Q&A about Enterprise Social Networks with IBM

IBM sent some questions following the recent IBM Connect conference. They are based on some unwritten assumptions that I disagree with, which will become evident in my response.

Here’s the questions:

  1. What is your definition of a successful social enterprise?
  2. Why do companies consider forming an enterprise-wide social network and what are the biggest benefits?
  3. How are enterprise social networks used to share knowledge and increase innovation?
  4. What hurdles do organizations face when implementing an enterprise social network? How can you overcome these hurdles?
  5. How do you see enterprise social networks evolving over the next 5 years?

Some answers:

Q1: What is your definition of a successful social enterprise?

A1. The idea of a ‘successful social enterprise’ is simple if you approach it superficially. In that case you simply define ‘success’ as some degree of adoption of social tools, and the harvesting of their purported benefits based on the network effects of social integration. A richer, and more nuanced definition requires a deep dive into significant changes in people’s aspirations, corporate values, and dispersal of tech platforms that underwrite new ways of work, not just new ways to communicate. (But this is not the place for that book to be written.)

A sense that the promise of social collaboration has failed is the backdrop for many companies and teams moving to try work chat-based solutions, and the resurgence in the use of email. — Stowe Boyd

Q2: Why do companies consider forming an enterprise-wide social network and what are the biggest benefits?

A2. There is actually a large-scale migration away from the now-mainstream model of ‘social business = a company using enterprise social network as platform for communication, collaboration, and coordination’. A sense that the promise of social collaboration has failed is the backdrop for many companies and teams moving to try work chat-based solutions, and the resurgence in the use of email, now somewhat socialized (like IBM Verse and Microsoft Office 365).

Q3: How are enterprise social networks used to share knowledge and increase innovation?

A3. Information sharing (mistakenly called ‘knowledge sharing’) is one of the most direct benefits of social platforms, of whatever kind. They decrease the costs involved, and the social motifs — like following, @mentions, and topical activity streams — have revolutionized how we think about working together. I think increasing innovation is a separate, but immensely important issue. Tools need to stand out of the way, drop into the near background, so that innovation can happen: they don’t engender creativity, per se.

In a few years the inroads made by touch, voice, gesture, and surreality will have profound impacts on how people at work choose to communicate. — Stowe Boyd

Q4: What hurdles do organizations face when implementing an enterprise social network? How can you overcome these hurdles?

A4. The hurdles of adopting any innovation — like a new communications or information platform for business — are consistently the same. First, people differ to the degree they are psychologically disposed toward adoption of new technologies and techniques (and the values that come along with them). So-called innovators — Ed Rogers’ term — are quick to adopt, and the laggards are most averse, and the rest of us are distributed in between in other groups: early adopters, early majority, and late majority. That’s the nature of people. Each group has its own set of concerns and considerations that slow adoption to a greater or lesser extent. This is independent of the specifics of any technology or the dynamics of any company, and dominates The Diffusion of Innovations, which is why Everett Rogers named his magisterial book that.

In the case of ESNs, adoption has been problematic because the benefits are difficult to quantify, are slow to be realized (if at all), and the established alternatives (like email) are deeply embedded in business practices and processes. This has been so slow a process that innovators and early adopters are jumping the curve and moving onto new approaches before the majority has adopted the old ones. So ESNs are already a lap behind in the communications platform foot race.

Q5. How do you see enterprise social networks evolving over the next 5 years?

A5. The continued acceleration toward mobile, wearables, and augmented and virtual reality (or surreality, as I call it) will mean even more of a migration away from desktop/laptop use and the decline of ‘desktop’ motifs. In a few years the inroads made by touch, voice, gesture, and surreality will have profound impacts on how people at work choose to communicate. Added to the rapid rise of AI assistants (or assistance, depending on your view), the premises of ‘working together’ will change as much as the Web has done, already. So, while we will still be working in social networks in five years — we are human beings after all — we will be unlikely to be using platforms based on the design and organizing principles of what we call ESNs, today.

 Cross-posted from medium and stoweboyd.com on 8 February 2016.

Debating ‘Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again’

Back in August, Larry Hawes wrote a post entitled Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again‘, and I suggested to him at the time that we should have a debate on the topic. We did, but did not do so in public. In the future, I will try to have these debates in a more public way, like the obvious option of recording us in Skype or Hangouts, arguing away.
However, Larry and I did wrangle over the subject, and here’s the thread:

Stowe: Larry, I read your piece ‘Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again’, and I agree with some of your assertions, but I disagree with your central conclusion, which is that work chat is a fad that will fade away fairly quickly.
You make the case — which I agree with in part — that we are witnessing an explosion of chat tools, and these are creating silos of fragmented information. You wrote,

These applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.

