Plurality: the reality of social business?

I am always nervous about talking about anything to do with social business. There are just too many far better informed and knowledgeable people out there thinking, writing, talking and filibustering about the subject. With so much conversation going on about conversation, it might be easier to leave the subject alone altogether than to butt in, but the urge to simplify it won’t allow that.

What might be an easy way to see the challenge of social business, and how social tools are changing the nature of business? How about plurality. Just add an “s” to every component of normal, organisational and commercial life. Here are a selection:

Network  to networks: we used to have a professional network, and mix with people in the same field; we felt understood, to a degree protected by our membership – formal or informal – of the fold. But now this is likely to be – and indeed should be – only one of many networks, as we interact with people with any number of “reasons to be there” – maybe, like Tuttle Club, just because it is there at all. We want connected people on our teams, because we want their networks to make a contribution too.

Culture to cultures: with employee activity during a typical “working day” (whatever that is) no longer confined to the activity of the organisation alone, with interaction with external networks and through the use of various social tools commonplace, organisational culture has fractured. It is now more meaningful to think of multiple cultures – some interlaced, some protected – within any one organisation or location. It is also possible for someone to be a good citizen, a dedicated, productive and innovative employee, without feeling or displaying any sense of engagement with the organisation – and it not matter.

Employer to employers: the notion of the portfolio career has taken an age to become a reality, but is more prevalent than ever. This will only increase as the archaic idea of the five day, full time role is challenged. Social networks provide access to opportunities as never before.

Workplace to workplaces: even for the employee with a single employer, the rise of flexible working, through necessity or choice, means that we are able to work in any number of places, in many cases freely, for free, and easily. Even when disconnected from – and out of sight of – Mordor, we are connected.

Device to devices: how many people now work on a single device? Social tools have made device proliferation inevitable. Different tools work better on different devices. There is a role in most of our working lives for a smartphone, tablet PC, netbook and powerful laptop PC – even a desktop or docking station. If only there was a universal charger.

Identity to identities: social tools often require us to have different identities as an employee, and in the wider world. Even that “social” identity may differ from our identity with our family and friends. In many respects. Social tools have given introverts an opportunity to be extrovert. Are you the same old you with everyone?

Now put all of the above in a matrix – better still, matrices. It may be a useful framework for understanding the exponential increase in complexity that social business brings, and the challenge we face in our various disciplines with understanding it, and responding to it.

I may, of course, have misunderstood it altogether.


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