Networks are always social and never virtual

As you must have noticed, everything is becoming social or virtual. Sometimes both at the same time. To such an extent that these words which carries a real sense are more and more considered as buzzwords which impact can even be negative.

Social first. We’ve known what a network is for ages, but in this early century networks have to be social. The least distance should have reminded us that a network is inevitably social, and this is true in every language. I’ve never seen one people networks. In the other hand this is meaningful when applied to things we want people to understand they can’t be done ore used alone anymore but through synergies : software, intranets… But, by adding “social” to everything, the meaning weakens more and more and don’t make people wonder about the possible new nature of many things. Another reversation due to language :  “social” has not the same connotation in englih and in french and I’m sure that the words “social software” and “social intranet” frightened many french HR officiers and decision makers even before they knew what is was about.

But the word which inappropriate use causes many mistakes in enterprise projects is “virtual”.

We are told that the future of organizations are “virtual tools”, “social networks” (or worse, virtual social networks), or “virtual communties”. Please be conscious that it’s impossible to take any benefits from any virtual team or community. Why ? Because it simply doesn’t exist.

As a matter of fact, a team exists or does not exist. As for networks. You have a network or you don’t. People are in you network or they are not. “Virtual” only qualifies the way you materialize and mobilize your network. Get it ?

My purpose is not to give anyone an english or french lesson but to prevent the effects of a big misunderstanding.

• Skepticism

How many times did I hear ” all these virtual things seem very nice but what I need is real results”. Some would argue that some decision makers still live in the past, that they don’t understand that most of the value is now intangible etc… But we have to admit that the equation according to which virtual structure means virtual results is still present in many minds. Virtual is “doing as if” and businesses have to do, full stop. Of course it’s a bad vision of reality, we have to explain, to make things clearer. But it doesn’t facilitate decision making. Think about that the next time you’ll try to sell anything virtual to you baby boomer boss.

• Techno-centrism

“If we had the appropriate platforms, networks, teams, community will form online ? Hurry  up !  Let’s buy these magic tools”. At the end nothing happens and managers conclude that it’s impossible to drive any value from anything virtual. No tool, powerful though it could be, can turn lead into golad. No one can turn a team that’s really virtual, that’s to say that doesn’t exist, in a real team that actually work together. That’s not because people are provided with tools that help them to do things toghether that they will do these things. By focusing on tools that make virtualization possible, many people forget their object : real teams, real networks, real communities that need tools to get rid of material barriers. No tool will exempt businesses from the basic rules of team management which are the prerequisite to an efficient use of tools. So it’s essential to build teams, networks, communities that make sense and have body in real life before shifting them onlune. Tools empower human groups. They don’t create them. It’s up to the enterprise, to the managers to create them.

A few days ago, at a client’s, a user said one of the more sensible things I’ve ever heard about that : ” in fact we have to reproduce what our day to day worklife is and use tools to go further, to get  rid of barriers and we must not think that tools will make us do what we would not do in real life”.

So true.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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