Learning Faster not Social Business or a Big Shift

January 20, 2010

in Knowledge Innovation, Networks, Knowledge and Social Media

Learning Faster not Social Business or a Big Shift

Business is a social construct that is changing. Stowe points to an article by Tom Friedman today. Sometimes we really should think about consultant speak. I’m know I can be guilty of it too. Still using words and reinventing phrases to put a new lens or insight out there isn’t always hopeful. The problem is this isn’t really new. The future for business is not #socialbusiness.

The article and blog post points to John Hagel whose been doing some research he calls “The “Big Shift”. Tom Friedman uses it as a way to express how he thinks about China. Taking another lens to work out how things make sense or give it credibility. Stowe writes “By creating more relationships — even those based on weak ties — the social business increases its IQ.” He also recognizes it is easy to get too simplistic about the message. I’m also not sure what he mean’s re weak ties in this case and re Tom F “China’s networks” have been studied before – old news. Like lean manufacturing.

Separately, other research has shown that “slow moving” organizations never really catch up (big risky OD projects which shareholders don’t like). You can’t catch those that learn faster easily. However, you can identify those in the organization that both enable and accelerate learning. Unfortunately, the real issue is most organizations don’t put a lot of value on those people, whether or not they use the latest social tools. This meme for a “social business” focus may aim organizational change efforts further in the wrong direction. It may sell some software, it doesn’t deal with how we learn or what the coming issues of real-time flows are.

I’ve split the points Tom made about the BigShift up into points. The reason I’m doing this… is to ask: Why? Why? Why is this important? What we really need to understand is the underlying drivers of change.

We are shifting from a world where the key source of strategic advantage was in protecting and extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks —

Yes… we know that the organization was an effective structure for hoarding information and extracting value from it. Effectively high communications and data crunching costs concentrated power in very large organizations. Possible why’s?  Eg Why is this important? What changed? Drill down. Transparency, API’s, open source, outsourcing, personal job security, personal clouds, etc… It is not a given that an organization must be more “socialbusiness” to have advantage. Example Apple.

the sum total of what we know at any point in time, which is now depreciating at an accelerating pace —

This is not new… it has always been true. Communications and access has really shaped this. But where is the Why? Why does this really seem important? Agile methods? customer power/aggregation? New inventions? Information wants to be free? Few people really know anything. The primary change is around information aggregation. Search limits the need to aggregate and hoard. Hoarding info no longer really works. We move from a CC world to a publish world. That also provides more transparency. So is it visiting with customers more often or seeking deeper understandings and being willing to ask new questions?

into a world in which the focus of value creation is effective participation in knowledge flows, which are constantly being renewed.

This has also always been true. Henry Ford was in the right place at the right time. It once was the biggest Universities, or Defence Department think-tanks. However this statement is too simplistic. Being in “today’s” knowledge flow isn’t necessarily insightful or helpful. Real knowledge has always flowed downstream. So if you want it you must go way upstream. The river may flow faster now yet if you can’t be secretive about it… you may not have an advantage. Thus the importance of alpha users, scientists and many more. From an organizational perspective this takes you outside, it takes you to users, remarkable people, conversation places etc. It requires filters. People will also network first for themselves. Underlying this… business maybe becoming more qualitative. Judgments matter at the leading and bleeding edge. So just so we are clear. Participation in knowledge flows only matters when focused or when we are “open” and listening. If ‘social business” teaches people to “listen better” then it will also grasp the first lesson I’ve always provided about social media. Listen first. Organizations particularly poor ones… are lousy listeners.

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.”

This is why I wrote this piece. This has always been true. Don’t believe this is new. Organizations go to their research co’s, design co’s, suppliers, advertising agencies etc. The larger they are.. the more opportunity they have had. Concurrently in a more competitive world suppliers also are using their own means to find an edge. This is not new. What’s changed is the organization can 1)harness more involvement (although they need training), 2)do more from a desk or anywhere, 3)asynchronous – response times are going to zero and 4)find the emerging stories that will compel their networks to act.  In fact successful organizations spin off their people… churn is also important to the renewal of ideas. Still I don’t think “social business” is about tools. I think it is about leadership and great management. Anyone that says… “we’re getting” or we’re now implementing “social business programs” isn’t teaching their organization to learn faster and that’s what really matters. It also won’t happen in cultures of fear.

And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

What I think this means is the cost of communications reduces economic friction. However, at issue is the quality of your knowledge network, not the size of it. Filters matter, content matters. However the type of people you employ may be different. Curiosity matters. Synthesis matters. Trust in your network is key. No trust then none of this will matter. An ear to the ground is only the half of it. Same with one only focused on the future.

Therefore, the more your company or country can connect with relevant and diverse sources to create new knowledge, the more it will thrive. And if you don’t, others will.

I was involved in Michael Porter’s Competitiveness of Nations analysis over 20 years ago. We looked deeply at what created the conditions where a country thrived. From my perspective the best example was NZ Yachting then which has now gone global as part of the America’s Cup.  This last line is too simplistic an argument. It should not be applied to why business should be more social. Business was always social. Business always connected. The business idea is really just a conversation. It’s a construct which many people understand and can tell a story about. It’s the stories that are social. This is the reason that competitive businesses harness tools and approaches that 1) help them learn faster, look upstream, iterate and spread learnings rapidly. It’s why for 20 years I’ve used Scenarios and facilitation programs inside organizations.

Unfortunately, we  also link the idea of social business to Tweets which may be important in sharing the stories and good stories are viral and quick. However, social business is not effective at finding the innovative insights that create value in tomorrow’s world. For that you have to look upstream and yes out of your comfort zone.

And if you don’t, others will.

This is sort of the consultant’s threat line. Ask yourself what programs you can implement that make your organization

  • A better listener
  • Ask better questions
  • Bring more of the outside in
  • Make it easier to experiment and fail
  • Effectively capture and tell more stories

via Thomas Friedman on John Hagel’s Knowledge Flows – /Message.

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