Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Social Media in Enterprise – the (pink) elephant in the ecosystem

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The talk I gave at a Social Media Week event organised by Alan Patrick and David Terrar (kudos for fast and efficient organisation!), called The Elephant in the ecosystem on February 2, 2010 at Cass Business School in London.

Here is a comprehensive summary of the evening by David Terrar.

Learning to speak human

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A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk to an audience of communications professionals for a large corporate client of mine. Here is the presentation.

There are notes for most slides, visible and accessible in the dowloaded version. Don’t know how to make slideshare show them.

Quote to remember

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SOA reminds me of the engraving over the entrance to the University of Wyoming’s engineering department in Laramie: CONTROL OVER NATURE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. That fits with the command-and-control mentality. Web 2.0 would never say “CONTROL OVER USERS IS WON, NOT GIVEN”.
- Nat Torkington in Web 2.0 Is From Mars, Enterprise Is Up Uranus

Musings on social media, enterprise, wine-making and terroir

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Most of my recorded experience with social software revolves around the ‘hard’ issues like people and shifting their minds and corporate culture, so in my conversations with David Tebbutt and Angela Ashenden of Macehiter Ward-Dutton earlier this week I wanted to offer a useful perspective on social software in the enterprise that takes a broader view than just focusing on individual employees. I came up with an analogy based on the wine industry.

First a brief background on what has happened to the wine industry globally in the last 30 years. Before 1970s French wine used to be considered the pinnacle of all wines. It was the great French tradition, the noble grapes (despite Phylloxera wiping out most of the original vines in 19th century), but mainly it was the unrivalled terroirs of Bordeaux and Burgundy. (Loosely translated as “a sense of place” which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product).

In 1976, the (in)famous wine tasting of Californian wines next to top French wines in Paris has shifted that world view*. This is because the Californian wines beat the French ones in a blind tasting on their own territory and in their own game – by tasting the way it was believed impossible to achieve without the magic of the terroir. The fallout over the next few decades was profound – once wine-makers all over the world realised that it is possible to produce wine a la Bordeaux or Burgundy in other countries, the experimentation and eventually production of quality wines from other countries has exploded. Thanks to that we now have some superb Californian, Argentinian, Italian, Spanish, Australian, Chilean, South African and Lebanese wines capable of matching the French ones in quality. There are purists who’d disagree and for a long time I have been amongst them but I am not enough of a wine snob to persist in that view in the face of considerable (and very enjoyable) evidence.

Before 1976 tasting, there seemed no point in producing quality wine aimed at the same market that the French wine-makers so successfully monopolised for centuries. Even if you had the same grapes and same techniques, you couldn’t replace the terroir… or could you? A few mad wine aficionados, with burning love of wine, innovator’s zeal, insane persistence and a big dose of luck spend years experimenting with wine-making techniques that would bring their brews close to their beloved Grand Crus. They have changed the balance between the three elements that makes wine – soil, grape and wine-making – and demonstrated that it is possible to compensate for the lack of the terroir magic with carefully applied wine-making techniques. It was no longer imitation of the ingredients or methods but an entirely new mix of components still designed to produce the same highly desirable outcome.

And this is how it is with social media/social software. There is no point in planting the vines of social web in the enterprise and expecting them to produce the same as they do outside in the open web. The soil is not the same, the terroir wildly different. If you want to achieve an outcome of similar quality and impact – better communication, more transparency, faster information exchange, more skilled and engaged employees, more and rewarding involvement with the outside world – you will have to take the grapes (the social media tools and software) and make sure that your ‘wine-making’ balances out what your environment lacks.

The most important things missing from the enterprise terroir is the individual autonomy. It is a sad and indisputable fact that anyone can do a lot more online outside their work than in the office. If companies want to get close to the social web magic, they will need to include this crucial ingredient into their approach. Treat your employees with respect and trust. Give them space to play and experiment. They will reward you with creativity and innovation. And if you do it right, with more respect and trust in return.

