The Social Business is Dead Conversation Continues

The Conversation ContinuesI was humbled to see that my “Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next!” article on Brian Solis’ site struck a chord with a lot of people, igniting conversations around the web, inside big Social Business vendors and in online communities. It was shared in a positive context over 1,000 times, but it also seems a few people saw the hyperbole of the headline and didn’t read any further. Some friends like Stowe Boyd, even accused me of not understanding the difference between social media and social business – despite the fact that he knows differently from direct personal conversations, and from my work to define both concepts over the years in conversations just like this one taking place now about the future of work.

It is unfortunate, but not uncommon, to deal with these sorts of less than flattering comments in the egosphere of social media. Today more than ever, what we need for us to move forward is respectful and honest dialogue where we can discuss underlying concepts without unnecessary personal barbs. My post was about much more then marketing or memeology. It clearly wasn’t about social media in the external or marketing sense. A thorough reading of the lengthy article demonstrates I am most interested in hacking away at the underlying problems to develop new models for this new age.

Language is but one, albeit important, part of my Social Business is Dead post. The language we use must reflect our deeper intention and must resonate with its intended audience. In this case, the people who decide where to invest their organization’s capital was foremost on my mind. Words can divide us or unite us. They can inspire us or dampen our spirits. They can lift us up or cut us down. They can also describe a very complex idea, in seconds instead of hours, if you share a cultural or historical context with the writer, or if the concept can be readily conveyed through other devices and metaphors.

This is why we have talked over the years about the need for the back and forth of conversation to create understanding. Reading a phrase or a sentence is often not sufficient to understand where someone is coming from or where they are seeking to go. This is also a problem with our sound bite driven news cycles and those taking other people’s words out of context to make one position seem stronger at the expense of another.  If we truly care about driving forward positive outcomes for an organization, an industry or even society, we need to engage in respectful dialog with each other. We need to create an opportunity to really HEAR what someone is meaning with their words instead of passing it through our own biases and filters and distorting their intention and meaning.

It is for this reason that I made a call for leaders to come together in my post on Defining The Future of Work at the Work Hackers Summit. It is time to convene those who are using different language to define the future of work to create a compelling vision, discuss our differences, and find common ground to be stronger together then we are separately. Whether you are talking about Enterprise 2.0, Social Business, Responsive Organizations, Agile Business Enterprises, The Future of Work or any other term du jour, we are all mostly aligned around common outcomes using different language and different distinctions. Whether you use a combination of a Symposium and Open Space like we will be doing with the Work Hackers Summit, or you participate in a Chautaqua like Boyd suggests doesn’t matter. Coming together is what matters. Learning what methods work best in which situations for achieving key results matters. Spreading and sharing our success matters. Convening a diverse set of perspectives in respectful dialog matters. And what matters most to me, as with Social Media Club previously, is helping more individuals realize their power to fix what is broken and to create greater value for themselves, their employers, their clients and society.

So What Was The Real Point of “Social Business is Dead”?

The point I was trying to convey in my article on Social Business is Dead was in part about the language around Social Business losing its power and allure, but ultimately about the need for an easier to understand vision for the future of work, to define it’s unique characteristics and to collaboratively work together on the development of a map on how we get from here to there. It was also, in part, about a need to inspire and empower more individuals to find courage to hack work – to fix what is broken, and to strive to adapt the world to us ‘unreasonable’ people. It was also, obviously, about saying something a little controversial to expand the conversation I’ve been having with consultants, technology vendors, VC’s, authors and senior executives over the past several months.

In Boyd’s piece, he puts this in different terms saying that “Social Business isn’t Dead, But It Isn’t Enough Either”, in part supporting my underlying position while debating my headline. While I am grateful that he would respond directly to me in his blog post and share it with his readers, it is strange that he didn’t seem to disagree with my “Social Business” being dead position when I spoke with him about it at the Work Revolution Summit in September.

What I know, and you know if you are reading this, is that the world has fundamentally changed. The connected society in which we now live is markedly different from the post-industrial one. Organizations have to change structurally, operationally and technologically. More specifically, they need to recognize that, in Bill Jensen’s words, “humans aren’t resources, they are assets and should be treated accordingly.” But ultimately there is so much that needs to change in light of our recent technological and sociological advancements, it is nearly impossible to address all of it in a single post or even a single book.

In today’s world of business, EVERYTHING MATTERS, and there is no simple string theory yet to describe the future state we seek. Which is why I am calling for us to come together at the Work Hackers Summit in early February 2014 (details TBA) to talk about it respectfully with one another. We need more entrepreneurs to develop new tools for self management as I am doing with my new startup Alynd. We can shine a light on the things that are no longer working inside large organizations and small ones as I did during my time at Deloitte. We can each contribute our insights from our experiences and make a bigger difference together.