The core idea — that these tools are silos — is true. However, I think that the mobile experience has shifted expectations so that people are tolerant — and perhaps even biased toward — a fragmented world of deep-and-narrow apps.
I also think that your second and third points above are actually characteristics for apps to compete around. Slack, for example, has become the poster child for integration with other apps.
Larry: Thanks for engaging in this conversation, Stowe! It’s very refreshing that Gigaom Research not only tolerates, but actively exposes differences of opinion amongst its analysts, rather than forcing everyone to conform to the ‘company viewpoint’, like most research firms.
Let me begin to address your opening comments by adding some clarification around my central conclusion. Yes, I very much believe that work chat will be a short-lived fad. It will be overhyped by vendors, analysts and other market makers. Then it will fall out of favor as the next, new form of messaging in the enterprise comes along. More on that below.
What I did not mean to imply, is that work chat will completely disappear or cease to be used. There will be key use cases, as well as individual and team workstyle preferences, which demand that IT keeps the technology in the corporate tool set. Despite that, I firmly believe that, long-term, work chat will see limited uptake and make a minimal impact on overall organizational performance.
The current mobile experience made up of numerous, functionally-focused applications that you cite works well for consumers. In some cases, it can also be highly beneficial to workers who want to quickly accomplish a well-defined task in isolation. The challenge in the work environment (that makes it different from consumer computing) is in getting information to flow between applications.
We typically use workflow technology to accomplish that, but haven’t applied it to work chat (or to older forms of enterprise messaging, including social status updates, instant messaging and email). Yes, Slack can use IFTTT to push information between integrated applications, but IFTTT isn’t considered an enterprise-ready technology by most IT professionals. Unfortunately, there is not an equivalent, lightweight enterprise workflow tool, so the IFTTT style of rules-based information flow can’t be easily replicated, with added enterprise features, in organizations today.
Organizations will struggle mightily to get information in and out of any work chat applications they deploy. That includes getting the multiple chat tools that have been self-selected by employees to interoperate, absent consistent inclusion and use of a standard communication protocol like XMPP. Also, organizations still need to manage their communications, including seemingly ephemeral chat conversations, in a way that accommodates corporate information governance policies. The throw-away chat paradigm of Snapchat and Confide simply isn’t viable in most businesses, so work chat tool providers will either have to build or partner for governance and compliance functionality.
Stowe: You say the big problem for these apps is that they are not necessary: they only duplicate functionality that other tools already can provide. My counter is empirical: if that statement is true, why are users and organizations adopting these new tools, and dropping the old? The answer has to be that they are organized around different principles. The fact that you don’t know what they are, or that they are hard to discern, doesn’t really matter.
And, oh, by the way, your argument was identical to what people said about instant messaging and email. ‘Why do we need IM,’ they’d say, ‘When we already have email?’ We know how that went. IM and email are very different, and are used very differently.
Larry: The story that users and organizations are dropping older forms of messaging in favor of real-time work chat is just that – a story. I haven’t seen any quantified evidence to support that assertion. That is a problem that I want you and others at Gigaom Research to address through primary research in the next few months.
The work chat case studies I have seen largely involve small businesses, mostly startups or relatively young organizations, in the technology sector. It makes sense that they would be the early adopters of work chat technology and the work future principles it supports. However, I have yet to see compelling anecdotal (much less quantified) evidence that larger, established organizations are adopting work chat technology, even at the team level.
Many will question why we need technology Y when we already have technology X that works. Most people do not embrace change; they resist it. My point was exactly that: the few that actively and eagerly adopt work chat technology will be overshadowed by those who have little or no interest in using a new tool or working in a different way. The limited success of enterprise social software demonstrated that, and I believe we will see a repeat with work chat.
Stowe: I guess we will have to see what happens over the near-term with these tools, so let’s plan to revisit that in a few months.
Finally, you conclude that these tools will be dropped, just as soon as people come to their senses, writing

Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.

Your rationale?

Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.

My counterargument is this: people are moving away from earlier ‘social collaboration’ solutions because those were geared to large social groups where much of the communication was infrequent (see There’s a quiet revolution pulling some numbers down, written about a year ago on this topic). These new work chat tools are geared to small workgroups that communicate frequently. They are designed for people to get work done, and not for companies to do ‘business’.  So, I don’t think this is a fad, and the trend will continue on.
Larry: You and I are actually more aligned in our thinking here than you may realize. For sure, the facilitation of frequent communication among a small, well-defined group of colleagues is where work chat technology excels. This is clearly in opposition to the way social technologies have been successfully used to find, query and communicate with formerly unknown coworkers swimming in the larger employee pool. Or as a communication channel between the company and its market.
Where I do disagree with you is in your assertion that “people are moving away from earlier ‘social collaboration’ solutions”. In fact, those solutions have seen very limited adoption in most organizations, so there is not much of a base to move away from. Those who have found that style of communication to be useful will continue to use social tools, just as those who have had success with instant messaging and email will stick with those communication methods.
As I stated above, work chat technology will be a very useful tool for some employees, particularly those working in a defined group that needs to communicate frequently. As long as it is working for those people, their company will continue to support work chat.
However, I’m nearly certain that work chat adoption will follow the pattern previously established by instant messaging and social status updates. Individuals (and, eventually, entire organizations) will excitedly rush to begin using work chat without understanding which use cases it best supports and what benefits it produces. As a result, disillusionment will grow with the technology and it will largely be abandoned, except by those who understood it in the first place. So, yes, work chat is a fad, and it will play out itself out in the coming months and years.

We will pick the thread of this discussion up again, in the months ahead. Gigaom Research will also be pursuing new research on this topic in the near-term, as well, to try to determine what people are doing out there with SLack and alternative work chat tools.

What we can learn from a conference changing its name: a lot

The rise of digital transformation, and the decline of social business and enterprise 2.0

I am honored to be in the speaker’s roster for the upcoming Enterprise Digital Summit, scheduled for 21-22 October 2015 in London. My keynote is safely entitled Building Blocks of the Organization in the Digital Age, which gives me a great deal of leeway to talk about the future of the organization. But I am not going to dig into my talk, here. I have months to do that. (Although let me say that I will have to explode the premise of the title — that organizations can be ‘designed’ and ‘built’ like buildings or machines — and offer up more biological or sociological metaphors, instead.) Instead, I’d rather discuss the recent name change of the conference itself, and what that says about shifts in the global discourse around new ways of work.
The newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit was formerly known as the Enterprise 2.0 Summit. As the conference producer, Bjoern Negelmann, recently wrote,

We have been thinking about the scope of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit for quite some time. For a while now our beloved expert community has been telling us that “Social” has moved on, the “Enterprise 2.0” term is “dead” and that our conference heading doesn’t match the general “zeitgeist” of the current business landscape. We have argued against change, both because of the name recognition our event has in the community and because not every organisation is at the leading edge of change. However, in today’s disruptive business climate, every organisation’s business model is under threat and we are no different. It’s time to re-adjust. It’s time to change our name!
The question is where are we heading to? What is the best way of explaining the projects and programs of today and tomorrow?