Ultimately, as every company has its own mixture of systems, culture and employees drive and skills, here are some tips for companies:

  • the best wines tend to be made by people who grow the plant the vines, harvest the grapes and then make the wine with love and care – the best use of social media comes from within the company, your own people who can combine understanding of social media/social software with your business, customers and processes. they can also look for new grapes, new ways to improve your techniques.

  • vineyards and winemakers often get experts in but these are invariably very accomplished practitioners with reputation that proceeds them. If you need external expertise make sure those you bring in have a proven record as well as understanding and respect for your terroir and know how to adjust their approach to it.
  • wine-makers share their experience, results of experiments, collaborate, even help each other practically – reach out to your peers, to exchange and compare notes, don’t just copy case studies or methodologies, respect your own terroir.
  • enjoy your experiments, they might actually be palatable, if not right now, then in the future. :)

*Judgement of Paris is a wonderful book written for 30th anniversary of the 1976 wine tasting by the reporter present at the event. Highly recommended.

What’s the real value of social software in enterprise

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Earlier today I spent several invigorating hours talking to two analysts, one of them is a good friend, who are gathering material for a case study on social software and collaboration and were interested in my approach and experience of introducing corporations to the world of social web/media/software. In a nutshell it is ‘technology comes after or behind people’ and I find the tools only as interesting as their functionality and usability helps people do whatever they need to do.

Social software has an added dimension, which is that it should not be handled or implemented by IT departments or even marketing or HR departments, and certainly not in a traditionally organised and run enterprise. So I wasn’t sure whether I could offer what they are looking for.

Interesting and worthwhile knowledge emerged from the discussion but I am yet to be convinced about it lending itself to case study format and whether it has any meaning within the current metrics requirements.

Here is an example: I described the ‘implementation’ of a wiki used by the staff in a team of about 40 people. The wiki has been set up for sharing of work priorities on a weekly basis, to notify others about absence from the office, projects, holidays, announcements. It was originally set up for one specific purpose – to save several hours a week for the person collating information into an email that became obsolete almost the moment it was dispatched to everyone.

Very quickly more information and functions were added as their usefulness became apparent. It would be fair to say that the wiki has turned, gradually and without much ado into a kind of team intranet. It has been ticking over in the background with the users driving and looking after it. Not the IT department which has had zero involvement.

Now what about the value of the wiki? The current metrics allow for a straightforward calculations based on time saved for the one person and then distributed across more people who now have contribute to the wiki. Not a huge deal really and the time saving alone would most likely not warranty the introduction of the wiki, if that’s how its implementation had been approached it.

The value of correct and better class of information, timely and updated as needed, adjustments to the type of information recorded, the focus the wiki brought to the department, the better communication seems always lost in such calculations. There are, after all, no metrics for it. However, true metrics zealots would deny there is value in the above and these are direct outcomes of the tool.

But what about the indirect ones? They are the most valuable aspects of the wiki’s impact but they cannot be tied in any measurable way to it.

1. The autonomy employees experience when driving not only the content but also the structure of a collaborative working place. The sense of ownership and ability to have impact – social software tools are almost exclusively under the control of the individual as they are build around the user (the good ones anyway) and this brings an unheard of degree of user-centricity to inflexible process-driven environments.

2. The first hand knowledge of the tool, the experience of its capabilities and limitations. The value there is those same employees will introduce the wiki they use regularly in one areas of work into other areas and projects. I’d argue that this is the most significant and long-term value of social media and social software tools at this stage of their use in enterprise. If anyone tells me they can put metrics on that, I’ll just call them a consultant (not a nice thing in my book!).

In short, the current metrics and the way we approach measurement of value in enterprise is deeply flawed and inadequate. The answer is to look at alternatives measures of value that we can’t see it for the metrics right now.

KM endangered species

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Patrick Lambe of Green Chameleon has some serious concerns about KM profession.

