Don’t Miss the Bigger Picture

I’ve said before, that its interesting how people latch on to ‘Social Business’ but not ‘Social Business Design’. It reminds me of both the long winded debates in the knowledge management community about the nature of ‘knowledge’ and in other circles when I’ve met marketing folks who only want to talk about promotion. In both cases, my reaction was that they were missing the bigger picture.

In fact, what both knowledge management and marketing have in common is that these are both disciplines that are fundamentally situated inside organisations. This makes knowledge management and marketing very much products of the organisations they live within. It doesn’t remove the need for domain knowledge about any of these topics, but experience and the literature tells us that the same management idea applied in one organisation can look completely different in another (and, more importantly, results can vary considerably).

I get that same feeling with Social Business Design.

Reflecting on the Headshift | Dachis Group’s Social Business Summits over the last month, I was reminded of a book by Roger L. Martin called, The Design of Business (see my review here). My key take away from that book was that successful design thinkers are those who deal equally with the issue of organisational change as they do with actually applying design thinking. The pioneers working in this space who presented at the Summits instinctively recognise that effectiveness, scalability and sustainability are just as important as creativity in social business design. These case study presenters were cautious to offer cookbooks for social media, because they know their approach is not immediately replicable and we have to allow for emergent, unforeseen and unmanageable (in a reliability sense) outcomes from engaging with customers online.

This is particularly the case where tools for engagement with customers online, including Facebook and Twitter (or their equivalents in places like China), are becoming increasingly commoditised and repeatable at a technology level. However, the people part of the equation is not. From simple technologies, we see complex social interactions appear.

From this point I noticed that people naturally found themselves shifting from looking at just how to market and sell to people online, to thinking about the impact on the value chain of their organisations. Thinking more broadly about this value chain at the Summits in Sydney and Singapore, we also touched on deeper issues like organisational resilience (how will that value chain respond when things go wrong or in response to a wider disaster?) and opportunities to rework that value chain, for example with tools such as Kaggle.

Talking at the level of Social Business Design at the Summits made sense because:

  • It highlighted organisational pain points for people in the process of using social media and social networks; and
  • It called out the potential to re-evaluate how we organise, to take advantage of the social Web.

This doesn’t change the fundamental elements of knowledge management (“help employees share what they know”) or marketing (“create great products or services, and get people to buy them”), but it does change how we design these parts to work together. And it is this that in turn that will change them.