Negelmann goes on to make a concise and partly convincing case that the rise in interest around digital transformation of the business is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, and subordinating activities that formerly might have been called enterprise 2.0 (when focused on technology first, and culture/organization/people second) or social business (when vice-versa). His colleague David Terrar added this,

During 2014 we started to shift our terminology again to digital disruption and digital transformation. The topic we are discussing is about much more than the tools and technology that organisations use to collaborate more effectively, to empower employees, to innovate and to connect with their customers, partners, employees and stakeholders in new and better ways.
It is about those things, but it is also about rethinking the world of work, adopting emergent strategy, and recognising the management shift required, along with new business models, that we must use to react and compete in the 21st century.

In a recent survey, 98% reported they are undergoing digital transformation, while only 25% could say they had a clear understanding of what that means. It’s clear we are grappling with the digital imperative, like it or not.
I define digital transformation this way:

A new operating model of business based on continuous innovation through the application of digital technologies and the restructuring of operations around customer experience to better engage with customers, the company ecosystem, and the greater marketplace.

This is both a customer-centric and technology centric perspective, and one in which workers and their work are subsumed in the efforts for innovation and operational effectiveness. In essence, the last decade of initiatives that were called social business or enterprise 2.0 (or, generically, social collaboration) are decreasing as a priority, or being completely dropped from the future agenda. Why? Why is it that digital transformation seems to be picking up where social business and enterprise 2.0 left off?
A few observations might make this clear.
First, social business is a web 2.0 era trend. The architecture of ‘social collaboration/enterprise 2.0’ tools is principally for office-bound knowledge workers with desktop computers, and based on fairly dated architectural motifs. Part of this new digital transformation is reaching all workers — on the manufacturing floor, building houses in the field, or in retail outlets — not just office workers, not just employees, not just knowledge workers.
Second, We’re now in a ‘mobile 1st, cloud 1st, people 1st’ era. Mobility is causing us to rethink nearly everything about work and business, which is invalidating many of the premises of social collaboration. We are truly working everywhere with everyone.
Third, the promise of higher productivity hasn’t materialized. I written a great deal about the failure of social collaboration, so I won’t elaborate here, except to assert that the productivity gains from this generation of social collaboration tools have been less than anticipated, to be generous.
I believe that the hard part of moving to a new way of work is not selecting tools to communicate with team members, or making old web 2.0 solutions work in a mobile world. On the contrary, the real barriers to a new way of work are cultural barriers. Or turned around, to get to a new way of work — one that is based on increased agility, resilience, and autonomy — requires a deepening of culture. And it may be that deep culture is what social business was always intended to mean, or at least what I thought it should mean.
The Boston Consulting Group makes a case for two chapters in digital transformation, where the first chapter is dedicated to operational turnaround based on the adoption of new technologies and practices.
bcg chapter 2
The second chapter is where the proof of the transformation lies, and it requires a transition to what the authors call adaptive innovation. That second chapter requires deepening culture, so that the organization is oriented toward new ways of working that align with both of — at the same time — the requirements of the new business model and the aspirations and motivations of the new workforce, those who are living on the other side of the transformation’s technological and sociological changes.
In a second post in this series of posts, I will explore the sense of urgency needed for deep cultural change to happen, and why the lack of a true sense of urgency can block deep change. Suffice it to say that adaptive innovation requires deep cultural change, and a sense of urgency to make those changes.
So, in the final analysis, as we entered chapter two in the realm of social business/enterprise 2.0, we hit the downward arc. Of course, there is a great deal of innovation in the broader area of work tech and the future of work, and we are entering chapter 1 of the digital transformation story. In that chapter, social business and enterprise 2.0 become historical antecedents. But the need for deep cultural change — yet again — will play the pivotal role in the coming second chapter of digital transformation.
That’s probably what I will talk about in October at the newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit event in London.

IBM is a sponsor of the Enterprise Digital Summit event.

This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.

There’s a quiet revolution pulling some numbers down

Steven Rosenbush and Clint Boulton of the Wall Street Journal did some interesting analysis of the social business — or work technologies — market recently, and determined that various analysis firms have been dropping their estimates of the size and growth of that market, quite considerably.

For example, they report that IDC said in 2012 that the market would have a five-year compound growth rate of 42%, hitting $4.5 billion by 2016. But the firm has cut that back, now saying the growth rate is only 23%, and will hit $2.3 billion in 2018.

They quote Vanessa Thompson, an IDC research manager,

One reason for the change, according to Ms. Thompson, is that social and collaborative elements will be embedded in all manner of applications and tools, reducing the reliance on standalone software. “But that will take a very long time,” she said.

I think that Thompson and the authors are half right. The sales and adoption of the now-mainstream social collaborative applications — Yammer, Jive, IBM Connections, Chatter — has slowed.

That slowing is in part because the productivity claims of that class of software have not been met. However, the reasons are complicated.

First of all, these tools are the reflection of an idealized company: the company intended to use such a tool. And I believe that this idealized company is a poor match with today’s business (and perhaps it never existed at all).

One way to think about the gap between this idealized company and today’s reality is this chart, which I borrowed from a recent presentation by Mary Meeker.

contextual conversation chart 1

She’s making the point that we are witnessing a transition on the consumer web from apps like Facebook and Twitter, toward chat-based apps like HipChat and Snapchat. In the chart above you can see that this is a movement away from communications in a ‘scene’ — a large number of contacts that communicate infrequently — toward communications in ‘sets’ — a small number of contacts that communicate frequently.