…I’m starting to get disheartened about knowledge management’s ability to mature and even survive as a profession. We’re just not serious enough about learning for learning’s sake, to improve the practice in organisations, to advance the cause. The people who seem most disposed to learn and share are consultants, who float between contexts but rarely have sustained impact in one context. And sustained impact is essential for collective learning in knowledge management, because the feedback loop is a long one, it can take years of sustained effort for an intervention to show results. We’re in a vicious cycle of stop-start interventions conducted in silos, where nobody stays long enough to learn what really works and doesn’t work in the long run, where nobody is willing to propagate that learning as it happens. It seems to me (exceptional individuals notwithstanding) we are not bold enough, not brave enough, not generous enough, to survive as a profession. Tell me I’m wrong.

Strong (and necessary) words. I recognise the symptoms so I would just add that the same applies to a few other professions and industries…

Change ‘typology’

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As promised, here are types of people within organisations. From the perspective of inducing change and building a network of allies. This is meant to be only half-funny.

The Professional – built a career on being good at what he does, can’t throw it all away, difficult to convince, especially if close to retirement and enjoying running the show (subset – professional executive). In times of change a follower, not the innovator or even an early adopter.

The Old Skool – had his moment of innovation in the past, introduced technology or associated with some other success. Resting on laurels a real temptation. However, can sometimes spot the same pattern in new changes and be a solid ally.

The Visionary – excited about new stuff, has far reaching ideas about how things will be (or should be!). Older visionary verges on obsession with the one idea that they have been pondering elaborating for years. Seemingly best ally but often lets down on execution (predictably) but also (surprisingly) on flexibility and curiosity. If still young, the zeal can be harnessed and help to get others on board.

The Maverick – holed up somewhere where he can do things his way, created a bubble where his ways are accepted/tolerated. Depending on power available to him can be either a grouchy sceptic watching from the sidelines (little or no power) or a true ally doing what he can (executive position). Obviously, the latter is a rare breed as not many companies have true mavericks in executive positions.

The Process Worshipper – the Agent Smiths of the system. Dangerous, if often well meaning. Focus on working the system and making everyone do the same. His approach to change is finding (or creating) a pipeline that could deliver it. Often relies on external third parties (agencies) for innovation and delivery. Draw strength and self-worth from following and imposing rules. Efficiency, metrics, objectives, deliverables is the mantra. Comes in several varieties e.g. the Language Abuser – uses buzzwords, phrases, charts without much meaning to create an air of importance. The Deliverer – applies himself to efficient implementation without much understanding of the big picture and what is needed. Competent and potentially helpful if the process-magic can be dispelled in his mind.

The Tech Whizzkid – early adopter of all things ‘digital’. Often understands original versions of the internet and hardware and software but equally often suffers from the not-made-here syndrome. Occasionally has Microsoft religion, in which stay away for he’ll want to standardise and impose uniform apps, platforms and whatnot! Can turn into a deadly enemy of change as he doesn’t want to lose his techie status.

The Geek – wants to know how things work, has no delusions about his ability to operate within the system and play power games. When in the office gets on what he knows best (and is paid for), then spends his free time learning and experimenting. Once convinced that his ‘outside the job’ skills and knowledge relevant, can be an enthusiastic and very competent ally.

The Technophobe - easily spotted thanks to apologetic statements “I am not really good at this technological stuff” combined with proud obsolescence. Usually have a good mind, with insistence on understanding things. Technophobia a result of bad experience or bad luck with technology that has no meaning for them. Once shown what technology can do for them, they become enthusiastic and very helpful allies indeed. Worth ‘converting’ but focus on usefulness and their capabilities essential.

The Disillusioned – spent years, if not decades in the job. Shed ambitions and dreams, but hasn’t been completely assimilated as the dissatisfaction nibbles away at his self-esteem. Feels hollow and worthless, scared of the future for he knows what it looks like. Secretly but passionately hates the system, the organisation, the meetings, presentations, business speak, away-days, socialising with colleagues etc. Can go two ways, either, hide it, trying to fit in, or turn into a maverick and the system-basher. Without much hope, of course,. His lack of confidence comes from the contrast of what could have been and what is. Sense of helplessness pervasive. Once understands the potential that change can bring, the best possible ally. This will become his hope for a better future and will participate ceaselessly. Anything to do with transformation can only be pried away from his dead cold hands.

