Lessons from the early adopters of corporate social technologies

by eskokilpi

The mainstream approach to management places a heavy emphasis on the formulation of plans and intentions and then communicating them as actions to be implemented by the organization. The starting point for change involves conceiving a picture of the future that is somewhat different from the picture of the present. After the content side is taken care of, the focus is then on providing tools for the process of change.

The approach that is made possible through enterprise social media is very different. The question that is now asked is: “How can people participate in such a way that things develop and change over time?”

The strategic focus of the early adopters of corporate social media is an ongoing continuous movement that is open-ended, and always incomplete. The strategic logic is temporal rather than spatial. When following a spatial metaphor, there is a territory that can be explored and understood, but here the territory is seen as being under continuous development and formation by the exploration itself. “It is impossible to map an area that changes with every step the explorer takes.” People inhabit a world of emergence, uncertainty and responsive change.

Themes such as communities, social network analysis and social graph underline a fairly strong sense of definable relationships and a sense of “us”. Our studies, however, show that social media create a dynamic and shifting sense of groups one belongs to. Conversations always follow from previous conversations and move on involving others, often as a result of responses from outside the corporate firewall. Work utilizing social media has much less clear and managed beginnings and endings. There is, typically, no pre-conceived design for the pattern of work: it evolves live.

Corporate life is improvising together

Physical meetings in organizations are often more or less orchestrated and planned in advance: “You should come prepared. There should be a clear goal for the meeting.” Following this thinking, there is no true sense of creating the future together. It is much more likely that people construct what they have always constructed. When people use social media to connect, they experience the potential inherent in communication, depending on how they express themselves, and how they respond. “Social media create the experience of acting into the unknown, creating the future together, improvising together.”

By linking improvisation to a group, like in theatrical improvisation, we get to what is in fact happening in social media. All of us with our differing intentions, hopes and fears, are acting in corporate plays that are very close to improvisational theater. We are self-organizing in shifting social configurations in the responsive interplay of different players.

We are fellow-improvisers in corporate ensembles constantly constructing the future, and our part in what is happening, in responsive interaction. The idea of improvisation is often associated with notions of unrehearsed, unintentional action. However, the more skilled we are, the better we can improvise. The better we have planned, the more flexible we can be. The more intensely we are present, the more responsive we can be.

The real time web is creating a real time company. The most important outcome is that social media focus attention more on what people are doing in the present than on what they intend to do in the future. The focus is on communicative interaction, the next tweet and the latest blog post.

The pattern of relating also becomes very clear: “We get to see who is talking and who is silent? Who is invited to join and who is excluded or opts out?” The focus of attention is on the processes of participation and the life stream as the narrative of progress.

A senior manager in a very large multinational corporation explained the impact of social media: “Since I moved away from thinking that what I do is manage the corporation through communicating with the whole corporation, I have started to pay attention to my own participation with the people I meet or should meet, and my responses in everyday interaction. Through asking different kinds of questions and through pointing to different kinds of issues, through changing my own participation, I have in fact changed my company.”

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Thank you Keith Johnstone, Srikumar Rao, Patricia Shaw and Doug Griffin