Follow-up Thoughts from Social Business Executive Summit: Session One


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Yesterday, Axel Shultze, Chris Carfi and I had the privilege to open the Social Business Executive Summit. I hope you had a chance to listen in and plan to catch more of the excellent panels today and tomorrow.

Time was short so we didn’t get a chance to pull together the ideas that we individually presented. Here are a few of my thoughts.

During my presentation I made the point that learning must now be an integral part of work – the role each person performs within their organization and, in fact, the larger business ecosystem. Traditionally, learning in organizations has been learning to do a job, task or to use technology. This is explicit learning. When things change quickly and in unforeseen directions as they do now, organization must adapt. However, learning tasks or jobs most often has the opposite effect – it contributes to rigidity of process and resistance to change (over-commitment to what is known.

Enter the need for implicit learning – the discovery of the implications of multifaceted change or innovation. Implicit learning is a critical function of everyone in a business ecosystem, it is the only way the ecosystem can continue to create and deliver value amidst change. Regardless of their position in the ecosystem, everyone now has a role and obligation to engage in implicit learning and make the new insights actionable. It is not something that is done now and then, it is an ongoing task. That’s where social business dynamics come in and why the most active and productively networked people are become the most valuable. (See Verna Allee’s discussion of Value Networks)

Following my presentation, Axel discussed a program he devised for getting organizations to embrace a selling process that was in sync with the customers buying process. As Axel discussed this is very, very different from following the traditional and explicit “step-of-sale” process. It requires the gaining of implicit insights into customers.
Axel described a 20 minute per day program that started with online listening to customer conversations and over a few weeks progressed to an online dialog. What happens? The relationship blossoms into a more trusted, two-way communication. Here’s the point. What Axel described is a perfect example of gaining insight into the customer milieu – using social computing for implicit learning. What Axel’s 20 minute program did was make the social learning process actionable for people who were less savvy about social media.

Axel mentioned that engagement is the key to success. I would add that when steps like the above are taken, the people inside the organization become more engaged in the relationship with customers and customers reciprocate.

The theme of Chris’ talk was mobile computing but a point he returned to repeatedly was the strong tendency for people to use innovation and new technology as literal replacements for what already exists. This leads to missed opportunities and missed possibilities to create and deliver value to customers.

One of the implicit learning loops I discussed was how leadership needs to integrate insights into customers and what is enabled by innovation with the goal of to creating new and valued possibilities for customers. Here’s a simple illustration.

Kogi BBQ is a very popular Korean version of the taco trucks. Taco trucks have been around for a long time and fill a need for inexpensive food delivered to a street near you. The problem is traffic makes the timing unpredictable for customers – they lose a measure of control. The people at Kogi wanted offer an enticing alternative to customers. In addition to offering Korean food rather than Mexican food (I love both); they wanted to entice customers with daily specials. Here’s how they successfully pulled the pieces together.

Kogi used Twitter to give customers updates on when they will be at a particular location. They dealt with the unpredictability of traffic from the customers’ perspective. They also mentioned the daily specials –yum! Kogi BBQ operates in the LA area and quickly garnered over 63,000 Twitter followers. They took a contemporary challenge (traffic and timing) and enabling technology (Twitter) to create and deliver more value to customers. They busted out of the “tool replacement” trap Chris mentioned and created something new and relevant.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


  1. John, I had six follow on conversations since the event – spontaneous connections with a remarkable focus on “engagement”. One person kind of spoke for all: “We do engage with our customers as much as we can but I feel it is not the right engagement. Our sales team is on the phone all day long but the customers are very hard to get.”

    The initiative seemed to be a great marker in navigating towards social engagement. Orchestrating a strategy however seemed to be the biggest obstacle. One person said “Yeez I talked to several consultants. Man, they make it so complicated that scares me away. I have 120 sales people, I’m not a 20 Billion $ enterprise but everybody treats me that way…”

    I guess we have to do a better job in explaining the execution part, meaning what would a social business strategy look like in terms a normal human can follow.


  2. Axel,

    Thanks for the comment. We certainly have work to do since the legacy of transactional business is hanging on hard. Historically engagement meant an contact. Now people need to engage in understanding how to make a genuine connection – social if you like. They need to engage in that process is they want the engagement to be two-way.

    That’s why I liked your 20 minute a day exercise. It get traditional sales people out of their typical “sell” mode and they learn how to make a more authentic connection – one customers resonant with.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.

  3. Chris,

    That is an interesting approach that facilitates roles and learning rather than “scoring a grade.”

    When I talk a statistics course at Cal years ago I took a similar approach and gave the class a group problem to solve – figure out how to measure the body fat of a representative sample of people in Oakland. My role, answer questions as they came up and once in a while to keep them from going to far a stray. They were extremely engaged and even the weakest students learned a lot.

    It is time to put people back in charge of learning, engaging and coming up with meaningful solutions.

    Have a great long weekend.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.


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