The Biz or Sales Fiend – successful, hard and fast money-making machine. loves status and the accoutrements of business life, which he finds glamorous. works hard, plays hard. expects everyone to be pushed beyond endurance, including himself. thrives on deadlines, whether meeting them or setting them for others. no time for introspection, let alone the big picture. the meaning comes from a) richer and even more successful boss b) business school c) his ability to make more money and bully others. So why change? only worth engaging towards his twilight years when the buzz might have worn off and other things may be appearing on his radar. Or not.

There is more and this is work in progress. Feel free to add your versions!

Autonomy is the only metrics

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William over at the Ideal Government asks:

Is there a simple way of measuring how ready people are to change? Is there a quick and easy psychometric test or something which checks whether people “get it” and can cope with the workload of change? Presumably when a huge, deep, long-lasting change happens different people play different roles, advocating change, visionary leadership, adopting it early, pointing out all the potential drawbacks, adjusting new processes so they really work, or resisting it until death or retirement. There are 101 ways to be unresponsive to people’s needs, waste money, destroy people’s trust in the integrity of public services. There’s every imaginable way to block change. But how many ways are there to start to get it right?

This is of interest to me. Finding such people within businesses is the hardest part of what I do. What follows once you find them is not easy either but it pales by comparison to the challenge of reaching out to those who are ready to change. In organisations they can be hidden, masked, downtrodden (literally). What distinguishes them is not their job, status or position but a mindset conducive to openness, curiosity, individuality, creativity and a strong dose of common sense topped with a sense of humour.

But why is it not those who have been appointed and tasked to change and innovate? Because this is what I think about system change from within…


… you can’t do it.

Processes are created within companies to streamline the various functions people are meant to perform. There is no room for innovation or change, after all the objective is to remove what is deemed unnecessary or duplicated. This is usually done by someone else, not the person subjected to the processes.

More importantly, you cannot design for innovation at the level of process. It is like being forced to prepare a meal in a kitchen where you cannot deviate from the recipe. Where the tools and ingredients are laid out in a precise order (not necessarily bad) and you have to follow it exactly (not always good). Any deviation is only diminishes the effectiveness of the whole set up. It is like a breakfast machine in cartoons or comedies – the character wakes up, presses buttons, pulls levers and voilà his coffee is poured, toast prepared and buttered. Then something goes wrong, the sequence is lost and the process breaks down, to much hilarity. The unwitting lesson is that the contraption meant to make life easier can turn on you just as easily. Here is one that takes this to a whole new level.

Not sure how long this clip will stay up, many have already been removed from YouTube. Just search “breakfast machine” and “family guy” and you are sure to find one.

To continue with the cooking analogy, the best chefs are those who can improvise with what they have, substitute ingredients, re-arrange recipes, try entirely new ways of preparing food. It is still important to have good tools, well arranged kitchen or tried & tested recipes but it is the person, with his experience, creativity and freedom to use it who makes or breaks the meal.

When it comes to change, the best a process can do is help incremental innovation (and that’s pushing hard the limits of my opinion on such matters). It is of no use when you need to be flexible facing unforeseen or infrequent circumstances. It is certainly of no use in times of major changes or tectonic shifts in markets and technology. This is when organisations need alternative ways of doing things, ways that are not of their ossified system.

In such times, the balance of ‘impact’ shifts towards the individual. By this I mean that the individual has a greater chance to change the system. It is when the individual must redefine the system, instead of being defined and constrained by it. Constrained because humans are more flexible and adaptive that the systems they build.

There are exceptions of course, the US Constitution, Open Source and, of course, the internet. It is not that these systems are somehow inherently more flexible, it is that they play their role at the appropriate level. They provide the framework or in other words the ‘lever’ and the ‘fulcrum’ through which individuals can move the earth. What matters is the individual’s decision and freedom to use them. In other words, the autonomy to act and have impact.

