We humans aren’t the fastest animals on the surface of this earth. Nor are we the strongest, or the ones with the most powerful senses. Far from it.
As individuals, we are painfully weak in the eyes of nature. Sure, we are at the top of the most intelligent creatures list, but that doesn’t help much in a one-on-one situation with a bear, wolf or lion. Even most of our fellow primates would easily beat us in a one-on-one fight.
Our main strength, as human beings, is our ability to coordinate our actions as a group of individuals. This ability relies on, in turn, our ability to filter out and interpret information from our environment, our creativity and ingenuity in figuring out how to respond to that information, and our ability to communicate with each other so that we can coordinate our actions for a common purpose.
Just like other primates, we rely on our social networks to share ideas and information to help the group as a whole to survive and adapt to our environment. With the use of information technology, we are now improving these capabilities to the edge of our imagination; no wonder so many people find it hard to understand what is now possible to do with the use of modern information technology, such as social software and mobile devices.
Now let’s look at this from the perspective of an organization. A typical organization today operates in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing environment. More and more of the challenges it has to deal with requires the participation of lots of people, with different professions and skillsets, coming from different geographies, organizations and backgrounds. Whether the goal is to serve a customer, solve a problem, or develop a new product, the organization is relying heavily on its ability to quickly mobilize and coordinate the right people, and to get the best and most out of the people it has available.
Yet, many organizations perform poorly in both these respects. This is especially problematic for an organization that is large or growing rapidly, has a physically dispersed workforce, needs to respond rapidly to changes in its business environment -- such as changing consumer behaviors, or new competition -- and is doing work that is increasingly complex, unpredictable and interdependent.
Many of these organizations were once built like supertankers, and still are. They have been used to enter new markets and crush their competitors by their sheer size, slowly moving forward following a course that the top management team set out long before the ship left harbor.
Now, it might have to turn on a dime. That’s simply impossible for a supertanker. To do this, the organization has to transform itself to something else, into a new and more adaptive organizational form, one that is able to utilize the power of many in more agile and innovative ways. In other words, if an organization is to survive in this new and rapidly changing business landscape where consumers are in control, it needs to become more like a human social network and less of a machine.
Some of us label this new organizational form "Social Business." A true Social Business is built on principles that bring out the best in humans, as individuals and as a group, and I’m going to list some of the most important ones here.
“Leadership is all about building bonds of trust -- and that’s all I know about Leadership.” Colin Powell, former United States Secretary of State
Trust is a prerequisite for improving an organization’s agility, responsiveness, productivity and ability to innovate. Trust drives value creation. Trusts create space for employees to act. Control, on the other hand, is a sign of trust failure. Control does not add value. Control is waste. Control restricts value-creation. It is something management adds when they don't trust their employees to perform as expected.
To build an organization where talented, creative and dedicated people want to work and where they are allowed to reach their full potential, the culture must be built trust, not fear or control.
“We don’t expect openness and collaboration to generate what they do. We overestimate the risks. We underestimate the risks of closed systems and overestimate closed systems’ benefits.” James Boyle, chairman of Creative Commons
Information has no value if it is locked into a vault and cannot be used. The great value of the web is that it gives us access to so much information. Many organizational cultures are in fact characterized by a “need to know” culture, meaning that you won’t get access information until you explicitly ask for it. But how do you get to know that the information exists and where it is in the first place?
To be open by default, and to actively protect the things we really need to protect instead of protecting everything by default, is simply something we need to learn and make sure to practice.
"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court 1902-1932