I think the same shift is happening in the enterprise, a theme that I explored recently in a research note, Contextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration. There’s enormous interest is solutions like Slack, Flowdock, and Hall. Slack just raised $43 million in April (see Work conversation tool Slack raises $43M), and founder Stewart Butterfield was profiled in a great write-up by Mat Honan (see The Most Fascinating Profile You’ll Ever Read About a Guy and His Boring Startup). Slack now has 120,000 daily users, and 200 organizations using it, including Expedia, Intuit, Dow Jones, eBay, Paypal, Mint, Citrix, Heroku, Happy Cog, Wall Street Journal, Motley Fool, The Times of London, Crossfit, MyFitnessPal, DailyBurn, Fitocracy, Rdio, Pandora, Nordstroms, Polyvore, Vinted, Urban Outfitters, Blue Bottle Coffee, GoDaddy, Urban Airship, Sony, Dell, AOL, ITV, NBCUniversal, Lonely Planet, TV4, Galen Healthcare, Shutterstock, SmugMug, Stripe, Venmo, Braintree, Airbnb, Adobe, Typekit, Behance, Foursquare, Yelp, WordPress, Moz, SurveyMonkey, Tumblr, Trunk Club, Seagate, Tibco, Trello, and HBO. Some serious names.

These tools are very different from the traditional social business platforms. They are based on a very different idealization of who would use them and how. It’s not a large company, not a scene of hundreds or thousands of users communicating, but small teams of intensely networked individuals.

Yes, of course people can work on many small teams, and teams of teams connect, too. But the big difference is that this generation of chat tools is focused on the small scale interactions of teams, and they aren’t trying to solve the bigger, top-down organizational problems that traditional tools seem focused on.

So, back to the projections: I think the analysis firms aren’t including the potential growth of firms like Slack. Note that none of the companies mentioned by Rosenbush and Boulton fall into that group: they are all more traditional social tools.

So it’s not that the enterprise won’t be spending money on work technologies: they will. But it’s going to be a different spread of tools, and ones that are based on a different conception of how to get work done. Namely, in small, intensely networked teams.

And of course, that can be going on quietly, possibly unobserved, even in companies where a corporate deployment of Jive or SAP Jam is in place.

Justin Kirby wonders about the future of social business

Justin Kirby is a practitioner who wonders about the future of social business, starting with his roundup of responses to Chris Heuer’s Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next! piece last fall, touches on Lee Bryant’s thinking, and then explores some aspects of a report I have not yet read, Future of Social Business: Is the Gold Rush Over? by Luke Burley-Jones. He writes about that report, and then goes on:

[The report] is more of a description of the challenges than prescription or framework. For me the report highlights what missing in terms of hard evidence, and a scaleable model that social technologies are there to support, e.g. SAP and ERP, Six Sigma, etc. It also highlights some of the less productive discussions within social business, such as the nitpicking about terminology and definitions.

What’s more significant for me is that report also highlights how few, if any, social media technology enthusiasts have any real experience in behavioural psychology, organisational development, change, leadership, and other more people-focused disciplines. That’s probably why I often hear the refrain it’s not about the technology, it’s about the people, but hey look at this cool new technology. That seems to put the cart before the horse. So despite all the talk about more open, collaborative and social approaches to business the collaboration doesn’t seem as yet to be all that interdisciplinary.

I often hear the refrain it’s not about the technology, it’s about the people, but hey look at this cool new technology.

There are some like the analyst Stowe Boyd who seem to be looking in the right direction with his research into what he calls ‘Socialogy’, the theory and practice behind social business. What I haven’t seen is an interdisciplinary collaboration that uses social technologies to co-create a model for social business, or at the very least some conceptual framework that sets out the problems it attempts to solve. Perhaps an initiative like this could help propose a set of interventions and the metrics by which any success would be measured, and that could include those used within the social enterprise and international development arenas to assess social rather than financial impact, e.g. micro finance, etc.

My response to Justin is this: businesses seem to be blocked on social business, but it’s not technologies per se holding them back. I think one of the factors is that the python hasn’t digested the last pig, and has no room for the next one.

Many companies are stuck on the treadmill, running just as fast as they can to not fall behind. We are confronted by increasingly accelerated change in the economy, an explosion in computing scale in mobile, cloud, and connection technologies, and a sharp upheaval in the business/work dynamic — upended social contract, ephemeralization of work, rise of freelancing, disengagement — with the latter acting as an undertow, and the first two crashing together into a gigantic tsunami.

How can we break free of these crushing waters, and get some breathing room? The answer — such as it is — may come from a gradual awakening to the need for putting a stop to some old practices before new ones can be adopted. The social business mantra has been — generally — the opposite: that a gradualist adoption of tools and techniques could be layered on top of or between older bits of the company’s ways and means. That’s what is generally being done, with very mixed results.

And for large or highly dynamic businesses, adding a little social business to the mix is like putting a teabag in the bathtub: it’s too diffused to make any difference.

So, I am advocating an oppositional approach. First start by recalibrating around different principles — human-centered principles — and then reworking work. My umbrella term for this new form factor of business is ‘leanership’, because in comparison to current and traditional business, 21st businesses will have to be much more agile, nimble, and adaptable, and to get there leadership must diffuse and emerge throughout business networks, with a very different concept of leading. What many — like Lazlo Bock of Google — call emergent leadership, and which I call leanership.

Bock’s work at Google is an example of what I mean. They researched their hiring practices, found that they were basically folklore, and then replaced them with analytically- and scientifically-grounded alternatives (see Lazlo Bock talks about hiring at Google, and why the GPA is irrelevant).

This is not ‘social business’, it’s a new way of work, some aspects of which are social.

That’s why I am not trumpeting social business as answer to some nebulous question about the future of business (see ‘Social Business’ isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either), instead I am trying to track what the most advanced forward-leaning companies — like Asana, Google, GitHub, Medium, Zappo’s and Yammer — are doing. And those practices converge toward leanership.

