Of melting pots and thalis of social business


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It’s been a long time since my last post and there has been a lot of water under the bridge. Sandy & Nilam were a sort of double whammy to us since it affected NJ, USA & Chennai, India simultaneously. And I got on bench for the first time in 12.5 years before I move into our CIO organization. I was unnerved a bit since it was a career first for me, but I am finding my sea legs finally. 😉 My situation is a bit symbolic for the fledgling field of social CRM and social business as a whole. While there are various advances being made by many practitioners in these fields these are baby steps and essentially repeating the mistakes of older such transitions. You can read what my good friend Dr. Graham Hill has to say about that over at MyCustomer.com.

The biggest challenge currently seems to be the need for changing mindsets rather than deploying tools/processes. Even the startups & VCs seem to think so too, especially w.r.t. social. Consider the 5th point in the ‘surprising’ insights from Harvard’s Cyberposium.

And hence from defining, refining Social CRM/Business and developing & marketing frameworks, methodologies, processes, tools and technologies I make a move to organizational change management, to be an Evangelist of Social Design. I move from a world of implementation to that of adoption. And that means I need to look at psychology, human behaviour and sociology too in addition to Organization Management Theory, etc.

(I have a feeling there will be a change in the topics that I blog henceforth. 🙂 )

Esko Kilpi states that thanks to Cartesian philosophy we have two different academic fields of psychology and sociology. And corporates too have been bothered mostly with psychology alone while sociology is just an after thought.

The basic premise of the Cartesian philosophy revolves around Rene Descartes’ maxim, “Cogito, ergo sum”. I think, therefore I am.

But recent advances in neuroscience, psychology & sociology have me convinced that the brain though is of the individual (albeit its true power resides in the myriad connections its neurons make) the mind is of the social connections that the person has.

As David Brooks puts it in his book “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement” (you can watch his TED talk too) –

“… a brain is something that is contained within a single skull. A mind only exists within a network. It is the result of the interaction between brains, and it is important not to confuse brains with minds.”

And while the brain & it’s cognitive functions help us accomplish our work, achieve our corporate goals, it is the mind that directs our feelings and helps us cope with change. So it is imperative that change is looked at not from an individualistic perspective alone but also from the collective perspective too, especially the connections within the collective.

Esko uses the metaphor of billiard balls to explain how Cartesian/Newtonian thinking undermines the interactions between people. People are not like the billiard balls colliding with each other but not going into each other. Esko rather suggests we give heed to Kenneth Gregen who likens people coming together to baking, where the ingredients meld together to form a different whole. But I think that is not so in case of us Humans. We do not lose our self in the process of interacting/working with others.

And thus here I am reminded of what I read about the difference between India and Australia by Philip Malcolm Wollen in the Foreword to a book by Kenneth Anderson, “Jungle Tales for Children”.

“My boyhood in India was an exquisite blend of contradictions. Schoolmates from several religious faiths, languages, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic groups and cultures played together happily, enjoying each other’s festivals and food, revelling in their differences.

If my new home, Australia, can be described as a ‘melting pot’ of cultures, then my native land of India is best described as a ‘thali’. A large plate, served with a vast variety of delicious, different foods, different colours, textures, flavours, spices and temperatures — never to be mixed but savoured slowly and individually as part of a complete, satisfying and fulfilling feast.”

And thus I am convinced that I need to be aware of a person as the individual as well as the connected & social animal in order to be better able to convince/persuade the person. What this actually transpires into as a framework/methodology I do not know as yet. I am more convinced about Fogg’s Behavioral model the more I consider it. While it leans heavily on the psychology & behaviour of an individual, it does consider the individual as a part of the society and thus considers social acceptance/rejection as a motivational factor and social deviance as a simplicity factor.

Now cut back to corporate life which is all about meeting goals; achievements. And increasingly achievement is expected in a novel situation every time thanks to the growing fluidity in the world. Conditions are always changing. While change is a given, the rate of change has been increasing, accelerating. And thus achievements are now decreasingly personal since no one person is able to handle all the novelty. And this is where social software seems to be thriving; a place where knowledge, expertise, critical thinking and decision making come together. And since businesses have traditionally siloed each of these aspects to promote efficiencies there is a huge inertia to be overcome before openness, transparency, accountability, trust come in. But in the rat race of the corporate world achieving these is a tall order.

Territorial behaviour and aggression have an upper hand in many organization cultures. Outside of politics management is one place where it still holds a bastion in human culture. Trade, business, firm, company, management – these are the artefacts of human culture. And human culture exists in large measures to restrain the natural desires of the species. Had it not been for trade we would still be a blood thirsty warring species. Thankfully, contrary to common perception, Steven Pinker has compelling proof that we as a species are now less aggressive and warmongering than a few centuries ago and its apparently due to increase in trade (people are more valuable alive than dead), change in government (creating judiciary & police as separate entities) and cosmopolitanism (travel, literacy & epistolary culture allowed people to understand other cultures, build empathy).

This last bit is what I touched upon in a post on the new epistolary culture. And this is where the biggest impact of social tools in an organization will be. But while empathising is much needed, we should not lose focus on getting things done either, we are a business after all. And this is where there seems to be a gap currently. You have two different systems – one for getting work done, another for socialising – which do not integrate much with each other, if at all, and yet the ideal situation would be when both aspects are blended so as to make it difficult to tell one apart from the other. But these systems, processes and tools are just leveraged to support the culture of a social business. But to build a social business you must first humanize the organization; bring in a culture that will guarantee not just the survival of the fittest but also the meek, while not making the business bankrupt of course.

Organizational Silos were created to improve efficiencies, not promote territorial behaviour and aggressiveness. And tearing those walls down is not the panacea as many social media turned social business gurus will have you believe. You should at best perforate those walls allowing interactions and knowledge flows to make the organization resilient (not merely sustainable). Think of the Indian ‘thali’ not the ‘melting pot’.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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