social media

objects can see you back

Mobile is over. Pervasive is here. What about privacy?

objects can see you backYou’ve may have already noticed that the mobility is issue over and done. In fact, mobile, social, wearable and the internet of things have converged. What remains is to understand what it all means. What just happened to us?

Sitting in Starbucks a few months ago with my 8-year old daughter, we were playing 20 questions. She chose an oddly specific creature, a black and white warbler, but she had a spotty knowledge of its habits. Turns out she was doing a little research project on the bird. She knew its song and its size, but not its habitat. So with my iPhone and Starbucks free WiFi, we Googled the bird, and were able to find facts, images, and even hear its song. Mobile can be beautiful.

Super powers and Artificial Senses

Your iPhone, or Android, or whatever, may be in your hand more than your car keys, your silverware and your loved ones combined. It gives you superpowers. You have in your hand a super-human sense of everything from location and speed to radiation, food freshness, proximity, blood pressure and much more. It also gives you constant access to our “continually improving, communal, prosthetic memory” (thank you, Gibson), known as the internet (I have always found the capitalization of internet disturbing. Don’t do it. Just live with the green underlining.)

Your phone also gives you, should you choose to accept it, a constant awareness of the world around you – whether its telling us about the latest sports hero or dictatorship to go down, Bezos buying the Washington Post, or the earthquake you’re about to be rattled by. We have constant contact with our kith and kin. It gives you protection in uncertain circumstances and aid in emergencies. It can be a Geiger-counter, a blood pressure monitor or more. It gives you freedom. Certainly it gives my kids theirs – I’d never let them roam untethered.

We have seen phones, connected to social networks, catalyze the fall of tyrannical regimes, and coordinate aid in disasters. We’ve seen them both record and create historic events.  The medium is indeed the message. [McLuhan understood so very deeply, so early. Of course he was also witnessing a social revolution.  The 1960s and 70s reexamination of social mores hardly compares with the revolution we are seeing today, but today’s social refactoring will play out over a longer time horizon. Maybe.]

A third way – neither animate nor inanimate

There is no longer a simple dichotomy between animate and inanimate objects.

There is a new class of objects. I’ll call them signalers. They are objects that send signals.  These include your phone of course., along with many other things. Soon to be a nearly infinite number of things.  Your thermostat, for example, always was a sensor. It sensed temperature, and turned on or off your furnace accordingly. Your Nest, however, does more. It monitors, and adjusts, but also attempts to record patterns and adjust according to those patterns, which is interesting, but still not the point. The point is that Nest knows when you are likely to be home and your temperature preferences and it is iphone app controllable, which means that data is stored in someone’s cloud. Not your cloud. This is true also of your GPS, of course.

Your box of cornflakes is not a signaler, but a signal. When you buy your cereal, it is scanned. The price is displayed and added to your grocery bill. It is also logged with the grocery store inventory processes, and, of course their marketing database. Because the supermarkets now give very large discounts  for joining their clubs, along with gas discounts and others – few of us are radical enough to resist joining. Not to mention the fact that this same information is also registered with your financial institution because you probably paid with another signaler – a bank card or credit card. This began decades ago, but back then they were collecting data with little ability to do much with it. Well big data has come a rather long way – and now Target can detect your unwed teenage daughter’s pregnancy before you can.

Now objects can see you back.

We are used to being anonymous in an inanimate world. No longer. Your objects are pumping you information at the same time as they are pumping it back to some central location. Who’s watching and why? The government is watching some of it, and you can be certain that the company who sells or services your object/service is also watching. Probably to maximize their profits, and sometimes to also maximize your enjoyment. Apple wants to know what you listen to so that they can sell you more. Target and Safeway want your information so that they can sell you more. The government wants your information to track down bad guys, or possibly for other reasons such as public health or protection of civil rights (rather than, we hope the suppression of them).

In 1995 I was working for a now-defunct startup where I played with complexity theory. FedEx hired us to do a tiny project for them.

They were exploring smart packaging. If packages were imbued with certain kinds of intelligence, would they be able to smartly route themselves along the most efficient route? Routing millions of packages globally throughout the world is a very hard problem. Optimizing the routes is extremely difficult – especially when you need to deal with things like scheduling changes, weather events, natural disasters and so forth. So FedEx was exploring the notion that the best possible solution to route optimization is to allow the packages themselves to detect and connect to their local environment and make their own routing decisions locally.

My simulation, of course, showed packages routing themselves around the world very efficiently, gracefully rerouting themselves around obstacles and dramatically reducing overall transit time for the system compared with the traditional centralized, predetermined routing system.

Those packages were not exactly inanimate.  They were smarter than your box of cornflakes.  They were like robots in that they could detect and react, and they can phone home.

For now, as you’ve noticed, FedEx put barcodes on every packages they are, like your box of cornflakes, signals, for now.

The pervasive internet of things.  Privacy, Prism and a very big question

But just like in the grocery store, the benefits have a quid pro quo – the GPS means I’m rarely lost anymore, but it also means that someone can know where I am – at all times. So does the phone company, and possibly the NSA.

So we have a new, urgent and mind-blowing privacy debate to have.

Here’s the truth. If you are storing information anywhere but within the confines of your house, you can be certain that someone other than yourself can see it. This means your cable box, your social media accounts, your Nest thermostat, your phone are conduits for others to see the most intimate details of your life.

Have we technologied ourselves out of privacy? Is the only truly private person a cash-wielding, non-cellphone, no-club card, AAA map-folder? An anachronism? Turning on your car or your kitchen lights with your iPhone is very cool, extremely convenient, but also logged in someone’s database.

Is there a right to privacy? If so, are private companies restricted in the same way as governments? The bill of rights, read a certain way,  is a list of curbs on governmental powers, but they also dictate the rules of society and commerce.   Should there be warnings on your credit card and GPS that explicitly say what data is collected and to what purpose? Should this sort of thing be allowed at all?

If it is unacceptable for our government to monitor our communications and movements and finances for the purposes of national security, is it tolerable for AT&T and Wells Fargo to do the same for purposes of revenue?

