving toward is a little hard to explain. They hire the right people. They make decisions in slightly different ways. They try stuff knowing that whether it works or not, it has taught them something, in some form of David Snowden's multiple parallel safe to fail experiments.
Many successful CEOs declare that they believe social is a better way to do business, and they summon the courage to go there and figure it out on their way. Some businesses -- like John Stepper’s Deutche Bank -- find pockets of value in social technology, that enable certain departments to thrive, without necessarily becoming a social business, at least not yet. IBM has been on its journey longer and larger, and it may have more momentum than many.
How do businesses become social, really? In 2001, Jim Collins wrote in his book “Good to Great” that good businesses do not make the leap to great all of the sudden. It is not a strategy or a project or an investment or an initiative that does it, but rather an aggregation of steps in the right direction. He makes this analogy, and, in truth it’s the main thing that really stuck with me from the book:
Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. It’s a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It's about 100 feet in diameter, 10 feet thick, and it weighs about 25 tons. That flywheel is your company. Your job is to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible, because momentum -- mass times velocity -- is what will generate superior economic results over time.Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward. After two or three days of sustained effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work, but at last the flywheel makes a second rotation. You keep pushing steadily. It makes three turns, four turns, five, six. With each turn, it moves faster, and then -- at some point, you can’'t say exactly when -- you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren't pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.
My point here should be clear -- a social business is one that has set a social intention and takes many, many steps, which, when properly aligned and examined, lead inexorably to a “Social Business” that is able to enjoy a more humanistic, sustainable, profitable, innovative, emergent form of business.
On the one hand this is simple aggregation of effort. Every positive step is amplified by the next one.
But on the other hand, with another invaluable William Gibson quote -- the future is here it's just not evenly distributed -- is WHY this works. To understand this, you must realize that there is not ONE future that is here, but an infinity of them. Each step opens up a new possible future if it works, if it takes, and sets off a chain of events that lead somewhere. Our goal is to make as many "intentional" possible futures as we can. We cannot know in advance which of them will take root and take over, but we can ensure that they are imbued with desirable qualities, that they are taken with the right intentions. A don't be evil type of intention (that is reexamined often.).
The Best argument yet for Social/2.0 connected business
Social Business = Intention = Seeking = Networking = Innovation
If you are still casting about for reasons as to why connected companies are more valuable than unconnected companies, you need to watch Ricardo Hausman’s lecture on person-bytes, which he applies to countries, but you will be wise to think of in terms of enterprises. And you will quickly realize that 1.0 leadership is leaving too much opportunity on the table because the number of person-bytes -- the breadth and complexity of capability the enterprise can address -- accessible by 1.0 Enterprise is far less than what Enterprise 2.0 can leverage.
Let me say that again, because I think its pretty big and you might have missed it. Enterprise 1.0, with command and control, is limited in its capability by the intelligence and capability of the Executive team. The executive team has most of the accessible person bytes in the company -- though they can use others in simplistic ways. In 1.0 enterprises, the workforce is there to amplify the capabilities of the executives. Looked at another way, Executives are the constraint. After a certain point, it is the executives that restrain growth and capability because the organization cannot amplify what the executive can't see.
In Enterprise 2.0 power and capability flows the other way -- from the network to the leadership. In Enterprise 2.0, executives (leaders) inquire and align collective intelligence and capability. They can access the collective capabilities, resources and observations of the workforce and beyond. They can build businesses with greater person-byte potential.
Hausmann shows that not only are those products that require more person-bytes more rare and valuable, but they lead to richer adjacent opportunities. Person-bytes aggregate via proximity and connection. You don’t have one kind of expertise -- say in manufacturing phones -- and then suddenly have a totally different kind of expertise in oil exploration -- unless you've discovered some link between the too.
Social, networked companies can build more complex -- more person-byte -- products, and grow expertise and advantage more reliably than those that can’t. Hausmann’s data is based on national economies, but if you look at it the connection will be instantly clear.
The Road to Social Business is Paved with Intentions. Make them good.
We are all somewhere between the two -- between a 1.0 business over there -- and a 2.0 business over there.
Just remember this. A framework is an invitation to think, not an excuse not to. It's a way to organize your thoughts. None of us will travel exactly the same path to a new business paradigm, in the same way that none of us have traveled the same path to profitability and success. There is no path, there is only intention. In a world where notions of business, privacy, identity, civil rights, labor, morality, war and peace are all disrupted, let us please make them good intentions.
The best is yet to come.
Image courtesy of gyn9037 (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: If you are looking for practicalities of social business/enterprise 2.0 next, you can read some of Deb's lists and frameworks in Want to Be a Social Business? The 9 Boxes You Need to Check and If Social Business is the Answer, What is the Question? 3 Driving Forces