Juxtaposition: Dachis Group is acquired by Sprinklr, PostShift opens for business

I am launching a new form of blog post here: a juxtaposition, where I take two things that have happened at the same time, and I draw some analogy, metaphor, or correlation from that occurrence.
I read that Dachis Group, the once-upon-a-time social business strategy consultancy that morphed a bit at a time into a social media analytics tool company, was acquired by Sprinklr, a social media consulting and technology firm. It seemed like they couldn’t get traction when the large consulting firms and technology companies were rolling out their own social business strategy capabilities
Jeff Dachis, the co-founder and CEO of Dachis Group responded to an email, saying ‘After a short period of operational transition, I will have a permanent advisory board role with the title of Chief Evangelist’, which sounds like he is leaving to start something new. All of the other folks that I know and respect who were involved in the company in the early days have left, with the exception of Peter Kim and Dion Hinchcliffe. I have emails in to them. But others — Dave Gray, Jevon MacDonald, and Kate Niederhoffer — left years ago, and Lee Bryant and the former Headshift crew that become Dachis Europe left not too long ago, too.
In an eerily well-timed announcement, Lee Bryant posted today that his new business, PostShift, is officially open for business. I wrote about Postshift in July, when he left Dachis and first announced the firm (see Lee Bryant leaves Dachis Group, announces something new).
Lee and company are leapfrogging all the issues of the social business controversy, and attacking today’s real problem:

Our mission: To build 21st Century businesses.
We believe that organisations cannot fully benefit from social technology without also addressing questions of structure, culture and practice in a serious way. We will be working with established firms, to look beyond social technology adoption towards new ways of working and more agile management structures; and with investors and startups, to help them scale without losing what made them special in the first place.

New ways of work, and more agile management styles: sounds like a leanership orientation, to me.
So, the one side of the juxtaposition is the acquisition of Dachis and the end of the era of social business that Dachis personified, and the decline of the principles that motivated its creation in the first place. As I have said, ‘Social Business’ isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either. The emotive force of the term has declined as it’s been bandied around by vendors and gurus, touting a hundred different takes on social and without any real crystallization.
On the other side is one of the wisest and deep thinking crews of people, Lee Bryant and the Postshifters, who have reoriented to today’s business challenge: how to look beyond work tech — now largely social in a fundamental way, along with other characteristics —  and to tackle reworking work in a way that will match the new postnormal, 21st century world. A world vastly different than the mid zeroes when social business started to seem promising, and one where everything must be reevaluated.
We’re talking about making the shift, here at GigaOM Research. So don’t be surprised if you land here one day soon to see that my posts and reports are published under The Future Of Work, instead of Social.
[Update – 3:42pm 20 Feb 2014: Susan Scrupski of Change Agents Worldwide mentioned on Twitter that her time at Dachis wasn’t mentioned. An oversight in a way, although I didn’t know Susan when Dachis was founded. She folded her 2.0 Adoption Council into Dachis a few years ago, and left the company just over a year ago. She’s founded CAWW and brought aboard a great constellation of very knowledgeable folks. I plan to interview her to learn more about the network and her goals for it.]

Things that didn’t happen, and what it means

I’ve had a head cold for a few days, and paradoxically, that has me thinking in a backwards way about what went on last week. Or, actually, about things that didn’t happen last week, or during 2013, either.

Eric Schmidt, in a Bloomberg interview, says his biggest mistake was missing social:

Eric Schmidt’s 2014 Predictions via Bloomberg

The biggest mistake that I made was not anticipating the rise of the social networking phenomenon. Not a mistake we’re going to make again. I guess in our defense we were busy working on many other things, but we should have been in that area and I take responsibility for that.

But, as I suggested in Eric Schmidt admits his biggest mistake was missing social, Google is still making that mistake everyday. Google+ is an effort to solve that problem, perhaps. But the integration into Gmail, Calendar, and Google Apps feels like an intrusion, an effort to make people use Google+ in its full glory, and not a social addition to the existing functionality of those tools.

The second thing that didn’t happen in the last few days of 2014 — as had been widely discussed — was the long-awaited announcement of a replacement for Steve Ballmer, the soon-to-be-out CEO of Microsoft. The word is that many of the candidates are concerned about taking the job when Ballmer and Gates — two former CEOs of the company — would remain on the board. This sets up the context for really strange board dynamics.

In the past I argued that Microsoft might have to got through two CEOs after Ballmer before making the real changes necessary to turn the company in the right direction:

Stowe Boyd, One Microsoft CEO scenario is looking likely

I have been making a two CEO argument: someone is going to be appointed the new CEO, and more-or-less required to continue the current business plan, which is based on the Ballmer theory of fighting everywhere: the ‘devices and services’ plan he hatched last year and reorganized around. However, that CEO will have to be followed by another CEO, the one that will start making the real changes Microsoft needs to make to become a competitor in its growth area: enterprise software. The board is just not willing to accept the change that the ‘second coming’ implies.

So, now it seems that we may have to wait for the Microsoft board to get at least Ballmer off the board, if not both former CEOs. And getting Gates to leave may be impossible, considering that he has said he expects to spend considerable time working with the new CEO. That sounds like a tough row to hoe for any newcomer.

All of this is bad news for Microsoft, in a world where delay is a killer. And this is all compounded by the barrage of major strategic efforts that Ballmer has put into motion — a major reorg, purchasing Nokia’s handheld business, pushing aggressively  into tablets — all of which the newcomer will have to grapple with starting on Day One. So Microsoft is in a holding pattern, circling the airport, waiting for a James Bond type to skydive into the flight deck and save the day. All looking more and more difficult to pull off.

And the third thing that didn’t happen: work management market consolidation. There is no ‘winner’ in the work management (social business) marketplace. There are dozens of competitors — IBM, Microsoft, Jive, Podio — with amazingly similar approaches to what they call ‘collaboration’ — the context-based (projects, groups, departments, teams, etc.) sharing of digital assets, perhaps including some sort of ‘apps’, and perhaps supporting some sort of following of individuals, tags, or contexts — but we have not matured to the point where a few dominate 90% of the marketplace.