The right to privacy is not listed in the U.S. constitution and was brought into the public debate in the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. We have many rights that come a a very high cost. Free speech for example. Miranda. We have anti-slavery laws (including, most importantly, modern minimum wage and worker safety laws).

I came across this legal brief by two Supreme Court judges:

Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual what Judge Cooley calls the right “to be let alone” [10] Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that “what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.

Would you be surprised to learn that this was written in 1890 by Judges Warren and Brandeis?

Public data can aid in public health, democracy, safety and our understanding and access to the world.  This talk, by Jennifer Pahlka shows how public data is, in fact, the basis of American Democracy, and that it is essential that we grow and protect its integrity. It can bring critical resources to those in need. It might build a more just and civil society. It might also shift power – that is to say information and knowledge – into another resource like money – that governments and phone companies have lots, and citizens have little, and little hope of achieving it. We’re going to have to decide how we want this to go, and start experimenting with the rules and regulations we’ll need to get us there. Where will we compromise?

And so we get back to intention. Is society’s intention to maximize profit or to maximize prosperity – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What unimagined extensions to human capability and prosperity will pervasive computing bring us? In what way will it refactor our expectations of society and our role within it as individuals?

The best is yet to come.

This post originally appeared in CMSWire.

Title image courtesy of loop_oh (Flickr) through a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

The Future of Social business is paved with (good) intentions.

Social Business is an Intention

Cross posting from CMSWire

There is no such thing as a social business. There’s Enterprise 1.0 over there, and Enterprise 2.0 over there, and we’re all somewhere between the two and some part of that is Social. Embarking on the journey from there to there is to form an intention. This intention can be about the way we want to engage customers. It can be an intention of creating a richly connected workforce so as to reap the rewards of agility, resilience, problem solving and innovation that such a workforce is capable of.

It is about realizing that the power of command and control is great, but limited, and we have reached that limit. It is about realizing that the capabilities, ambitions, insights and preferences of people that have been largely ignored in the 20th century will not be ignored in the 21st, in part because technology has redistributed a little power from corporations to consumers and the workforce, and in part because you cannot command and control your way through the pace and complexity of 21st century business and society, and, to quote a beloved fictional character, “the only way out is through” (bonus marks if you leave a comment with his name).

Intentions are different from goals or missions

Jony Ives narrates this lovely little video about why the next iOS will be flat, not bubbly. This is not simply a matter of taste and sophistication. It is a matter of intention.

In the video he says “Design defines so much of our experience. There is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity and clarity and efficiency … its about bringing order to complexity.” What Jony is saying, is that they did not set out to “change” the UI. They set out to bring order to complexity, while honoring simplicity. The difference between goal and intention is subtle but important. Intention is a permanent state of seeking, it is never achieved, but always honored. A goal says – I want a new UI, or I want to solve a problem, or I want something that will make it clear that this iOS is really different an innovative. A goal has an end state. Goals are good, but they are not intentions, and, unlike Social Business, they can be achieved.

Intention says – I do not know what my journey is going to look like, but I have certain qualities and ideals in mind. Intention puts your focus on the outcome, not the method, or really the goal.

Do you play tennis? If you remember learning to play, then you know that if you try to hit the ball – connect the racquet with the ball – you whiff, but if you put a laser focus on the ball and you swing your arm, somehow that ball gets hit. This is the power of intention. It lets the right things happen without examining them overly.
(It’s an act of faith that is reinforced by the delight in seeing the shock in your husband’s eyes as his ball comes back to him with equal power. But I digress. Actually this theme of faith comes back again and again when we’re talking about complexity, emergence and social. That is because we can’t explain it – at least not in rational, reductionist, cause and effect terms. We can only know it. This is an excruciating state of being for biz and science types, but is a leap that must be leapt. This is both why we crave and why we can’t have the ROI calculations we seek. We can only look for correlations between social-ness and top line performance. We can’t find cause and effect. We are epidemiologists, not chemists. ok. really, now I’m done with this. for now.)

Intention means that every step is both unrestricted but well informed by the truths you can find – that good products are better than bad products. That good products are the result of knowing customer needs and applying talent against them. That respecting the voice and convenience of the customer is a good investment. That there is no executive in your organization that is one fraction as smart as the rest of the org combined.

Perhaps my favorite exposition of intention is an old ad about a faucet. Yes, Kohler did a double bluff on the theme on pretentious design aficionados who come to a pretentious architect and say “design a house around this” – evoking the idea that they so admire the tacit design principles in the faucet that they want a house that embodies those same qualities – some of which are nearly impossible to articulate. So they can’t be goals. They are intentions.

Intention is a very long view approached by a series of very short steps.

If your intention is to be a social business, and you have a vague notion – and it can only be vague – that a social business will be more profitable, more resilient, more interesting – over the next 50 years, and that your customers will love you better, and your employees will love you better and magical emergent innovation will fall from the sky, and you will, finally, get Lew Platt’s wish of knowing what we know – or at least being able to benefit from what we know, even if we never actually know it.

If you’re lucky, you were “born social”
We have been through frameworks, processes, and models.We have been through half a dozen years of theories, pontificating, genius and foolishness. We have platitudes, and attitudes, (both entirely skippable. 140 char has its dark side). Many of them have merit and application in certain circumstances. but as a whole they build a holistic and visceral understanding of the intention, if not the defnition of Social Business. We have learned a few tangible-ish things, however.

The first is that while some companies are born social, it is very hard to become social – but it does happen over time. We see this in narrative-lead consumer companies, like Nike and Levi’s, and in (some) places where knowledge and collaboration are fundamental (but not Law. Social and seven-minute accounting don’t seem to mesh). The way they get there is by taking a zillion little steps toward something. The something they are moving toward is a little hard to explain. They hire the right people. They make decisions in slightly different ways. They try stuff knowing that whether it works or not, it has taught them something, in some form of David Snowden’s
multiple parallel safe to fail experiments.

Many successful CEOs declare that they believe social is a better way to do business, and they summon the courage to go there and figure it out on their way. Some businesses – like John Stepper’s Deutche Bank – find pockets of value in social technology, that enable certain departments to thrive, without necessarily becoming a social business, at least not yet. IBM has been on its journey longer and larger, and it may have more momentum than many.

