1. An Obsession with organisation
"Organizations lull themselves into a false sense of safety with their hierarchies rather than recognize the danger of discouraging information flow, keeping data out of the minds of people who need it." - The New Social Learning (Marcia Conner, Tony Bingham)
A few days back I read a fun article by Gia Lyons of Jive Software. Gia had a guest blog post from a social business advocate who expressed her frustration with "highly structured document management processes” and heirarchical organisation. In my opinion upfront information architecture for social business platforms is a very bad idea. Let me explain. People often represent stuff heirarchically through bullet points, folder structures and what have you, but they end up finding things organically. If you're on a Mac, you're possibly organising your data in a really structured folder system, but perhaps end up finding your stuff using Spotlight or Quicksilver. On the web too, we try to find information through the shortest route possible - tags, bookmarks, search, mentions on Twitter. Heirarchies are not a representation of everyone's truth either. For example a piece of content that sits in Products->Consulting, could also sit in Products->Consulting.
A great risk of heirarchies and prescriptive information architecture is that in our attempt to imagine the path people will take to contribute to the platform, we create empty containers that never have any content in them. It's quite easy to accomodate legacy behaviour and give into stakeholders that want a folder like structure to your social platform. I do think however, that what customers want is often not what they really need. So, let's remember that information is multi-dimensional. People represent information differently and metadata helps create a crowdsourced representation of your organisation's knowledge. Instead of creating walled gardens for content, let's think of ways that we can actually create information flows - perhaps to the extent that we make our organisational walls porous and harness stuff from the public internet.
2. Throw the Kitchen Sink at Them
Let's face it, you can't force people to see every piece of information that you put on your intranet. People consume information by virtue of their interest and the people they trust. There can be a tendency to architect a system that sends everyone an email for every activity on the platform. That is a possibility as much as the reality where people have thousands of unread emails in their inbox. You could also clutter the landing page of your intranet to force people to see everything they 'should' see. There are several sites with that level of clutter that no one ever goes to. As in the Twitter world, people follow the people they trust and care about. They follow the hashtags that indicate a topic of interest. It's crucial that we allow people to manage their information stream. Personalisation is a key to making any social business initiative succeed - that's at the heart of PKM too. The huge complaint about information overload is really about filter failure, but you don't want to create a situation in your organisation where you don't give individuals the opportunity to place their own filters.
3. Impose Yourself Through Software
I've been speaking to my colleagues about the Articulate Community. It's a community of 57000+ practitioners, with three passionate community managers. Tom, Dave and Jeanette work untiringly to stitch together a community that is free of imposed structure, rules, and regulations. The Articulate Community is not snarky, doesn't have draconian rules, and allows people to contribute the way they feel appropriate. The community managers do what it takes to aggregate contributions from the big broad internet as well as through the community. As curators and connectors, they make sure that they balance informality and the lack of rules with constant communication. You should read about this community. There's a strong tendency to impose every 'business rule' through software. The frank truth is that this is not transactional business software. People will make contributions the way they please, and the key is to keep the platform frictionless, freeform and emergent.
4. A Limited pilot
Have you ever heard the suggestion of piloting your social business solution with one team, to see how it goes? Social business is all about serendipity and breaking down the walls. By opting for a limited pilot, there's no question of breaking down the wall, because innovation is within a closed group. There's also limited chance of serendipity because the chance of accidental discovery from our strong ties is less likely.
"Serendipity is possible when we’re collaborating with our close colleagues on a well-defined project, but that’s probably when it occurs least often. It’s much more likely during wide forays and broad searches, the kind that are so easy to do with current technologies." - Andrew McAfee.
As McAfee quite clearly articulates, there's great value in going "as broad as possible right away". Even if all parts of the business aren't social from day one, it's important to have something up there that touches everyone's lives. To try and put this simply, my view of a pilot is one where we try address breadth first instead of addressing only depth for a particular function. Breadth promotes everyone's access to the platform and allows users to start exploiting the emergent nature of social software to decide how they'll use it.
5. Nurturing Competing Systems
In his excellent article, "Why Good Companies do Bad Things", Michael Idinopulos talks about innovation marginalisation. Firstly statements like "This is a cool, crazy experiment. We're just going to put it out there and see what happens. In a few months we'll decide what to do with it." This, as Michael says appeals to early adopters but scares everyone else away. The other big mistake is to nurture competing systems, especially the systems we transition from. Andrew McAfee talks about the 9x endowment effect, where "We value items in our possession more than prospective items that could be in our possession, especially if the prospective item is a proposed substitute." People are unlikely to shift from the inertia of their existing way of working to a new way of working, especially if it pulls them out of comfort zones. More importantly, why would you want to have multiple systems serve the same purpose?
A flipside to competition is an unnecessary competition with email. Let's understand that email is the most ubiquitous tools in the workplace. Just like we haven't been able to weed out the telephone yet, we will continue to need to email to run business. So instead of competing with email, we'd rather use it as a way to engage late bloomers on the platform. Competing with a system that you can't kill is just a bad idea.
6. An Obsession with Risks
A lot of project management has to do with risk management. While this is a great project management competence, it can be a huge bane in the social business world. A huge part of social business is about understanding the risks, putting in place good community management and letting go. What can happen instead, is that project managers obsess about risks and block out features in the fear that users will misuse the system. Frankly, social media puts things out in the open - there are more eyeballs looking. The crowd can actually help surface abuse. In addition, I must say it's foolish to try and manage all risks through software restrictions. Community management plays a big part in not just educating users, but also in connecting people on the platform, and creating a meaningful structure. Andrew McAfee's article about Enterprise 2.0 insecurities is a great post about this very topic.
7. Modelling the CxO's view
Last, but not the least social business is not about constructing a heirarchical intranet that models your CxO's view of the world. Leadership does often drive the business with a certain strategy in mind. While all of this is nice and dandy, a lot of CxO level representations don't necessary model a regular knowledge worker's view of the enterprise. The way you design your social intranet provides an entry point to a myriad of learning and collaboration possibilities for your colleagues. Just the same way as we design applications with users at the center, it's crucial that we design social platforms with the average employee, not the CxO. Do they view the enterprise as a collection of communities? Then model it that way and not as a collection of practices as your CxO wants it to be. Do people want project collaboration to be democratic? Then model it that way, not through a top down view of how a CxO believes a project should collaborate. Remember, social business is a great leveler and it's for the people, by the people, of the people.
I tend to be a bit of a headstrong social media dude, and I guess my views can be too strong - though I try my best to balance them out the best I can. Having said that, I do have good reasons to stand by my views, so I'm looking at you to tell me what you think of what I've posted today. What do you think? Am I talking through my hat here? Or are you nodding your head in agreement? What do you want to add to this list? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.