Ascending towards the Social Business Summit


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There’s the Social Media Summit and the the Social Business Summit, the Social TV Summit, , and the Social Good Summit, but I’d like to present a different view on the Social Business Summit.

Brian Vellmure - Backpacking in the Himalayas. 2004

Brian Vellmure – Backpacking in the Himalayas. 2004

In 1856, buzz grew as people first began to hear that the tallest peak in the world had been identified in the remote kingdom of Tibet. Mount Everest was officially measured to be over 29,000 feet and the thought of standing on top of the world appealed to adventurers the world over. The first real (documented) attempt to climb to the peak was in 1921, with a 3rd and notable attempt by Andrew Irvine and George Mallory in 1924. Mallory’s body was not found until 1999 and Irvine’s has never been found. No one knows if they ever reached the peak, but on Britain’s 9th expedition in 1953, New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the peak for first time, and are widely regarded as heroes. In 1978, Reinhold Messner (Italy) and Peter Habeler (Austria) made the first ascent without supplemental oxygen. The following year, Messner was the first to do the whole thing by himself. Since then, an 80 year old man, a 73 year old woman, and a 13 year old girl have all ascended and stood at the top of the world. Apa Sherpa has reached the summit an amazing 20 times.

Exploring and mapping new routes, leveraging improvements in technology and communications, training, and absorbing and applying lessons learned by thousands of pioneers before them has led to a slow and steady explosion of people across the world who can claim that they have reached the peak of the mountain formerly called Called Chomolungma in Tibet and Sagarmatha in Nepal.

In fact, during the past half century, more than 3,500 people have reached the peak, more than 10% of them have reached the peak in the last year alone. And since, climbing to the top has almost become commonplace, Valery Rozov decided to be the first to base jump (video) off Everest just a few weeks ago.

Reaching the Social Business Summit

I have no doubt, that leveraging social and collaborative technologies have a similar future for those who can understand and harness the power of digital interactions. A future of massive success, build on collaborative networks, and rapid innovation, where the lessons and experiments of the early explorers are passed on, and course corrections are made along the way.

McKinsey & Company’s 2012 184 page study highlighted that up to $1.3 Trillion may be created by leveraging social technologies. It’s important to highlight that their research and estimates only included analysis of 4 sectors, which infers that the potential for value creation is much higher.

IBM also recently published a useful paper titled “Social Business: Patterns in achieving social business success by leading and pioneering organizations” The diagram below highlights ways that social has actually already created measurable business value.


So What’s the Problem?

You see, there are a few giant crevasses that stand in the way of most social business endeavors. Not many people want to talk about them, either because they’re still evangelizing or they’ve quit on the whole idea and labeled it ineffective nonsense.

Some data points:

(1) 77% of employees never use their enterprise social network, and only 3% use it once each day. (Forrester Research)

(2) A recent survey found that “96% of respondents indicated that there was no meaningful integration between what the company was doing externally and internally with their social collaboration platforms.” (IBM)

—> Value isn’t being realized because social and core business functions are still detached.

The towering peak of success is bright and visible in the distance, but the winds, freezing weather, and lack of oxygen still stand before us. It took 30 years and 13 attempts to for a human to successfully get to the peak of Everest and back down. Fortunately for us, innovation cycle times are short and getting shorter.

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There are 3 huge crevasses to that still need to be successfully crossed for most organizations to make the a successful ascent towards the Social Business Summit.

Leadership Evolution

A large majority of today’s leaders grew up in a different era. Leadership is evolving. Contrary to what some would argue, I still believe leadership still matters, even as we progress towards a networked world increasingly being able to leverage swarm intelligence. But since the old models of organizations are not equipped to handle the rapid shifts in markets, leadership is taking on a different face altogether. The ability to find, harness, inspire, and mobilize new and existing networks to respond to rapidly evolving needs in a fluid landscape is not a core capability that exists in most of today’s leadership. If the old paradigm and understanding are deeply embedded at the top, the ladder across the crevasse won’t be built. In order for the chasm to be crossed, leadership must adapt and evolve from managing a strict command and control hierarchy to forming and managing dynamic networks of content and talent.

Cultural Transformation

Hand in hand with the evolution of leadership, most workers today have been taught to learn something and then do what they’re told to do, in a repetitive fashion. Traditional knowledge workers work in a siloed environment with a narrow scope of knowledge and contacts. The evolution towards a networked organization that is constantly learning and can sense and respond in near real time requires that a new culture of connectors and sharers be cultivated. As the research shows, if the culture of sharing and learning and connecting doesn’t exist, new capabilities will be under utilized.

Technology integration

It’s slowly becoming consensus (finally!) that in order for social or collaborative technologies to be truly meaningful, they must be tightly integrated with the existing flow of work and core business functions. Social, when most effective, is a layer that enables speed and amplification across the core functions of a business, both externally and internally. While this will mature over the next several years, organizations moving forward who can weave social technologies into the existing flow of work will experience a steeper trajectory up the mountain.

In the next post, we’ll address how to build bridges (ladders) to successfully cross the crevasses.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Brian Vellmure
For more than a decade, Brian Vellmure has impacted hundreds of companies on their journey towards increased profitability through strategic customer focused initiatives. For more insightful thoughts and resources, please subscribe to Brian's blog by clicking here


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