In a virtual world, what do we mean by “Community”?

Back in the day, when tribes were really tribes, the most critical need within a community was survival. Separating from the group introduced risk. Staying close improved your chances. In some ways, little has changed. These conditions seem strangely familiar.

No wonder an emotional connection often exists among the people and places of our local communities.

Borrowing from the anthropology books, the community of practice (“CoP”) concept emerged. It was coined by Lave & Wenger in the early 1990’s to reflect the tendency for professional groups to form based on common interests, independent of local boundaries. With a gradual introduction of work group and email technology, geographic constraints diminished. Knowledge Management (KM) brought recognition that groups in remote places could collaborate.

Today, social media dramatically improves on that capability, serving to amplify, accelerate, and even multi-thread interactions. But there’s a need to strike a balance between capability and usability. For a virtual community to survive, some key ingredients are required:

  1. A common, stated purpose (affinity).
  2. An aligned culture that values participation, cognitive diversity and discovery.
  3. Strong, cohesive relationships, built via engagement, trust and mutual respect.
  4. Support from authoritative external leaders (if applicable), and (at least) rudimentary governance.
  5. Awareness of diverse contexts (recognizing differences across functional silos, or along social vs. commercial, or local vs. global dimensions). This implies an ability to manage your mental filters.
  6. Semantic clarity.
  7. Strong connection (or access), providing intuitive ways for members to interact.

Virtual communities cut across traditional geographic, social and political boundaries; membership in many groups is possible. This allows cultures to mix. With increased interdependence comes new complexity. So it’s a mistake to believe virtual communities work just like the local ones. In the physical world, we had nonverbal cues; getting our bearings involved our ‘line of sight’. Now, we must rely on our ‘line of thinking’. And that can change quickly.

If a traditional community gives us a social context and a sense of place, a virtual community gives us optional contexts, diverse ways to view a problem and its solutions.

It’s more capability, with a price .. it takes more rigor to drive it.

Social media is just a platform, the next set of tools. The hard work of change remains. Is our culture more aligned with a race to the future? Or is our desire for stability prompting us (even subconsciously) to cling to the past?

I’m an optimist, but many take the latter perspective. For the ultimate answer, I’m holding on to the complexity view: the optimal solution is likely someplace in the middle.

The Problem with “Social” in Social Media (the case for ‘New Media’ and the semantics of 2.0)

The other day, I had an epiphany.

In one window, I’d been watching a series of tweets on how State CIO’s put collaborative tools at the bottom of their 2010 technology priority list, even though their top 3 strategic goals included better management of labor costs, workforce optimization, sharing of work .. in a nutshell: productivity.

In another window, I’d watched die hard SMCHAT members bemoan the boss who wouldn’t let them communicate via blogs, for fear they were wasting time. Forget the great ideas and potential innovations that were emerging.

Finally, the last straw: several high ranking execs were talking strategy, and one of them referred to the corporate adoption of SM, aka Enterprise 2.0 (#E20), as “Facebook behind the firewall.”

That’s when I snapped, so to speak.

From here out, I’m calling it facebook syndrome. You may know someone who has it too. It assumes social media is just about planning parties and swapping pictures, and it definitely doesn’t help with management buy-in.  In fact, there are two working definitions of social. One connotes entertainment, and another, the one we’re talking about for Government 2.0 (#GOV20) and E2.0 and any serious commercial application is about building new work groups; facilitating new engagement for problem-solving; driving better partnerships; enabling culture change; and, quite literally, unlocking innovation.

Let’s change the game. Let’s rally around a new name .. like “new media” perhaps? .. for commercial applications. And to sell it, let’s demonstrate a basis for measuring actual productivity gains, showcasing the people working closely together on shared problems that only recently had never met.

Watch people get excited about coming to work again.

It’s not social media that we’re chasing. It’s the networked learning organization. To get beyond images of wedding crashers, the solution language needs to reflect the mission.

Enterprise 2.0: Can we get there from here?

Most would say Enterprise 2.0 is a future state: a time when people inside corporations are connected and engaged, a world where social media has taken hold. That’s how I like to frame it. Arguably, with cynics in the majority, progress will be gated by historical inertia in business, with deep organizational silos and a crowded graveyard of failed management “silver bullets”. Without a doubt, to overcome  an industrial management culture that is over 100 years old, we face a difficult journey.

We must ask: “Can we get there from here?”