How do businesses become social, really? In 2001, Jim Collins wrote in his book “ Good to Great” that good businesses do not make the leap to great all of the sudden. It is not a strategy or a project or an investment or an initiative that does it, but rather an aggregation of steps in the right direction. He makes this analogy, and, in truth it’s the main thing that really stuck with me from the book:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. It’s a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It’s about 100 feet in diameter, 10 feet thick, and it weighs about 25 tons. That flywheel is your company. Your job is to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible, because momentum—mass times velocity—is what will generate superior economic results over time.
Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward. After two or three days of sustained effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work, but at last the flywheel makes a second rotation. You keep pushing steadily. It makes three turns, four turns, five, six. With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point, you can’’t say exactly when—you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.

My point here should be clear – a social business is one that has set a social intention and takes many, many steps, which, when properly aligned and examined, lead inexorably to a “Social Business” that is able to enjoy a more humanistic, sustainable, profitable, innovative, emergent form of business.

On the one hand this is simple aggregation of effort. Every positive step is amplified by the next one.
But on the other, we Another invaluable William Gibson quote – the future is here it’s just not evenly distributed – is WHY this works. To understand this, you must realize that there is not ONE future that is here, but an infinity of them. Each step opens up a new possible future if it works, if it takes, and sets off a chain of events that lead somewhere. Our goal is to make as many “intentional” possible futures as we can. We cannot know in advance which of them will take root and take over, but we can ensure that they are imbued with desirable qualities, that they are taken with the right intentions. A don’t be evil type of intention (that is reexamined often.).

The Best argument yet for Social/2.0 connected business.

Social Business = Intention = Seeking = Networking = Innovation

If you are still casting about for reasons as to why connected companies are more valuable than unconnected companies, you need to watch Ricardo Hausman’s lecture on person-bytes, which he applies to countries, but you will be wise to think of in terms of enterprises. And you will quickly realize that 1.0 leadership is leaving too much opportunity on the table because the number of person-bytes – the breadth and complexity of capability the enterprise can address – accessible by 1.0 Enterprise is far less than what Enterprise 2.0 can leverage.

Let me say that again, because I think its pretty big and you might have missed it. Enterprise 1.0, with command and control, is limited in its capability by the intelligence and capability of the Executive team. The executive team has most of the accessible person bytes in the company – though they can use others in simplistic ways. In 1.0 enterprises, the workforce is there to amplify the capabilities of the executives. Looked at another way, Executives are the constraint. After a certain point, it is the executives that restrain growth and capability because the organization cannot amplify what the executive can’t see.

In Enterprise 2.0 power and capability flows the other way – from the network to the leadership. In Enterprise 2.0, executives (leaders) inquire and align collective intelligence and capability. They can access the collective capabilities, resources and observations of the workforce and beyond. They can build businesses with greater person-byte potential.

Hausmann shows that not only are those products that require more person-bytes more rare and valuable, but they lead to richer adjacent opportunities. Person-bytes aggregate via proximity and connection. You don’t have one kind of expertise – say in manufacturing phones – and then suddenly have a totally different kind of expertise in oil exploration – unless you’ve discovered some link between the too.

Social, networked companies can build more complex – more person-byte – products, and grow expertise and advantage more reliably than those that can’t. Hausmann’s data is based on national economies, but if you look at it the connection will be instantly clear.

The Road to Social Business is Paved with Intentions. Make them good.

We are all somewhere between the two – between a 1.0 business over there – and a 2.0 business over there.
If you are looking for practicalities of social business/enterprise 2.0 next, you can read some of the lists and frameworks I’ve written myself here and here.

Just remember this. A framework is an invitation to think, not an excuse not to. Its a way to organize your thoughts. None of us will travel exactly the same path to a new business paradigm, in the same way that none of us have traveled the same path to profitability and success. There is no path, there is only intention. In a world where notions of business, privacy, identity, civil rights, labor, morality, war and peace are all disrupted, let us please make them good intentions.

The best is yet to come.

crystal ball

Steve Jobs did NOT predict the future. He invented it. And you can too.

Cross post from CMSWire

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
– Steve Jobs Stanford University commencement address, June 2005.

About a month ago the huffington post published a widely shared article: Steve Jobs’ 1983 Speech Makes Uncanny Predictions About The Future, hinting at the fact that in addition to being a marketing, design, technology and otherwise genius, he was  a modern day Nostradamus to boot. But read the article. Steve Jobs in no way shape or form predicted the future. He envisioned how wireless connectivity should work, how technology could become a deeply integral part of every part of daily life, and made it happen over the course of decades (and a good number of failures). Steve Jobs did NOT predict the future, he invented it.

Why does this matter to you, who are neither Jack Kennedy nor Steve Jobs?

Because it is becoming increasingly impossible to predict the future but diminishingly effective to look at the competition and engage in checkbox-wars-faux-innovation. It is increasingly easy to make a business case for or against nearly any approach to any problem, and the interconnectedness and complexity of nearly everything renders traditional 12 month planning cycles barely useful, and increasingly time consuming.

But do not despair! This may look like a paralytic situation, but it is the perfect time to tweak the rules and reframe the question. It is a liberation.

Rather than spend the majority of time and effort trying to predict and account for external factors, the near collapse of this model gives us license, permission and imperative to focus on internal ones.

The Simple Way forward.

1. You must decide what really matters, and use that as your primary guide. 

This has traditionally been an overlooked discussion in business (with a few notable exceptions). The discussion of why has exploded (thank you Simon Sinek) (though few know how to do it, but this is another discussion). Understanding what really matters – the outcome you want to deliver is now the only meaningful, durable, criteria for decision-making. It is the future. What do you want it to look like? What do you feel in your bones? What do you believe in? Without this, decisions are random, reactionary, political, and rapidly remade, and unmade if they are made at all. This is what Mr Jobs was referring to when he says “you have to believe in something”. Its your only viable guide. (and while I applaud and wear Toms shoes, when I talk about a purpose-driven company it is this that I mean, not that)

2. This is not an excuse not to think, but an invitation to think harder.
The great remaining benefit of planning is that, when properly done, it thinks through the problem rigorously, and unpacks the foreseeable details. To avoid this is simple laziness.

