The potential of social business is organizational survival, because enterprises must be able to share knowledge quicker than before. Why? As everyone and everything gets connected to the Net, feedback loops, both positive and negative, accelerate. A video can go viral and generate fame and revenue almost overnight. A racist act can be recorded and distributed around the world in minutes, even years after the event, forcing the perpetrators to leave politics. Customers can quickly force companies to change their policies, taking advantage of social media’s capability for “ridiculously easy group-forming” [Seb Paquet]. Self-publishing makes everyone a broadcaster.
Social business requires a major shift in how we do work, moving from hierarchies to networks. What does this really mean? It is understanding that business is not something separate from being human, and that humans are social creatures. Business is personal and has always been. We just thought we could mechanize everything by applying the principles of scientific management and other industrial age crap that have only got us into a bigger mess than when we started a century ago. As Jay Cross explains:
People are emotional beings. We take everything personally.
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, business has tried to cover this up. Management by spreadsheet is easier if workers are interchangeable parts. No messy emotions to get in the way.
We are beginning to realize that the highest value work today is the more complex stuff, or the type of work that cannot be automated or outsourced. It’s work that requires creativity and passion. Doing complex work in networks means that information, knowledge and power no longer flow up and down but in all directions. Social business is giving up centralized control and harnessing the power of networks.
Knowledge networks are based on openness, transparency and diversity, from which trust emerges. Effective enterprise networks ensure that when knowledge is gained, some of it can be captured and then easily shared. Trust is essential for sharing implicit knowledge. This is the core of social learning – sharing implicit knowledge through conversations, observations and modelled behaviour. Social learning is how organizational knowledge gets distributed. A social business learns quicker through social learning. Social media are merely enablers, if used adeptly.
A business that is more connected to its people, its customers, and its partners will be more resilient than one that is relient on rules, regulations, and mechanistic frameworks. Many people talk about the need for resilience in facing climate change, population growth and environmental degradation. Resilience is also an “… ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever …” Social businesses are more resilient because they rely on people, not processes. The latter are developed only to handle the work that is not complex or creative, freeing workers to deal more with exception handling. Social business is how an organization can survive by using a more resilient, organic framework. Isn’t it time to exorcise Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ghost from our organizations?