On TUES at 8 pm ET, starting 9/29, we will premiere the #e20ws workshop. This session will be highly interactive: (a.) we’re going to work to attack the challenges in corporate social media adoption, and (b.) we’re going to produce useful ideas that you can bring back to your office. We’ll run this alternate weeks, so plan for 2nd and 4th Tuesdays (follow-on sessions: 10/13, 10/27, etc.).

Here’s our agenda, to get the conversation started.

  • T1. Goals, Objectives, Framing
  • T2. e20 Challenges of Silo Culture.
  • T3. e20 Standards, Alignment and Diversity of Thinking.
  • T4. e20 Engagement (n:n).
  • T5. e20 SM Technology (intro).
  • T6. Next Steps.

For more background reading, check out core principles of social media, provided by #smchat.

There won’t be time in one session to complete the above agenda; we simply want to lay the ground work for future discussions. I’ve hosted other “#chat” groups, (#smchat, #ecosys) and I think you’ll find the conversations are fast-paced, insightful, and a good source for networking with thought leaders.

I hope you’ll use the opportunity to engage, learn, and network. In fact, just by being there you’ll be participating in the social media experience.

I look forward to working with you on this.

Chris Jones (@SourcePOV)
Consulting Principal, SourcePOV, Cary, NC

The Path to Enterprise 2.0 (a Virtual Workshop)

Look around your company. Are teams working at cross purposes? Are you seeing good ideas get sidetracked? Do organizational silos and the politics that go with them result in project delays and failures?

You’re not alone.

It’s time to engage with others tackle these challenges and identify new ways to enhance productivity in your organization. You’re invited to participate in a bi-weekly Twitter-based conversation (#e20ws), beginning Tuesday, September 29 at 8 pm ET. We’ll discuss culture, engagement, alignment and technology. And that’s just for starters.

If you need some background on Twitter chats and hashtags, you’ll find that in more detail here.

All corporate professionals are welcome, but teams that generate insights, make connections, and share ideas across the organization will get the most value. These days, that’s almost everybody. But to create some focus: think Marketing, HR, Communications/PR, Customer Service and IT.

As with any public event, you’re responsible for exercising good judgment. Here are some pointed suggestions:

  • never share proprietary information about your company;
  • unless you’re an independent consultant, avoid references to your company in your Twitter ID and profile;
  • if your ID includes corporate branding, add a disclaimer along the lines of “views shared are my own, not necessarily those of my company;”
  • if your company has a social media policy, become familiar with it before engaging in online, public conversations.

In a sense, it’s no different than a regular public conference: you’re under no obligation to speak up. What’s different, however, is that direct, real-time interaction is just a few key strokes away. To access the live chat stream, simply launch the Tweetchat application at the appointed time:

http://tweetchat.com/room/e20ws

That’s it! Now, all you have to do is show up and bring your point of view. Plan to network and learn in real time with some of the most engaging, insightful folks in industry. 20th century silos and workgroup problems have been daunting for everyone. The 21st century is already in progress. We’re saving you a seat.

Chris (@SourcePOV)

Twitter Gets Down to Business: Unlocking 1:n Collaboration for the Enterprise

Companies seeking to innovate want to spark collaboration, but the path is often elusive. Twitter is positioned to help change this.  It’s founders have recently started talking about opening up microblogging in the commercial space, per a recent interview w/ Biz Stone.

But first, there’s a hurdle.  Companies must start to trust employees to communicate openly on shared topics inside the firewall. In theory, that shouldn’t be so hard. It simply means employees must exercise judgment, as has always been required, deciding when email, phone or (heaven forbid) face to face meetings would be more appropriate means to share something. But because the new mode of communication is out in the open, the bar is raised. Judgment will be even more important.

Point made. I believe employees will see the value of 1:n collaboration and will step up to the plate.

When execs and IT realize the water is safe? That’s when Twitter (or micro-blogging tools like it) will start unlocking doors.

What is 1:n (or “one to many”) communication? We’ve all been buried by emails and convoluted distribution lists that would have been far better served as an “open wire” dialog or chat.  It’s the input that creates your opportunistic “oh, I didn’t know that was happening” response.  Today only Twitter can efficiently spark that electronically in real-time.

I believe Twitter and solutions like it will have an evolutionary impact on communications when they begin to take hold.

Given the chance, most want to help drive an innovative idea or solution. They seek to get their ideas in circulation. 1:n communication is the better mousetrap.