3. HOWEVER- we know that reality will intervene in unpredictable ways
Our responsibility, therefore is to build resilience into our work. That is to say, establish times, places and mechanisms to understand and acknowledge reality and respond accordingly.
This can take many forms. The simplest is to work in short phases. That is, rather than planning a year long project, break it into pieces.

4. But business is planning, right?
Planning assumes that you can predict the future. We grade our performance based on how well we predicted the future  (metrics). We think we can look at the metrics, use them to improve our predictive capabilities. So if we accept that we can’t predict the future, are metrics still useful? Yes! Metrics become guideposts and diagnostics. They help us to understand where we are and how well we understand cause and effect. They are not goals, and they are not meaningful in and of themselves. If something isn’t working, your metrics are your way to get deeper insight into what is not working. If is is working, metrics can help you recognize that.

Planning itself needs a new approach. Engineers began to figure this out about a decade ago. In counterpoint to the traditional waterfall method, they chose agile and agile-ish methodologies for software. Software engineers adopted agile, because waterfall (design intensely, build a schedule based on design, execute) methodologies turned out to be such appallingly bad predictors of success. (I look forward to any takers on the Agile debate – its effectiveness, whether and when its actually used, blah, blah, the point is it was a significant attempt to change the game that was interesting enough to go mainstream- ish).

Engineers discovered and accepted this quickly, because management at the time only understood one thing with software – the ship date. Make it and they were rewarded, slip and they were finished. And waterfall schedules always slipped. 98% of the time. Why? Because software is so complex that it is nearly impossible to tell if it works prior to actually trying it, and even then, its not that easy.

Most other business problems are similarly complex, but the complexity, and the failure of traditional methods can be harder to recognize. So ironically, it was the perpetually slipped ship date that reinvented the engineering process – which might be the best success story for metrics this side of Amazon.

The other business disciplines must follow suit.

We suffer when we try to predict the unpredictable. We look foolish when we’re wrong, so we work very hard to be right and in doing so we shred our ability to respond to change. And we, the participants, detest the process because we know that no matter how hard we work, we are unlikely to succeed this way. It is depressing.

As we continue to stumble into the gaps created by our waterfall predictions of marketing, sales, design and other business activity, we must bring more of them into a post-waterfall, quasi agile approach.

[A brief aside - ten years ago, when agile was new, it was phenomenal in its effectiveness and ability to help people rethink something that was deeply broken and depressing - the typical software cycle. We’ve seen this methodology abused, both by teams who are still waterfall but call it agile, and by radical practitioners with near religious zeal for its rituals. Frameworks, people, are there to help guide the way, not relieve you of the need to think ever again.]

So – how do we apply “agile” to the business process? What follows will seem obvious, edgy or downright radical, depending on your circumstances, but this approach can scale to your level of comfort.

Step One – think
Establish your why – “how will the world be different if we achieve our goals.”  Ironically, many of us ignore the fact that we can’t answer this immediately. Perhaps its too embarrassing to admit. If this question is unanswerable, then the first stage – the first experiment – is about answering this question. Do something (almost anything). This is throwing out feelers to immerse yourself in the gestalt of the issue. It may or may not be a completely false step, but it can be an effective way entering a completely unknown realm. A kind of echolocation.

Step two – think
Depending on how new this type of project is for you, do an appropriately in depth level of planning. If it is completely new, do very little. If its your second at bat, a little more, if you do it everyday, go ahead and think it deeply through.

Step three – create resilience (think)
Consider one or more resilient approaches to the work.

A few weeks ago at KMWorld, David Snowden laid out an extremely compelling case for one highly resilient method he calls “Multiple Parallel Safe to Fail” experiments”. This is an ingenious, highly resilient process that rapidly explores the solution space in a low risk way, while maximizing the likelihood of finding success through the process of ritualized dissent. Its a magnificent and magnificently simple process (in theory), but may be a bit much for beginners. Not because it is difficult in deed – but it plays by a different set of rules, and that’s awkward.

Mr Snowden acknowledges that we can argue all we want about the best approach to a tough problem, but in the end, we cannot know in advance which is the best solution. The best approach is therefore to take all of the ideas that pass the sniff-test ( he has a fantastically useful and rigorous sniff-test he calls “ritualized dissent” ) and invest just a little in each and see what works. If at least some don’t fail, Snowden says you aren’t exploring the space aggressively enough. It makes so much sense it kind of hurts.

That said – this can be a lot to swallow for those teams and organizations who are not yet comfortable recognizing the high levels of uncertainty they live with now. It may be easier to sell a single-threaded version of this approach.

Several years ago a colleague of mine was tasked with the job of creating a social collaboration space for the entire US government. A role that she clearly understood was both a plum assigment and a catastrophe waiting to happen. She was smart enough to invite a wide variety of people into an open exploration discussion early on. She was kind enough to pretend I didn’t work for a “vendor” and invite me  to attend.

The one bit of advice I gave her was to plan on the fact that whatever she did would be inadequate by definition, but if she said up front that they would build it in three phases – then she’d get three tries at being right instead of just one. After each phase should could face the complainers and detractors with a smile and invite them to invent phase next. By the time phase 3 came along she should have made enough progress to earn a phase 4. Or not.

At the time this seemed very radical, but what I was trying to tell her is not “fail fast” which is a problematic little epithet, but to construct the plan in advance to afford opportunities to make feedback, problems and concerns a positive rather than negative element.

You do this very simply. Rather than doing it all at once, break it into pieces (whatever it is) and do something quick. Step back and check it. Adjust and go forward a little more. And when you get good at it, parallelize it in the Snowden model.

What is important to you is the only sustainable advantage

You can’t predict the future, but you can make it happen – if you have two tools at your disposal. The first is a willingness to take small steps and learn aggressively from them. The second – and this is the very most superlatively important thing – you must know what you are trying to achieve. You must have that durable internal guide that enables you make good decisions and to understand their consequences. Attaining this can be the most difficult business challenge of all. But it may be the only one that really matters.