What I know is that the organizational structure needs to change. The way the organization is governed needs to change. The way we work together needs to change. How we create value needs to change. And yes, how we talk about it needs to change too.

What I also know is that none of this might happen until there is total collapse of the corporate structure or the socioeconomic environment in which we operate. I am hopeful this need not be the case, but we have seen this happen to countless industries as demonstrated in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report for 2013 where she points out how the mighty have fallen and our need to rethink everything. This revolution needs to come from the bottoms up AND the top down, everyone, from every perspective needs to rethink what they are doing and why.

What I tried to convey, and what many people who read the entire Social Business is Dead blog post realized, was that there is a need for action. That leaders, change agents and work hackers alike need to find courage, tell the emperor he has no clothes, embrace failure, and continue to try and fix things. As I said in my closing paragraph:

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is not to get caught up in the words, but to connect with each other and figure out how to re-imagine our broken corporations and set about trying to fix them. Fail fast, fail often and find the greatest success possible.

I tried to get a lot of the points I saw as leading us to our future into my post, perhaps I just used too many of them.

I tried to paint a picture of the pain so many people are experiencing inside their broken organizations and to explain why the most talented are fleeing big organizations.

I tried to explain that the word “social” is not the word that is inspiring leaders to invest in better models, better processes or better people.

I also explicitly stated:

While I believe Social Business’ time has come and is now gone, I still am one of the believers. The idea, the need and the opportunity are simply too huge to ignore. Words are powerful. Words are important. But the idea is too big, the pull too strong and the need too great to be held back by the failure of two words to win the attention and budgets of corporate leaders.

Thankfully, my article resonated with many people and seemingly only turned off a few.

From my perspective, it is great either way because we need the conversation. Don’t let the debate or debaters distract you from what really matters. It’s not what I say or do that will change your world. It’s not what anyone else says or does. It is what you do. It is what you say. And as I close again, I will cite one of my heroes who has lifted myself and many others… as Howard Rheingold says “what it is –> is up to you!”

  1. #1 by leebryant - October 30th, 2013 at 06:43

    Hi Chris,
    I am struggling slightly to understand the substantive point of difference, beyond simply how we label a consulting offering, since the original piece suggests that you are not really changing your services model (?). I wrote a piece when we started our new venture about why I think all these labels are imperfect and ultimately unimportant : . The last thing we need is religious wars over banners and flags given we are all essentially pointing in the same direction (which is not to suggest you are wrong to publish your post BTW).
    There is a certain arrogance in declaring something ‘dead’ of course, especially something you were only a part of, and I guess this is where some of the pushback to your piece comes from. Get 10 people together and you will probably find 10 different conceptions of what ‘Social Business’ actually means. For example, Altimeter continue to pump out pretty basic stuff about social media marketing, but they still call it social business.
    I don’t think social business is the best label for the many-faceted work we need to do in order to create better, more human businesses that are more in tune with their customers and societal stakeholders. But my experience of actually doing this work with lots of different organisations has been more positive, and I have found that when you express your goals in terms that are more specific to the operation of business, smart leaders are quite capable of understanding why it is important. I have always tried to avoid watering down what I do just to make it easier to sell, for that is not my primary goal.
    I like your (and Stowe’s) references to changing the nature and experience of work, and I think this is one important strand if we want to take these ideas forward. But without structural changes in the way organisations operate, this will not be possible. That, if anything, is what I think social business is/was about. E2.0 was about bringing in the tech, and the future of work is about culture, behaviour and individual practice, but somewhere in the middle we still have a very long way to go if we are to create new and better social structures inside companies that make the most of social technology and aim to support and enable a new culture of work.
    If there is a better word than ‘social’ that connotes social structures, social science, human behaviour and networks made of people, then I am all ears, but if a serious business leader thinks it means lunch (or Lenin) then the problem lies with them, not us, and perhaps we should do a better job of educating them (or making them less afraid of the world and their precarious position within it).
    Thanks for the two pieces – good food for thought – and I look forward to continuing a debate about what we do and why, rather than what we wear to the party. I like your stuff, and the thinking behind Alynd, so I hope we stay in touch. If I can make the work summit, I would love to chat about it more in person over a delicious project plan and a bottle of spreadsheet ^^^ I am meal and wine, of course 😉