So even if you can’t change the system from within, you can bring the change from the outside. This can be done through people within organisations. I would argue that it can only be done by them. What they need first, however, is to have a clear understanding of why the change is necessary, what it means to them and applies to their job or life. They also need to learn to use the technology and tools to bypass the bottlenecks and to lay foundation to the alternatives.

But what about the management responsible for results and functioning of the business? There are ways to satisfy the executives but their main role in this is to let everyone exercise as much autonomy as they need to use their energy and time building new things rather than defending themselves against the old ones.

And who are those willing to take the risk? This is where William’s quest becomes relevant. The challenge for anyone looking to change the old ways is to:

  • avoid existing and mostly dysfunctional processes

  • connect to the outside where the shifts are being defined
  • bring the change inside and apply it to their sphere of influence
  • find people to set up a loose and cross-functional network of allies who end up building alternative ways

The first three apply to those who have had their OFM. The forth is the hardest and involves co-operation, conversations, reaching out and most of all willingness to face the stigma of a disruptor. There rarely is innovation without disruption…

Tomorrow, I’ll post a ‘typology’ of people within organisations from the perspective of inducing change.

Quote to remember

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You spend a lot of money putting in control systems based on idealised process flows and ways of working. This applies in customer relationship management and health & safety alike along with many other fields. It looks really good on the flow charts. However the day to day reality of dealing with customers, or doing the job (say on an oil rig) means that people have to break the rules. Your business depends on their doing so and as long as it has a good outcome you ignore it. However if something goes wrong, you bring out that rule book and the idealised model and now you have someone to blame: the poor smuck who has been making your business work for you.
- Dave Snowden in The penny and the bun

Master slave relationship

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Business-as-usual has so far demonstrated remarkably little understanding of pretty much anything that’s going on online. And not only little understanding, but also little respect for those of us who made online our home, forged friendships and other relationships, built profiles and got on with writing, sharing, creating and generally having fun. I am coming to the conclusion that the reason why businesses are alien to the online world is deep seated. Many of the blogging, twittering, networking people have also jobs. Not like me but in serious offices, with systems and processes, bosses and colleagues. The very same companies that are paying good money to consultants and agencies to help them get a slice of the online ’social’ action. And yet the business applications we have seen so far of our ‘beloved’ social media are really scraping the bottom of the barrel (with respect to those who put them together) compared to the improvements and change they could unleash. And I agree with Euan on Enterprise 2.0 whilst we are at it… change happens through people behaviours, not projects and platforms.

It is not merely a matter of getting familiar with the tools and finding some justification for using them in business. It is their warped belief of where they belong in the universe that makes companies’ efforts online stand out like a sore thumb.

They bring their dysfunctional master-slave worldview with them and assume that a) we should be grateful for their very existence, services, products (see all the faux social networks being created by agencies and brands); b) we shall eagerly pounce on any offerings that they hype to be ‘for our benefit or entertainment’ (ditto plus various viral campaigns and faux blogs); c) we shall pay good money to them and only them, even if we can get it free elsewhere (news, movies and music etc); d) answer surveys, fill in questionnaires, share our information, profile, contacts (media websites, any new social network etc).

It is the last one that many of us have fallen prey to, most recently with the Quetchup sting… I got a few invitations from people I trust and was going to look into it. As I am travelling abroad with limited connection I couldn’t do it immediately, so I got to see Hugh’s apology for unwittingly spamming his contacts. Ugh.

I have known the horrible realisation that the application you were leisurely checking out – to keep up with the new developments, to flame it later on your blog, to discover the new must-have, whatever – suddenly turns you into a shameful spammer. I got stung by goowy and I was livid too. I remember breaking out in cold sweat recalling all the contacts I had in my email account who’d have little tolerance for such spam.

The fallout was contained in the end, mainly because my clients’s email filters managed to catch the spam invitations. Also, kudos to the CEO who apologised in the comments, understanding the reasons for my outrage. It was such a long time ago (January 2006) so you’d think that any launching application relying on people sharing their contacts would know better.