No one would argue that Apple is a leading social business. But they are a leading visionary  business. Don’t try to copy Apple’s products, or anybody else’s. Don’t try to copy their management approach. Don’t try to copy. The checkbox wars might keep you afloat in the short term, but in the end it will fail. In the end the greatest sustainable advantage, and ultimately the most important driver of so-called “social businesses. The ability an willingness to think hard about what matters, and make it so.

The best is yet to come.

 

Note: David Snowden read the post on CMSWire, and blogged a response that is worth reading.

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Find Your (corporate) Greatness

 Nike again showed its marketing (but not just marketing) genius with this ad developed for the 2012 Olympic games. This ad takes the “if you have a body you are an athlete” tag line and takes it even higher. They remind us that greatness is not the stuff of legends, but within reach of every single one of us. They reinforce this message in a series of ads, one showing a chubby boy, against a dramatic sky, doing his best, finding his greatness. You can’t possibly watch these ads without feeling something.

Now Nike happens to make sporting equipment and clothing that are high quality, trend-setting and pricey-but-within-middle-class-reach. If every person in the world were an athlete, then they get to sell more of their products. So it’s a selfish aim, right? Strictly shareholder value, right?

Purpose and Narrative

This just one example of how a corporate purpose can be both very, very profitable, while also creating value and prosperity for its customers. A great corporate purpose or mission statement expresses the value the company is committed to creating for its customers. It creates a magnetic alignment within the company and the market around that value. People within the organization are now rowing in the same direction, orienting their creativity and energy toward a common goal – without sacrificing their intelligence, skills or capabilities for the sake of consistency. Markets (‘people’) get excited and want to be affiliated with the brand. They seek out the products, and are delighted when the products deliver on the mission. They’ll often even be loyal enough to get past some flaws and stick with the brand as it tries to achieve its mission or purpose (i would always use the word “purpose” but I’m concerned about unintended religious overtones, so I’ve been fussing and fiddling with “mission” and “purpose” and would appreciate your thoughts on which is better, or if there is another term that would be more descriptive).

What Nike is also demonstrating, very beautifully, is that they do not just have a purpose (which their website declares to be “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*. (*If you have a body you are an athlete)”), but they have a powerful narrative to go along with it.

Not just purpose, narrative

In fact, purpose and narrative are strongly linked, but not the same thing. We can cite examples of companies that have powerful narratives, but less clear purpose, and those that have powerful purpose, but unclear narratives. Those in the former category are rare – it is tough to have a strong narrative without a clear purpose. Those that do, are generally companies where the purpose once existed and has been lost, or those that have hired great agencies that build narratives independently from the real company. This is where marketing got its evil, manipulative reputation. But people are more savvy now, and truly good narratives, like truly good ads, aren’t common.

There’s quite a bit of great stuff out there on why purpose matters. It matters to your team – tied with leadership as the key catalyst to employee engagement – now widely considered the key to accelerated corporate performance. It matters to the market – when competition is so fierce and the field so saturated, it turns out to be purpose that people gravitate toward. They want to buy you, not your widget.

We can look at the purpose/narrative progression as a 2×2 matrix, and can show examples of each. Take a quick look – where are you? How would a clearer purpose change your company? How would a clearer narrative change your company? How would it change the world?

Not just narrative, purpose

In the enviable top right quadrant, we have the Leaders. You know who these companies are. They are the Nikes, the Apples, the IBMs (IBM is especially interesting as a company who in the last five years or so went from a bottom-left “Lost” to a top-right “Leader”.)
In the top-left, we have the “Marketers” I know several tech companies (that I won’t publicly name) in this quadrant, but I’d also add most junk food companies, several automobile manufacturers, clothing lines, many consumer goods manufacturers, service providers and retailers (Gap).

In the lower left, we have the lost. The lost are primarily hustling to make quarterly numbers. That is their only decision-making criterion. Their marketing is not very effective, their sales cycles are long and unpredictable, their employee engagement is low, their product quality is suffering, and they are generally unpleasant to do business with. Many of these companies once had a clear purpose, if not narrative, at one point, but somehow lost it along the way.  A couple of airlines come to mind, some technology and energy companies. Many are small companies that grew large.

In the lower-right, we have a small, fascinating set of companies. These are companies that have an intrinsic purpose that they are delivering on, but can’t quite articulate. Many highly innovative companies  – especially tech companies – live here. Think about twitter early on – or Reddit – they had some fanatical loyalists, but ask any of them why it was so great, and you got a lot of stuttering. One could say that the entire “social” marketplace still lives here to a large extent. There is one local tech company that I am a big fan of – they have an incredibly powerful approach technology and they are making a lot of money – but only two or three guys in the whole company can sell the product, because they are the only ones who can convey the tacit value of the company and what differentiates them from their competition. Their fans adore them, but they can’t quite cross the chasm because they lack a narrative that connects with a broader market. They recruit their team very, very carefully, and indoctrinate them with a longbreading list and a very strong culture – all good, but very tricky. They see themselves as a small band of brothers (with a few sisters thrown in) who are, in many ways, superior to all they see.

They aren’t necessarily wrong. Such companies tend to have charismatic personalities leading the way, standing in for mission. We are not quite certain as to whether Apple’s mission is clear enough to withstand succession from its charismatic founder to its COO. Check out this recent Apple ad campaign (thanks, Siobhan). I’ll let you judge the merits. An ad, of course, is not a mission, but Apple recently had to reveal its generous marketing budget, (really, we already knew they were spending serious money, didn’t we?) and an expensive ad is generally a company’s best shot at expressing its narrative.

Counterpoint: The 10 SocMed Archetypes you meet in heaven (and in my twitterstream)

A counterpoint to yesterday’s snark.

