Social Business, Google-China and Thomas Friedman


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In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman took a very provocative stance on the Google-China struggle, one that puts the free flow of information into a much broader context. Here’s the essence of what he had to say:

If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.

Where is he coming from? Well, like a lot of us, he see the command/control model of management giving way to the free flow of information and ideas fueled by networking and collaboration. There is a parallel here echoed by a diverse set of business leaders from John Chambers at Cisco to management guru, Gary Hamel

Command/Control business management must give way to the power and potential of social business. By social business I include not just social networking on facebook but the deliberate collaboration and sharing that happens inside savvy companies and with a diverse set of external partners. This form of social business is fast and has less operational friction, but its real power comes from the innovation and agility to exploit new possibilities.

To make his point, Friedman quotes John Hagel

We are shifting from a world where the key source of strategic advantage was in protecting and extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks — the sum total of what we know at any point in time, which is now depreciating at an accelerating pace — into a world in which the focus of value creation is effective participation in knowledge flows, which are constantly being renewed.

Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important, says Hagel. Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.

Friedman says there are really two Chinese economies. Command China run by the Communist Party and Network China represented by the highly entrepreneurial sector that is exploiting the high-value flow of business knowledge. The former is a backward economy that can’t compete in today’s business climate (without the threat of force and control). The latter is represented by companies like Li & Fung, a $14 billion apparel company with a network of 10,000 specialized business partners where the daily flow of information leads to design and product innovation, leading-edge supply-chain management all fueled by the best global experts.

Friedman and Hagel both take positions that should not be taken lightly. For my part, I encourage people to back away from the trendy topics like Social CRM, Enterprise 2.0, collaboration and think about how the social dynamics they represent – open sharing, collaboration, collective intelligence and engaged participation – can help businesses thrive amidst the business dynamics of 2010. Command/Control worked well when the challenges were efficiency and stability.

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. Hi John: Great blog, and great advice to examine the social impact of information sharing without peering through a product-oriented lens.

    I made up the part about 99% of IT being about control, but it’s important to remember that business and government information technology (software, hardware, and services) were developed to enable control. Software drives processes and enforces rules. Data is collected and measured. Information is a controlled asset which has a “business value.” The evolution of IT has only served to further embed these realities.

    Democratization of information has changed control, but anytime information is entered in a blog or is offered online, it’s still “controlled” by software and processes–and subject to the regulation of governments, as we know from China. The infrastructures we use today for social media were built on the same technologies that enabled control, efficiency, and stability. I think it will be a long, long, time before we see true “openness”–if we see it at all.

  2. Andy,

    Thanks for your comments. There is no doubt that technology imposes a measure of control which you could take as a lack of complete openess.

    I think Friedmand, Hagel, Chambers are saying that dynamic collaboration fits the challenges of a dynamically changing business climate more than a command-control management structure. I agree with them. Collaboration doesn’t mean there are no controls or that everything is voted on. Well designed business processes that exploit collabortation have a structure and some measure of control of access.

    While the Google-China friction might be over openness and transparency, Friedman’s point is that if Command China restricts the follow of information, Network China will rebell. Since Network China is the force behind the vibrance in their economy, they are likely to bring down the equivalent of the Berlin Wall.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.


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