Perhaps that is a sign of the early days in the market, but I think it’s something more. I think there is a mismatch between the collaboration model and the actual way that work is getting done today. And the mismatch is one of the reasons that the idea of social business is causing anxiety in the enterprise. As McLuhan said,

Anxiety occurs when people try to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.

This is a topic that I will returning to a great deal over the months ahead, I am sure.

Sunday Sampler: Ideas that shaped management in 2013, Charlene Li on 2014, Dana Theus on Why Employees Want To Leave

In 2014, I am adding a new feature: the Sunday Sampler. During the week I will collect pieces that are relevant to my interests around the future of work, but are not right for a full-blown post, and I will drop that here on Sunday.

A great effort by Katherine Bell to identify The Ideas that Shaped Management in 2013 as published in the Harvard Business Review. I read a number of these over the course of the year. In particular, Steve Blank’s Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything, Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? and Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh’s Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact stood out for me.

Charlene Li published a summary of information from Altimeter group from 2014 in Infographic: State of Social Business 2013 and Outlook for 2014, and offered this on 2014:

My outook for 2014 is that many more organizations will overcome the stigma of “social” and seek ways to articulate connections with customers and employees into their business. In just the last half of the year, we’ve worked with several organizations that are doing the hard work of connecting their social efforts to business value — it sounds easy to connect the dots but actually building the organization, governance, and process to do this will be most of the focus in 2014.

It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t have the appeal of new consumer bright shiny objects or excite of a tech IPO. But this is where the real value will be created, real benefits will be built. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, a bit of gut-wrenching leaps of faith as employees and customers are empowered, but hopefully in a year we’ll have seen key numbers like the percent of companies associating social with business value increase from today.

Shawn Murphy summarized a series by Dana Theus called Why Employees Want To Leave Your Company, and instead of summarizing, I will just repull three pull quotes:

Unwillingness to update how we ask employees to compartmentalize their personal from their professional lives is antiquated and ridiculous.

Employees are exhausted by the cut-throat, grab what you can, self-centered leadership.

Leaders must own their response to the abysmal work environment that is suffocating our workplaces.

I was off for a few days this week, and now am suffering from a massive headcold, but expect a longer list starting next Sunday.


The New Visionaries: Interview with Scott Hebner

I was more than happy to be able to get Scott Hebner of IBM to dedicate a slice of his time to chat with me about his — and IBM’s — thinking about social business.

Proving the world is a small place, once again, I was having a conversation with Kat Mandelstein of PWC the other day regarding Chautauqua, the open community exploring the future of work and advocating new ways to work together, and I learned that she had worked for Scott some years ago, when she was with IBM.

Scott Hubner

Scott Hubner

About Scott

Scott has has over two decades in enterprise software market development, product management, and marketing, across a broad range of technology segments. Since July 2013 he has been  the VP of Social Business Solutions at IBM, and earlier has had lead roles for IBM’s Tivoli, Rational, Websphere, and related solutions.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: In a recent report (you cited in a Forbes post) 62% of businesses are expanding their investments in social business, and you correlated that with their technology investment, which is now understood to to be the single most important factor in company success. But the investments in social business are not solely technology, right?

Scott Hebner: That’s absolutely right. Social business is not just about the technology and tools, but the intangibles, culture, psychology, sociology, behavior. If you think about it, all businesses are becoming social business whether they realize it or not, as a by product of people using social technologies in and out of work. The enterprise is becoming transparent like never before as organizational siloes break down and everyone now on the front lines with customers. Thus, when an organizations commits to harnessing the power of social business, its invests in its people, how they share knowledge, how they build differentiated expertise, how they best harness relationships. Organizations are are now prioritizing mutual trust, empowerment, responsiveness and authenticity as key attributes of a modern enterprise. In fact, 65% are now updating their organizational designs, policies, operating principles and business processes to best empower their people while protecting the enterprise.

• We’re witnessing a significant evolutionary stage in social business. Social started as tools that would help to increase collaboration internally, across an organization. Marketers immediately recognized the benefits of using social to reach new customers and markets. But now, we’re seeing social unlock new engines of innovation across an enterprise, every business process and department. Social has become the new intelligence for driving business outcomes. – Scott Hebner •

We’re finding that by investing in social business, companies are evolving their organizational design to embody a new style of leadership that facilitates a more collaborative, responsive, transparent and authentic way to work and engage with customers. They’re creating cultures of mutual trust which empowers people to engage and act, guided by social governance policies that employees understand, comply with and respect. Social is so much more than tools and technology, it’s people.

SB: How does this new culture of trust manifest itself? Some companies have decided to let employees decide on their own where and at what hours to work, for example, or how much vacation time to take. Is that the sort of result you’d expect from increased trust?

SH: We, here at IBM, have been focused on becoming a social business ourself and learned a lot about this area. Interesting enough, the first question we are often asked is about our policy and governance approach as people realize this is a fundamentally new way to work. In this new world, organizations are becoming more transparent for sure. With transparency come the need to trust your employees and build a highly authentic culture. In this new culture, however, trust certainly isn’t a free-for-all. There needs to be clearly defined policies and governance models to ensure that people are empowered while concurrently protecting the enterprise. A great example of this is IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines. Almost a decade ago, IBMers used a wiki to create a set of guidelines for all IBMers who wanted to blog. These guidelines aimed to provide helpful, practical advice to protect both IBM bloggers and IBM.

The guidelines have been reexamined over the years in light of ever-evolving technologies and online social tools to ensure they remain current to the needs of employees and the company. These efforts have broadened the scope of the existing guidelines to include all forms of social computing.

Each year IBMers are required to review and agree to this set of guidelines, providing a regular reminder of IBM’s encouragement and IBMers’ responsible involvement today in this rapidly growing environment of relationship, learning and collaboration.

SB: How would you characterize the state of practice today for social business? Are most companies still in the initial stages of becoming social? Do you have an easy-to-understand model of social business maturity?