  1. Fascinating Story Teller – these are the people who take information, insight, expertise, data and examples and weave a story in such a way that the learning embeds itself directly in your brain. We adore these guys. We aspire to be these guys.
  2. Framework guy – these are the ones who’ve been poring over changes and developments and give us a clear, reliable framework for thinking about things. They are rarely rigid, and always help move the discussion forward.
  3. Helpful Guy/Gal – these are the ones who answer your questions, retweet your posts, build your confidence.
  4. Graphics god. – you know who you are.
  5. Broad perspectives gal/guy – these are the polymaths who connect the dots and create analogies and possibilities for us to consider…
  6. Willing to put it out there dude – these men and women are not doing what anyone else is doing and they could be ignored or ridiculed for it. But they are following their interests and abilities somewhere that will pay off for the rest of us
  7. The Data Daredevils – these are people following up, collecting and devising ways to prove, disprove and re-frame our collective hypotheses.
  8. Connectors – Hey @joescience, have you met @collab101? You guys will have lots to talk about.
  9. Curation Gods and Goddesses – these are the people who read so broadly and drink so deeply, and they share just the most amazing stuff so everyone can share their excitement
  10. Questers – these are people on a journey – they learn, listen, share and build. They aspire to imagine and invent a future that’s more awesome than any we’ve yet imagined.

If I know you, you should recognize yourself in at least one of these. Thanks for sharing.

The 10 social media experts you don’t want to see in the mirror.

Just blowing off a little steam here, folks.

Maybe you’ve followed a couple of these guys?

1. The misunderstood genius – I know everything while you know nothing, and you never will because you fail to recognize my genius. Yet I suffer onward…

2.     The old timer – I wrote that in 1992. You should be referencing me not him.

3.     The cool dude – I’m so hip you can only hope I’ll follow you back.

4.     Sincerely emotional – love, love, love is all you need.

5.     The techno-wenie – because of the JSON, API, PlexTard with sharepoint  in the cloud I will change the world before you figure out what I’m talking about.

6.     The beauty queen – this brilliant infographic shows navel lint frequency differences in millenials vs kittens.

7.     Fake data guy – this survey shows that 9 out of 10 people who answered this survey, answered this survey.

8.     One-hit wonder – I did something brilliant, brilliantly well, and now I’m not sure what to do.

9.     Read my book – New! Improved! Mine!

10.   Label guy/gal – I know the only way to get through to you unfocused idiots is to simplify it all down to a rallying #soundbyte that I pretend is a #meme

If Social Business Is the Answer, What is the Question?

This article was originally published in 2 parts at CMSWire.

What are the fundamentals of Social Business? Tough question.  Maybe even the wrong question. Maybe the question is “What is different now, and why does it matter?” In fact, I’m still trying to figure out the question, (straining not to use the “42” analogy) and would be most interested in your opinion here. So, while I’m still not sure what the ultimate question is, here are 7 themes that are critically important to understand in order to understand. Interestingly, I’ve seen startling disagreement as to which are the most profound or mundane. [I will be pursing several of these over the next year. If you’re interested in joining me in exploring, researching or writing more on these, let me know.]

The first three themes I cover here refer to the mechanics and driving forces behind social. The next four (published in part two) speak to their implications for business.

1.    Humans, institutions and revolutions.

This is the foundation of the “social business” concept and everything else derives from this. Hierarchies and command and control institutions were society’s brilliant invention to scale and focus human activity toward a goal. This model has roots that pre-date the pyramids. It solves challenges of coordinated communication and will.  (I describe this is slightly greater detail here)

But now two things are happening. First, we don’t depend on hierarchy for communications. Top-down has, in fact, its become a bottleneck rather than an asset in the comms department. Second, the world is moving too fast and competition is too fierce for rigid command structures populated by people who could hardly care less to remain successful.

As a result, people are finding their own voice, their own insight, purpose and ambition – and many businesses are too. In little ways, such as the new social intranet at work, and of course the much, much bigger ways that democracy and freedom are being reexamined, tested and pursued throughout the world. The new organization’s role is to make that a good thing by aligning all that energy and capability with a worthy purpose and a networked leadership structure that learns and enables at the pace of human capability.

Social business is not anarchic, however. Decisions still need to be made and coordination is still critically important. So while the organization as a whole moves from a mechanistic to a humanistic ideal, leadership too, is paradigm-shifting from a patriarchal, omniscient ideal, to something else that still requires a name. “Servant-Leader” has been offered up, but I’m not yet convinced. In spite of new leadership’s namelessness, we do know a few things. Modern leadership asks questions. Modern leadership recognizes that the organization as a whole knows more than he or she as an individual. Modern leadership nurtures and orchestrates the organization around a common purpose, with the confidence to constantly move forward and the humility to look for every opportunity to do better. The modern leader doesn’t hoard power, they cultivate its flow through and accrual to the organization as a whole.

2.    The opposite of social business is fear. No, I am not exaggerating.

The problems of traditional command and control structures are legion, but the most debilitating can also be the most subtle. The 20th century ideal of the organization is the well-oiled machine – one where every part and process is defined and every cog shiny and efficient. Each person within it is expected to stay in their designated box and be perfect. That is, they should never make a mistake. And in this unpredictable, ambiguous and complicated world, predicting the future, and acting perfectly is rather difficult and ‘mistake’ is often just another term for “results”. So a primary motivator at work is being right and not making mistakes. Which leads to two profound problems. The first is that people only do what they know works. That’s an innovation buster right there. The other is that when problems arise, people are incented to HIDE them, both consciously and unconsciously. So all news is good news all the time. Learning and excellence are eliminated by definition. This would be a largely unintended consequence of a system designed to create stability, reliability and scale. Oopsie.

The fear of being wrong, looking foolish, or being rejected drives far too much of human behavior, and the vast majority of business behavior, and it has long been used as the primary motivator of work. If you are afraid of being wrong, you are not likely to ask the questions that hint at uncertainty. You are not likely to listen and look out for disconfirming information. As a result, we walk into failure with arms open and eyes shut. This is normal business. It is wasteful, it is absurd, and it is very unpleasant for its anxious participants.

