The Road to Social Business

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.