SH:We’re witnessing a significant evolutionary stage in social business. Social started as tools that would help to increase collaboration internally, across an organization. Marketers immediately recognized the benefits of using social to reach new customers and markets. But now, we’re seeing social unlock new engines of innovation across an enterprise, every business process and department. Social has become the new intelligence for driving business outcomes. For example, human resource professionals are using social combined with analytics to optimize workforce talent. Social business is really becoming business as usual. The use of social has now evolved from a medium of personal interaction to an indispensable tool of business and commercial engagement. With 66% participating in professional communities, 81 percent engaging in a brand conversations and 61 percent evaluating what others think and do, people are improving how they work and make decisions.

In terms of maturity, we’re still seeing a pretty significant discrepancy between leading social businesses and those organizations are just dipping their toes in. That being said, social is the future of how the modern enterprise will work. We live in a social world. With two billion social connections and over three billion expressions per day, social is fueling the emergence of a knowledge economy. Social business maturity is never fully realized but there is a distinct path and it centers around your people. Empowering your people by activating a digital ecosystem for both customers and employees. Understanding your people by applying analytics and acting upon this new social data. And lastly, trusting your people, pervasively harnessing a transparent and authentic way of working. By mastering these areas organizations will thrive as holistic social businesses.

SB: Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, said ‘Understand the social network not as your new water cooler, but as your new production line.’ That’s the sort of insight that we should expect from the CEOs of companies further along the adoption path, right?

SH: We certainly think so. Social is truly the new production line for the knowledge age. It may have started as a way to increase collaboration, but today social is so much more. Think about it, knowledge is being created and shared at unprecedented rates. Its a gold mine just waiting to be tapped by leaders. It’s enabling employees to learn rapidly, build distinctive expertise and then share that expertise within specialized communities to help solve business challenges. It’s fueling client-centric innovation by crowdsourcing ideas and resources. It’s expanding customer sales, loyalty and advocacy through exceptional digital experiences, providing access to expertise, collective knowledge and personalized value.

• Understand the social network not as your new water cooler, but as your new production line. – Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO •

Our CxO survey of 4000+ across the globe was titled “The Customer Activated Enterprise” because the c-suite, including CEOs, are recognizing the shift toward more open, social and collaborative models of business operation that bring employees and customers together in entirely new ways. It is people, after all, that are the engines of innovation.

SB: The network effects of communications technologies are well known. An office worker get immediate benefits from a stapler even if others in the office don’t have them. But to get value from a fax machine, a cell phone, or an enterprise social network solution you need others to get on board the innovation for it to have any value, and as more do so, the value of the communication network goes up exponentially. And at some critical asymptote in the adoption curve, something profound happens, and the world changes. We’ve seen that with email, cell phones, and today with smart devices. Do you think we will see that turning point in the world of business? Will social revolutionize the way we work, and if so, when?

SH: The revolution is underway. With the open nature of today’s business environment, where 70 percent of employees are engaged in social activities both internally and externally, organizations are working differently. Importantly, the use of social has now evolved to an indispensable tool of business and commercial engagement. With 66 percent participating in professional communities, 81 percent engaging in a brand conversations and 61 percent evaluating what others think and do, people are improving how they work and make decisions. In the end, social technologies are changing the nature of the business processes that both consumers and employees rely on. It’s humanizing them, it’s feeding them with behavioral and sentimental data, and its simplifying them.

By 2020, because of the pervasive adoption of social technologies, new systems of people-centric engagement will be mainstream; successful enterprises are now able to tap into shared insight, collective knowledge and expertise at the individual level to empower more meaningful engagement with both employees and customers.

SB: I agree that it is a revolution, which also means that it’s being pursued by a movement. And I necessarily think that also means a break with at least some parts of 20th century notions of business. As I recently wrote, a lot of what goes on today in business is not only broken, but dangerous.

SH: Certainly, just as the internet changed the economics of information and business models, social business is making a significant mark on the way business operates and consumers buy. It’s truly reengineering the way work gets done, but in an incremental manner.

It’s amazing when you think that just a few years ago social was pretty much exclusively viewed as a tool for students and teens to connect with one another. But today, some 65+ percent of workers are engaged in professional communities and commercial activities. With the explosion of mobile devices, the power of analytics and new cloud delivery models, what we have is a perfect storm of industry trends that make this the time for social to really impact the business world. And the role that social plays is the amplification of human capability. People. The sociology and psychology of people is changing. And people make up workforces and marketplace.

Enterprises now participate in digital ecosystems which are fusing marketplaces and workforces in entirely new ways. It’s natural, therefore, for enterprises to have to evolve their operating designs.

SB: Thanks for your insights, Scott.

SH: Thanks for having me, Stowe.

Moving toward a third way of work: leaving the first and second behind

Chris Heuer’s ‘Social Business is dead!’ article has led to a cascade of other articles, some of which are made up of comments of a dozen or more thinkers and practitioners on the topic.

I wrote a long post,‘Social Business’ isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either, that led to a lot of discussion of Twitter and elsewhere. My thesis is laid out in the title, but here’s the meat of my response:

Perhaps, then, I could restate Heuer’s apocalyptic statement into something more practical and pragmatic: social business isn’t dead, but it isn’t enough, either. And simply getting the meaning of the term straightened out — if such a thing is possible, at this point — won’t add much, either. At the best, there are a set of ideas derived from the social revolution on the web — like pull versus push communication, and the benefits of defaulting to open, not closed, communication — that can be productively applied to make working socially easier and faster.What is needed, though, is not a retreat to arguing about the term social business, but a movement forward, a movement embodied as a community of people committed to advancing new principles of learning, organization, leadership, and management, pushing forward into a new future of work.