Incentives are really just the other side of the coin  – the carrot and stick model is a fear based model. The antidote to this is first found in small teams – duoships, even (http://businessinnovationfactory.com/iss/video/bif6-keith-yamashita#). When a few people get together, motivated by a common cause and an intrinsic desire for autonomy, mastery and purpose, fear starts to recede and possibility opens up.

Such a team is incredibly powerful. They can probe the world, their doubts, their aspirations without fear, and with the support of other capable people. Their talents are amplified, their weaknesses diminished. If you have ever participated in such a team (and I hope you have), you understand this. When we have a shared goal, mutual respect and trust, we can deeply engage with our work by leveraging newly critical skills that David Brooks lays out with poetic beauty:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Who wouldn’t want to be described thus?

3. Collaboration is the only way forward

That is to say, that humans working as pairs groups, teams, organizations and communities are where real value is created. The genius (or lack thereof) in an individual’s mind is an ever smaller (though still and always transcendentally important) part of the progress equation. Even Steve needed a team. This is why the advanced communication skills suggested by David Brooks matter so much. Collaboration has always existed, and we’ve always benefited from it, but now we are absolutely beholden to it. There are many reasons for this, but I think the most compelling explanation for this has two dimensions. The first is the above-mentioned renaissance of self-actualization, and the second is the exponentially-increasing complexity of the work that we do.

Economist Ricardo Hausmann describes this in terms of “Person Bytes”, which may be one of the most important business concepts to be articulated last year. . Hausmann details the phenomenon that as individuals we’re now capable of much less than our ancestors – few of us can build our own house, provide our own food, clothing, etc –  though as a society we can build much more. Toasters, for example, and computers, which are far too complex for any individual to construct entirely from scratch.

I’ve written several posts on collaboration, and there’s no reason to repeat myself here. Complexity is most effectively faced by groups with high collective intelligence. Research shows that a team’s high collective intelligence does not reflect the genius IQs of it’s members, but the excellent attunement and equipoise amongst them. Creativity, in the business realm, will turn out to be a balance between profound individual and group effort, and the possibility-opportunity expansion of multi-disciplinary, multi-perspective, “edge” exploration.

Reaping more than a trivial percentage of your team’s potential requires the kind of deep engagement that can only be derived from collaborative effort. If you’re working in any kind of complex, knowledge based industry, you are here or you are almost gone.

4.    The big ‘Why’ for business

I have recently heard people argue that the only reason for a business to participate in public social networks is to generate leads and revenue. That any “relationship” formed with any kind of businessperson in social networks is by nature manipulative and false. When it was a work colleague of mine saying this, I thought ah – this person needs a bit of re-education. When it was a friend on twitter, I nearly wept. So here is my response.

People invented business for a reason. I don’t want to spend all my time growing, harvesting and milling flour and baking bread. So I pay you to do it for me. I don’t know how to make a car, so I pay you for that too. In other words, people need business and vice versa. This is a symbiotic relation ship that became grossly distorted in the 20th century but is recovering in the 21st.

Business exists to create value efficiently enough that people can pay a fair price for the product while generating enough profit to enhance the prosperity of the people who constitute the business. That is the intention of capitalism.
One unintended consequence of the industrial era, however was that almost all the power of creation, economics and communication ended up with business. Consumers (that is, “people”) could like it or lump it. Marketing – the relationship between the business and the client – became about cold and crass manipulation of people for the purpose of maximizing shareholder value. Shareholders? Where do they fit into this balance? Ah. Well they do play an important role in society and business, but that role has had some unintended consequences as well. I don’t really want to go into it here, but Umair Haque does an eloquent job of it, and there is a cohort of other economists and philosophers who have similar views.

Back to the why. We need to restore this balance. Marketing, sales and business is not about (shouldn’t be about) manipulation or extortion. It is (and shall be) about being valuable. Social media is one of the ways this relationship is coming back into balance. The democratization of communication and the means of production are restoring individuals’ voice, (though they seem now to be most effective at bringing down bad restaurants, not so much on airlines) and enabling businesses to remember that they are, in fact, of, by and for actual people. Social business is the businesses way of participating and remaining relevant in a newly re-democratized world.

The proper social relationship between business and people is one of mutual ongoing value – it is not only “transactional “ (yes, @decodingdress, I’m talking to you). And to you too @jess3/@eloqua.

If you are a business who disagrees with me on this you don’t need raise your hand. We already know.

5.    Patterns, not metrics.

If you have spent any time in the “social business” world, you have been asked the metrics question. Metrics, in short, are trouble. [see this thought-shifting lecture by John Seddon ] On the one hand, few business institutions cause more negative, unintended consequences than metrics. People act to fulfill metrics because they replace meaningful goals. On the other hand, metrics can be very useful tools for learning. Use them wisely.

The key brain buster of social business, however, and social networks in general, is that these are emergent systems, and usually complex, emergent systems, and for the most part, understanding these has not been part the standard American curriculum or career path, so they are a foreign concept to most people.

For the uninitiated, I’m going to take a risky crack at a two-sentence definition of a complex adaptive system. First, it consists of many independent agents (like people or honeybees, or people and honeybees). Second, each agent can independently change its behavior at least to some extent, and third, the system exhibits properties that cannot be predicted from its initial conditions or rules. There is vast literature about these systems in areas of math, computer science, biology, and economics. Complex systems are closely related to Wicked Problems. If you want to change a complex system, you generally have a Wicked Problem.

The thing about emergent systems, is that unlike a mechanical system – your car engine, for instance, or even your iPhone – you cannot predict what will happen or easily discern cause and effect. What you can see and understand are patterns that emerge, and some of the characteristics of those patterns with which you can then experiment.

So – we are being asked and asked again to establish metrics for evaluating our social endeavors. There are three standard responses to this, and I’m not particularly fond of any of them.

Option 1: The only relevant metrics are leads, revenue and cost reduction.  This is the hard-nosed approach. Show me the money or shut the heck [sic] up. This is not without merit, but it can stop a lot of good work and expertise development.

Option 2: What is the ROI of your mother? This is the argument that we know its valuable, so stop trying to measure it and just do it.  This is also a useful model –  at times you just have to do it. There is a downside here too. Do we really wish to be unaccountable? Do we really not want to learn what there is to learn?

