It’s early days for the social business

I’ve spent a productive hour reading “Social business study: Shifting out of first gear,” findings from the 2013 MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Social Business Study. The bottom line first: Seventy percent of respondents (2,545 global executives) believe “social business is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way their organization works,” but most say their firms are barely getting started and significant barriers exist.

There does seem to be a really significant increase in the sense of immediacy in this cadre:

figure 1

FIGURE 1. IN THE 2011 SURVEY, 18 PERCENT OF RESPONDENTS SAID SOCIAL BUSINESS WAS “IMPORTANT,” THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE LEVEL ON A FIVE-POINT SCALE. IN THE 2012 SURVEY, THAT NUMBER DOUBLED TO 36 percent.

So we are seeing a doubling in the number of executives who think social business is important but contrast with where they think their organizations fall in maturity.

cropped figure

FIGURE 2. WE ASKED RESPONDENTS TO IMAGINE AN ORGANIZATION TRANSFORMED BY SOCIAL TOOLS THAT DRIVE COLLABORATION AND INFORMATION SHARING ACROSS THE ENTERPRISE AND THAT INTEGRATE SOCIAL DATA INTO OPERATIONAL PROCESSES. THEIR RESPONSES REFLECT HOW CLOSE THEY BELIEVE THEIR ORGANIZATIONS ARE TO THAT IDEAL.

Candidly, I wonder about the utility of using the same group of people who judge themselves as immature in their adoption of social business to determine the barriers holding them back. The true barriers to the adoption of new paradigms are generally deep cultural impediments that can only be fully understood in retrospect.

This is a matter related to the social construction of knowledge, where a new paradigm emerges and a conflict arises between its adherents and the leaders of the established order. This is what Thomas Kuhn detailed in The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions in his theory of incommensurability. This idea — despite the weighty name — simply means that the two groups have divergent world views, based on different premises, practices, and values, and as a result the two groups — even when communicating about the same issues in the same language — cannot really share a common understanding of the phenomena being discussed.

In the case of the new paradigm of a social business, many of its advocates — like me — frame and condition the discussion on global macroeconomic changes and their impacts on markets, business, and the individual. These include new technologies, policies, and societal shifts. However, most discussion about social business by senior executives and researchers from organizations like Deloitte and MIT starts with microeconomic, theory-of-the-firm approaches, assuming at the outset that social business is applying slightly new approaches to amplify productivity as understood prior to their adoption. However, the new paradigm goes further: The emergent business form that will arise from the adoption of social principles is a deep cultural recast based a significantly different set of values, especially with regard to social relationships and the social contract between the individual worker and the company.

As a result, I am discounting the adoption factors, because they look at the least-cultural factors — like the adoption of today’s tools — instead of looking at organizational change and the rejection or regeneration of pre-social business organization and practices.

Tautologically defining social business as a company that uses social tools in its operations doesn’t get us very far. This is one of the reasons that I have started to talk about the emergent business, to make it clear that there is more going on than just the extension of social media into and across the enterprise (see “Beyond social: the rise of the emergent business“).

However, I found the findings description of what various companies were seeing in their adoption of new practices accelerated by social tools to be fascinating, and I recommend you read those sections closely, like the discussion of innovation in the supply chain at Teva and internal crowdsourcing at Electrolux.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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