Social business on the edge of the chasm

Last year I was asked what I thought about Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0). While it’s a popular subject amongst some management theorists, there aren’t many examples of E2.0 in practice.  Peter Evans-Greenwood has a good analysis of why E2.0 is not ready for mainstream business implementation due to regulatory constraints:

So, I agree with naysayers that the business case for E2.0 etc “transforming business into a more social business” is not there today. I disagree in that I think it will happen, but we need to up-end regulation first.

As I write this, it seems the term “social business” is already replacing E2.0. Social business should be understood by organizational leaders because they will need to be ready for a significant change in their operating models in the near future. Social business is almost ready to cross the chasm.

Social business is about a shift in how we do work, moving from hierarchies to networks. 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. They flow in all directions. As John Seely Brown said, you can only understand complex systems by marinating in them. This requires social learning. Complex work is not linear. Social business is giving up centralized control and harnessing the power of networks. It is as radical as was Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management in 1911.

The potential of social business is organizational survival. Enterprises must be able to share knowledge quicker than before.  This requires a shift toward something like a starfish framework that not only allows for independent action but also distributes knowledge through all the parts. Social learning is how organizational knowledge gets distributed. Social businesses can learn quicker.

The main barriers to social business are cultural. People in charge of most organizations today got there by doing things the traditional way of the MBA mindset. They feel they do not need to change and few are willing to give up power and authority, even if it is for the good of the organization.

Shortly after posting this, I came across an article in CIO: How Social is Taking Over Business [dead link]

7 Responses to “Social business on the edge of the chasm”

  1. Des Walsh

    Thank you for these insights and the succinct exposition. I find it very helpful to be given this kind of perspective, within a broader context of management/organisational theory and practice. I appreciate also your statement “The main barriers to social business are cultural” and your commentary on that.

    I’d love to be able to add something wise. 🙂

  2. Peter Evans-Greenwood


    I think we need to be cognisant that the organisations post social media will not be our current organisations rearranged. As I say elsewhere in the post you kindly linked to, “The dirty secret of E2.0 is that it’s being used the same way as most technologies to date: it’s being used to remove people from the equation.” The organisations that emerge from the social media meat grinder in the next couple of years will be new organisations, leaner, stripped to the bone, which are closer to the British Civil Service in India, or the Royal Navy around the turn of the 18th century (including their extensive use of free agents) than Ford or GE. Centralised control will exist for a while yet, but it will focus on establishing policies which help teams work together, rather than micromanaging tasks.

    As you point out, the MBA mind-set in the mid- to upper-ranks of many large organisations will be the big losers in this. I don’t think they’ll be a barrier though, as upper management will use social media to connect directly with the teams at the front line and simply remove them from the equation. We might also expect the supporting functions involved with maintaining large employe populations and technology estates (i.e. HR and IT) to be decimated as the need for them ebbs away.




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