Option 3 The ROI is dependent on the goal. Define the goal then you get the metrics/ROI. This seems reasonable – I’ve often said it myself – and its probably the strongest argument, but it has limitations too. One of which is that often the goal is only clear in retrospect. This should improve with our collective experience in the realm, but will always be limited (see “emergent”).

Each of these is simultaneously right and wrong. The problem is this: our traditional use of metrics depends on systems that have generally predicable, linear relationships between cause and effect. Emergent systems are highly resistant to this type of prediction and analysis. You can measure the fever, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you if the patient is sick or well. An incredibly interesting phone call with @rhappe got us to this idea that you need to have faith in emergence, and in its non-linearity and look for signs that it is working. Metrics aren’t necessarily meaningful in nascent social systems, but patterns are. [The discussion of faith in this context is a juicy one, but for later.] [Note that there is an Option 4 that purports to measure things like employee engagement and collaborative-ness. Few executives truly care about these things, however, and even if they do, these are tautologies rather than outcomes.]

Humans detect patterns very, very well. That’s why we see a man in the moon.
What do I mean by a pattern? Well a really basic pattern is one where an interaction with a person creates another interaction with that person. That would be a good pattern. That pattern can be built into something of value for both customer and business. I laid out the basics of how to create a very simple behavior pattern.

This is what Nir Eyal’s notion of habits and “virulence” is getting at. One could say that a pattern that an individual adopts is a “habit” and how compelling that pattern is to people in general could be its viral-ness.

I have a point here and it is this. If you really want to be successful at initiating and nurturing emergent social systems, you need to be both aiming to develop patterns, and then looking for early signs of patterns that emerge. Patterns, not individual metrics. You must accept that to a certain extent, your system is non-linear and unpredictable. We must learn to recognize and embrace this. If nothing emerges, you don’t have a cohesive system, so you must tinker with it. If something emerges, understand it and nurture it.  We need to transition from metrics to patterns. (I plan to do some research here in the next few months, so if you are interested, or have relevant info, please ping me.)

6.  Let me be the first to say it in print (or printish-ness): the sales funnel is over.

The sales funnel was a brilliant framework coeval with knowledge management, cross-functional teams and other “modern” business concepts from the 1990s. It is a framework for understanding that a customer begins as a stranger, that there is a progression of steps to get them from there to purchase, and allows a methodical approach to optimizing this transition.

The profound problem with the Funnel is that not only does it treat good people like so much meat and statistics, but that its object is to filter out those that don’t make it to the next step. In other words, you start with 1000 “leads” (otherwise known as people who might be somewhat interested in what you do) and you instantly lop off 90% of them as you get to suspects, and repeat for prospects, and opportunities. The very language here is predatory, no? Not to mention the fact that you are “wasting” over 99% of the audience who has some interest in you. One thing I’ve learned in my years of marketing: never waste an audience.

What we want is to morph the “funnel” into more of a concentric circle or orbital model. Where you have the tightest, most active relationships with your customers who are in a tight orbit around you, and a few successively looser relationships with broader sets of people in wider orbits to whom you provide value in the form of info, connections, expertise, entertainment, etc, and who may someday become customers, or influence others who may, or give you continued insight into your key markets. The orbital model is a more human model that creates intimacy, insight, and an exchange of ideas and value. It is also a more efficient business model. It retains more audience and preserves and enhances its potential to generate more customers, build brand equity and expand your circle of influence. This is, in a sense, the goal of “content marketing” (which may be my least favorite term since “content”, which was last well used in a sentence by Martin Luther King, Jr when he dreamed of a man being judged only “by the content of his character”). I have much more work to do on this, so please stay tuned.

 

7.    It’s not about understanding social, it’s about understanding you.

So here it is. Why is social business hard? People will tell you its because of culture, habits, technology, blah, blah, blah. And all of that is true. But the biggest challenge in going social is not that its social, its that it is business. A more social approach to business quickly reveals business problems that have been rumbling under the surface. Gaps or deficiencies in your mission, goals, strategy, internal coordination, organization, processes and responsibilities start popping right out. Its disconcerting, and it can be discouraging. (Unless you have an organizational equipoise). Its also quite hard to push the cork back into the bottle, though some do try. In the current model, we’re accustomed to just live with things that aren’t well thought through, aren’t well understood, or perhaps well communicated – see “fear” above. Its not that big a deal that the left and right hands don’t know what one another is doing. Well, it is a big deal, but its easier to ignore what we can’t put our finger on. Social business engagement both inside and outside the organizational boundary forces us to face of all those dust-bunnies and piles that have been hanging around under our metaphorical desks for years. You have to suit up for some spring cleaning.

Take a simple example. A number of companies, from Cox, to United to Best Buy have seen their service organizations get pro-active in social media, and benefited enormously from it. Others have their service people, if they are on twitter at all, say “please open a ticket” to anyone who asks for help. Why? Because they are not allowed to answer a customer without a ticket, and cannot open one themselves. This is because on the one hand, they only get evaluated by management on number of tickets closed (stupid metrics) and on the other, they can only ensure that issues are resolved if they are ticketed. And in many cases, changing this is, for some inexplicable reason (that probably turns out to be a recursive example of the same phenomenon), something that cannot be accomplished in under six months.

The number one thing that keeps people back from participating in social, both inside and outside the company is that they don’t feel they know what is going on, they don’t understand the message or the mission, or don’t believe in it. They are not equipped to represent. This may be the reason behind the surprising and surprisingly rapid shift in analyst-predicted total social technology industry revenue from the marketing use case to the internal use case. The rank and file are clamoring for internal social because they want to do better, and want to be part of the solution.
It is a rare organization that is Purpose-Driven, clear and confident in its value, strategy and path. It is an even rarer organization where that insight and confidence is evenly distributed throughout the organization. And rarer still, one that understands how to transform decision-making into a real-time learning orchestration exercise.

So the key question isn’t “what is social business”, it is “what is your business?” Answer that, and social is a relative piece of cake.

The best is yet to come.