Not to sound impatient, but why wait?  Security in the corporate setting was solved long ago.  Granted, when information is going outside and across the firewall, who uses Twitter and definitions of “safe ground” for tweet content is a bit more complicated.   There have been some great posts on the ‘spectrum’ of corporate views on how to interact with the public using Twitter including Marketing, PR & Customer Service guidance.  This aspect is evolving.

But let’s not sacrifice the internal work group benefit to wait for the external Marketing & PR side to catch-up.

It’s time to get down to the business of effective 1:n corporate communication. Twitter represents a powerful new medium for more effective enterprise collaboration.

Become an advocate for change in your organization.  Help take the “social” out of Social Media by putting it to work on important business conversations.  That leg-up will give Twitter the chance to work it’s collaboration magic in the enterprise.

Start brainstorming with your colleagues, how could you leverage “1:n” communication to solve business problems?

(Thanks to a blog post by George M. Tomko with a comment by Nigel Legg, where portions of this post first appeared as a comment; you guys got me thinking on an important topic !! CJ)

Organization Change: the ‘Organic’ POV

In times of dramatic change and crisis, executives (perhaps in line with human nature) revert to known formulas .. tapping structured, controlled and seemingly “safe “solutions. In Stephen Billing’s blog “Organizational Change is Not a Relay Race” he warns against relying on formal & rigid decision processes in times of crisis. Most dangerous: hand-offs between executives, consultants and HR .. passing the baton of responsibility from runner to runner.

We’ve all seen this happen. If you’re leading an organization in crisis, it is no time for hand-offs. It introduces delay, dilutes both message content and ‘signal strength’ .. and in the end, serves to diminish trust. But to really get at the core of the disconnect, we need to understand how change works.

I frame the issue as two contrasting views: the organization as machine vs. the organization as living organism.

In the latter view, change brings in an organic element. Transformations take place in every cell.  Granted, there are communication and control processes present in the organism too; each cell plays a vital role, as in a machine.  But in a living organism, just as within an organization, success (survival and adaptation) depend on symbiotic adjustments from every minute part of the system.

No doubt the industrial age has influenced the thinking of executive management.  But we must now choose our relational paradigms more carefully, especially at times of crisis when time is short and emotions are running high.

Machines excel at repetition. Living organisms excel at change.

Take a good look, there’s plenty of change and crisis to go around.  What kind of organization do you need to be?

Downside of Scale in the 21st-Century (re: Agility)

Recently came across a good post by Oliver Marks (@OliverMarks) covering a brief CNBC interview w/ Deloitte’s John Hagel.  The topic was the cummulative economic impact of large scale operations, and the ever-declining Return on Assets (ROA) across industry over the last 40 years.  The conclusion derives from basic business economics.  As assets get ever larger, returns from those assets, ROA, will trend to zero. Incremental productivity gains lose their impact.

The implications of this are important.

As you watch the Hagel video, you’ll hear him say “no back to normal”.  Complacency, especially  in corporate America, seems to have clouded our long-term economic view.  As Hagel alludes, executives seem to be waiting for the next economic cycle to bring us back to the good old days.  But when we continually build ever larger companies with ever more complex infrastructures and systems, we lose our ability to get meaningful value for that investment. 

The operational implication is even more problematic.  Due to scale, it becomes increasingly difficult to make strategic or even tactical adjustments.  Progress becomes gridlocked.  We lose our ability to compete. 

Look around your own company.  Are you seeing this happen? 

The flattened knowledge economy drastically cuts transaction costs, bringing global and niche competition head to head with the traditional market giants.  Where scale once provided muscle to fend off competition, that muscle has effectively turned to fat.  The extra weight prevents the agility needed to adapt to new demands, upstart competition, and wholly transformed markets. 

How can we hope to make money, when the answer to every problem is to buy and/or build more infrastructure?  Large scale operations require maintenance and up-keep, care and feeding.  It’s a problem that doesn’t go away.  A viscious circle.

It’s no longer enough (if it ever really was) to try to ‘think entrepreneurial”.  Small and nimble companies are developing a clear advantage in the new global marketplace. They lack the bureaucracy that blocks collaboration, that shields executives from shifting market paradigms, that strands innovators in organizational silos.

If your company is large and getting larger, it won’t be a question of competition.   The more important question:  will you be lean and agile enough to survive?