    • #2 by chrisheuer - October 30th, 2013 at 14:18

      leebryant Thank you for the thoughful reply Lee. Always good to hear your perspective.
      It’s a really complicated matter to discuss. One that defies the ability to find simple language. Given the experience of the last few weeks in both private and a small number of public conversations, I agree with you about not wanting it to be a religious war of some kind as was happening around Social Business vs. Social Enterprise vs. Enterprise 2.0 even – not that the people within those movements consciously wanted to war over the language, but the corporate interest in ‘owning the movement’ is clear, and to the victors of that war goes the spoils. That is not my intent to enable or support them, but rather to find a more common vernacular that helps everyone connect around similar concepts – much as Porter did with Competitive Advantage and O’Reilly did with Web 2.0 (though I guess that is another story isn’t it?)
      Agreed about the challenge of calling something dead and what affects that has on the discussion – I do call it out as hyperbole here to be clear for that purpose. To that extent though, sometimes a little poke stirs a whole lot more thinking and engagement then saying something like “Is Social Business not Resonating?” – at least I can be honest about this, as I continue to operate with the same intellectual and personal integrity I have always done in this regard. It’s one of the reasons some of the personal barbs bug me so much, because anyone who knows me will tell you I am often too transparent with intentions and motivations etc… anyway, not to make it overly personal, so I will move on.
      I really like your delineation on these ideas in your comment LeeSocial Business – about structural changes in how orgs operateEnterprise 2.0 – about bringing in the technologyFuture of Work – about culture, behaviour and individual practice
      If only everyone understood this the same way instead of making it more about their unique spin on it. Still, even at that level, I guess you can say I am looking for the string theory that ties it all together. As mentioned, for me that has always been holistic business strategy, another long post Brian was kind enough to publish on his site for me
      As you know, I have been a long time proponent of the social adjective in describing what is different about this era. I’d still like to be. But as with Knowledge Management, there has been so much bastardization and tarnishing that I fear it is forever tainted. Maybe I am too early to make this judgment as some suggest and we should give it more time and as you say, put the onus on the leaders who misunderstand this to be lunch and Lenin (love that btw). I do that to some extent in my original post, pointing ‘blame’ to the system, the leaders and us – that is a total failure. But that is also why I wanted to start this conversations. 
      We all need to be aligned. In this way, I think of it as an open standard that we can all plug into, much as we can with API’s in technology as it were. The more we can get people on the same platform, the more powerful the network effects will be. This will lead to the realization of greater value in shorter time… I know, I know, David Weinberger and many others have told me I am too impatient with this stuff still – acting like I am still the starry eyed 24 yr old entrepreneur instead of a 20 year veteran of the industry.  Or like that young bull from the movie “Colors”.
      But I have seen the results in chemistry and ecosystems that when the right catalyst is applied, amazing things can happen fairly fast. I have seen this happen from true leaders with words of inspiration. My hope is that we together can create this inspiration. That a conversation together is the first step towards making this a better world for all.

  2. #3 by joachimstroh - October 30th, 2013 at 14:02

    Thank you for the follow-up, Chris. Really enjoyed both of your posts and, more importantly, the thoughtful and deep (for the most part) conversation it created. I just wanted to share with you and your readers one visual that came out of the G+ thread, also relating to your above post
    > The connected society in which we now live is markedly different from the post-industrial one.

  3. #4 by dhdeans - October 30th, 2013 at 14:18

    Chris, I bet it doesn’t really matter what you call it, savvy CEOs are moving on and cutting budgets

  4. #5 by chrisheuer - October 30th, 2013 at 15:12

    One other clarification I should have added above, but felt it was too long to address as it was.
    It’s not that I wanted to derail the great work already done in the Social Business space, but that I want us to have clarity on this idea as a “platform” might, where every new person who can connect to it and leverage it has a network effect that enriches the whole. Based on my experience, the language has become more of a barrier than an accelerator. And yes, there are many studies, including the recent Altimeter one that assist in raising awareness of what this meme actually means. And yes, there are many good consultants, inside change agents and other leaders who know what we really mean underlying these terms. That is awesome and good for everyone. 
    But I also am aware that the studies showing it is moving forward and gaining traction is not lining up to where leaders are investing actual money for the long term structural changes and cultural ones that are needed to respond to shifts in societal expectations and values – in some ways the surveys and survey process itself creates a bias in the response, especially when coming from well known and insightful analysts. 
    When they ask “So what role do you think this ‘Super Happy Fun Ball’ will play in your organization’s future?” unless they have been given thorough briefings, studied it and made a determination on its value to them and their org, chances are they will say something non-committal like ‘we are evaluating it’s potential’ lest they be looked at as a fool by the analysts, their people and the market. Just as with their underlings, what leader wants to say “I don’t know what that is. I am completely unaware and uninterested.” So instead, the survey’s do not always represent the reality on the ground, much as the maps we draw don’t represent actual lines on the ground between states…

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