To the extent that social business was a concept that a community of practitioners hoped would represent or spark a radical break with the past, it has fallen short. You can interpret that as a failure of the concept, or a sign of endurance of the mainstream notion of business, or perhaps even as a failed power grab by those most loudly advocating for ‘social business’-led change. But this does not mean that work isn’t changing, or that we do not need even more change — in our organizations and ourselves — in the months and years ahead. We do. It is essential to find new balance in a new normal, where the ground beneath our metaphorical feet is never steady and always shifting.

I now characterize the central flow of what I see emerging in business — that new balance in a new normal — as the third way of work, about which I have started to write here. (Expect a longer piece this week, laying that all out.)

Justin Kirby polled a number of folks and collated into Is Social Business Dead? The Argument Dissected.  David Cushman offered this insight,

I think it’s a result of a reductionism – trying to simplify massive change to the selection and delivery of a series of social tools. This focus on the technical means the human element – the really important part of what those with their hearts in the right place were trying to achieve with social business – is inevitably missed out.

Euan Semple adds some pepper to the pot,

The recent pimping of “social media” and “social business” is the same old technology hucksterism that has plagued the industry since its inception. Many of those over-selling and under-delivering in this latest wave have no idea of the real challenges faced by people running large complex organisations, and it should come as no surprise when those busy people working hard to make a living shrug it all off.

I stumbled across a piece from a week earlier, which acts as a backdrop to the whole affair, called What next for Social Business? by David Terrar, also pulling togethers thoughts from clutch of others from an event on 7 November. Terrar summarizes the speakers, like Luis Suarez, who prefectly captures the core message of social business:

Luis’s premise is that a social business is (or should be) an open business.  He talked about the culture change required to move from the old way of doing things to this new way of collaboration and sharing using social tools.  He talked in terms of a 30 year time frame – and he’s right, this is a major change that will happen slowly, but it’s happening.  He used his own company, IBM, as an example – they’ve been doing social business internally well before the existence of Facebook.  He talked Open Business and mentioned@davidcushman.  He explained an Open Business uses its resources to discover people who share its purpose, and then bring them together to realise that purpose.  He talked about the hierarchy and the wirearchycoexisting in a networked company.  He talked about accountability, and getting rid of layers, and providing incentives for employees to share.  He explained how managers need to transform in to leaders, and talked about the need for transparency.  His conclusion, with a touch of Mafia style – Open Business is “Just” Business, it’s the only way to go.

Philip Sheldrake took on the task of directly responding to Chris Heuer’s post, as I did, and points directly at the argument going on between Chris and me:

The tectonic forces of the 20th Century led us to design organizations that resist change. Such entities excel at efficiency, at repetition, with varying facility to adopt incremental, evolutionary tweaks to the way things are. There was no facility to recognize the complexities of the marketplace and operations let alone deal with them. So the design worked well enough, particularly when the competition was designed similarly. It competed and survived to this present day by searching for ways to make things a few percent better with a few percent less resources.

Microsoft Yammer co-founder and CTO, Adam Pisoni, writes: “Our modern ‘scientific management’ corporations remained competitive by optimizing for efficiency, a result accomplished through greater specialization and driven by overlaying process and rigid structure across the business. In this way, we arrived at the cornerstone of the modern company – predictability. Success was built around predictable costs, revenues, customers, and employees. Inherent in the notion of predictability is a sense of control. For corporations, it seemed that harnessing this control while setting and meeting expectations would keep them on top forever.”

Yet what served us very well for the best part of a century now frustrates and disappoints us. Reifying the organization as more than the sum of its human parts for the moment, we have created a monster that won’t be tamed for the 21st Century. In actual fact, it is doing precisely what we trained it to do.

How can we break this deadlock? Here’s Chris’ advice: “While Stowe Boyd still remains an ardent supporter of the impact and power of social in the enterprise as he notes in this GigaOm post citing McKinsey’s Social Economy report, I think it’s just time for us to find a phrase that is more attractive to corporate leadership.”

Now I’m a keen student of persuasion and the power of language, but really? Will the monster cower and roll over for its tummy to be tickled upon the simple incantation of a new turn of phrase?

In Stowe’s response to Chris’ post, he reasserts this point of view: “One of the toolsets to apply in this quest for the fast-and-loose business are ideas about working socially and tools to support that. However, the greatest advances are likely to be more closely linked to fundamentals of organizational culture, and the relationship of the individual to work and the organization, rather than a social business breakthrough, per se.”

In other words, social business was never just about social media, despite many twitterings treating #socbiz and #socmed as synonyms. It’s about people being able to behave differently as a result of new technologies, indeed wanting to behave differently, centered around common purpose and shared values.

 The Bottom Line

My interpretation of this brouhaha is that there are a number of people — social business experts and consultants — who have affiliated their professional brands and personal identities to the notion of social business as the apotheosis of an ethos about a more democratic and open style of business. That’s fine as far as it goes.

However, as others with different beliefs about social — about where it begins and ends — have started to use the term in very different ways, or as people are adopting social tools without adopting the democratic principles, these practitioners have grown disenchanted.

Personally, I think — as I said — that many of the ideas that underlie ‘social business’ are helpful, especially those dealing with the deep logic of human social networks, rather than narrow methods derived from social media practices.

The focus of my investigations in recent years has been to track the changing world of work, and work will always have a future. The concept of the future of work is therefore timeless, unlike time-bound terms like Web 2.0, anything with an e- suffix, and soon, anything with the adjective ‘smart’ in front of it.

What may be the most difficult thing for the social business cadre to accept is that the core principles of social have already been assimilated into the world of business, perhaps as deeply as they can be at present. What is before us is a new era, where other, post-social innovations will arise, and findings from other schools of thought — cognitive psychology, bioeconomics, and social anthropology — become part of the mix.

Social is altogether too tied to a second way of working, I believe. A way better than the first, in many ways, but still too close to the old, industrial models to be more than a bridge into the next. A third way of work is ahead of us, and it’s more than just social. Much more.