But things get worse.. and this is what sparked off my rant at the top of this post.

Everything you say or do on a social network could be fair game to sell to marketers. Rapleaf, based in San Francisco, is building a business on that premise.

Rapleaf sweeps up all the publicly available but sometimes hard-to-get information it can find about you on the Web, via social networks, other sites and, soon to be added, blogs. At the other end of the business, TrustFuse packages information culled from sites in a profile and sells the profile to marketers. All three companies appear to operate within the scope of their stated privacy policies, which say they do “not sell, rent or lease e-mail addresses to third parties.”

And that’s right. Marketers bring TrustFuse their own list of e-mail addresses to buy access to demographic, behavioral and Internet usage data on those people, according to the company’s privacy policy and sales documents.

In effect, TrustFuse is a matching service between the marketers’ e-mail lists and the online behavior of the people on those lists.

So nothing wrong there, right? What a marvellous use of all the information available about your customers online! Wasn’t it what all the blogging and social media consultants have been harping on about for years? Listen to your customers! Learn about us first…

Yeah, but not the way a master learns about his slave.

OFM or the ‘oh fuck it’ moment

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A commenter called Zakamundo has an insightful comment that Hugh turned into a posting. I left a lengthy comment of my own – got carried away there a bit – which I shall reproduce here for two reasons. It describes something of what I do and it gives me something to blog about during a week with a client. :)

"The way corporate life works is that change needs to come from the top down, as well as the bottom up. Feverish activity in the middle is at risk of being wasted."

Yes, and yes again. I see change as a laborious and slow building of a momentum (finding the genie and the neck of the bottle), which must be based on the understanding that you CANNOT change a system from within. What you can do is build a parallel alternative system/process/network with the notion of bypassing the existing one. Do this by doing things that work i.e. small projects under the radar, borrowing the motivation and dynamics for them from the internet…(tools, autonomy, simplicity). Then stand back and watch the bad bits of the company and its culture fight it. Whenever I get this far with my clients and the change to their companies, it always involves getting them into their discomfort zone. There is no ’safe’ way of doing this. Think of it as a controlled implosion.

I also know what Hugh means, small things/changes can impact even a big entrenched system but generally they tend to be too minute and therefore too fragile. Occasionally they start a snowball or tap into something bigger and cause a fundamental shift. This however does not offer companies much consolation as it cannot be easily understood, let alone replicated.

The change may be driven by people from within a system (and yes, they have to be at the top as well as bottom) but they really have to understand that they can’t use the system and its dysfunctional process to change it. There is too much resistance and by the time they crack it, the outside world has overtaken the company by a long way. And that is no route to innovation.

In my experience, the people who become part of change I try to bring to companies have what I call an ‘oh fuck it’ moment. They have tried to use the approved processes, implement tools and generally do things by the book. They run against a wall and attitudes that firmly hold it in place. When they realise this – it’s time for ‘oh fuck it, I am going to do this anyway’. And that’s when we get really started. :)

A corporate blogging method

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Corporate blogging is an oxymoron in my vocabulary. A company blog is no different from a website unless you have a person with sufficient
autonomy to give it his/her own voice. (There is always a possibility
for a group blog but they are better suited for a particular focus,
subject or a project.) Following that logic, give employees a chance to have voices of their own. In return, they will ‘lend’ them to the company. This is not a bad thing as most companies have lost theirs somewhere around marketing and communications departments.

Matt Moore offers an excellent set of recommendations how to grow a ‘blogosphere’ within a company. The two that I want to highlight are:

- Give them a list of things they absolutely cannot talk about. Try to
make it relatively short. You can’t make this list short? Then may be
you aren’t ready for this yet. If they want to check anything with you
then give them that option & respond quickly & decisively.

- Don’t treat them as another "channel" for messages – they are not a
ventriloquist’s dummy. But do treat them as conversational partners.

Ready the whole thing and save yourself money on a blogging consultant.

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