A recent resurgence of the ‘is Social Business dead?’ meme bubbled over this week in a post by Chris Heuer, and smelling the bacon grease I ran toward the fire, offered up an analysis, and announced a new project, at the same time:
Social business isn’t dead, but it has become tired. It’s not longer even an edgy and emotive alternative to business-as-usual, and partly because of the half he [Heuer] gets wrong or never examines: today’s tools for social business. The world of business has moved ahead to accepting the class of contemporary technologies that embody the slightly better 2013-style of collaborative business, dominated by work management tools from Microsoft, Salesforce, IBM, Jive, and other established enterprise software vendors. To the extent that those tools and the practices that surround them define the social business, then they have become commonplace, not a profound redefinition of working together in new ways.
• What is needed, though, is not a retreat to arguing about the term social business, but a movement forward, a movement embodied as a community of people committed to advancing new principles of learning, organization, leadership, and management, pushing forward into a new future of work. •
In writings more recent that the January piece Heuer pointed to, I have made a strong case for the following trends, supported by a wide range of research here at GigaOM and other firms:
C-level executives hope to gain another round of productivity from new technologies and practices that are grouped under the loose rubric of ‘social’.
They believe that the mechanisms used in the past — demanding more work from employees, and routinization of work practices — cannot be used again, at least not to get any serious gains.
The answer — if that is a question — is for organizations to adopt a new form factor for business, one that undoes the rules and loosens the ties that make businesses slow to learn, innovate, and respond.
One of the toolsets to apply in this quest for the fast-and-loose business are ideas about working socially and tools to support that. However, the greatest advances are likely to be more closely linked to fundamentals of organizational culture, and the relationship of the individual to work and the organization, rather than a social business breakthrough, per se.
• To the extent that social business was a concept that a community of practitioners hoped would represent or spark a radical break with the past, it has fallen short. •
Perhaps, then, I could restate Heuer’s apocalyptic statement into something more practical and pragmatic: social business isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either. And simply getting the meaning of the term straightened out — if such a thing is possible, at this point — won’t add much, either. At the best, there are a set of ideas derived from the social revolution on the web — like pull versus push communication, and the benefits of defaulting to open, not closed, communication — that can be productively applied to make working socially easier and faster.
What is needed, though, is not a retreat to arguing about the term social business, but a movement forward, a movement embodied as a community of people committed to advancing new principles of learning, organization, leadership, and management, pushing forward into a new future of work.
To the extent that social business was a concept that a community of practitioners hoped would represent or spark a radical break with the past, it has fallen short. You can interpret that as a failure of the concept, or a sign of endurance of the mainstream notion of business, or perhaps even as a failed power grab by those most loudly advocating for ‘social business’-led change. But this does not mean that work isn’t changing, or that we do not need even more change — in our organizations and ourselves — in the months and years ahead. We do. It is essential to find new balance in a new normal, where the ground beneath our metaphorical feet is never steady and always shifting.
I am committed to help give such a movement a bit more definition, and in the following weeks I will be laying out some ideas about a loose community of people committed to the investigation of the future of work. I am launching an effort to do that called Chautauqua, named after the adult education movement of late 19th and early 20th century America. I hope to work with local groups across the country and internationally to explore a topic central to the future of work each month, in a model stolen (honestly) from the Pecha Kucha and Creative Mornings movements.
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