A funny way to assess a social business project

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Summary : become a social business….enterprise 2.0…social business…communities….as many phrases that are used every day with very little consensus  and may mean anything and its opposite depending on who listens. Even worse, these easy shortcuts often prevent people from wondering about the every nature of their projects and what lies behind. When reality starts to emerge its often too late to get the means, the sponsor and change the scope of things to be successful. What if we tried to tell what things are really about without using 2.0, communities, social or social network ?

It’s now clear that phrases like “enterprise 2.0” or “social business” are used to describe many things that sometimes have very few in common, without having a clear idea of what really lies behind. From long term structuring projects to window dressing ones. Besides, most of the projects that fall into the first category were not “2.0” or “Socbiz” at the time they are designed. Some even started years before the social and 2.0 vocable started to appear. They were tagged “2.0” or “social” afterwards because of their results, the technology that was used, sometimes just to showcase them at conferences. Projects that fall into the second category are often called social from the very beginning of their design and often aim at making people use a technology the IT bought, to do like other companies or because some believed that “since 2.0 is the remedy to anything, let’s deploy a social network”. Most of times, people in charge of the first kind of projects took months or even years to make their project mature, to deal with cultural issues, redefine work, HR practices while those in charge of the second often won the right to lead a social project at a corporate lottery, with a goal poorly defined by people who did not get the social stuff better. What explains why they often run short of means to really move forward when they realize what’s really at stake.

In short, it’s really important for the people in charge to know what hides behind words. Important for them, but also for all their colleagues, providers, stakeholders who’ll be impacted and have to contribute in any way. Words have sense, sometimes not the same for everyone. Saying “I want to become a social business” or “I want to deploy a social network” has as many meanings that there are people who listen to the speaker.

For example, when I heard such things, I understand “Ensuring that, in my organization, anyone can access and mobilize the right resources to get things done and bring decision and problem solving as close to the problem as possible”. If the person saying that thinks “I want people to share ideas into communities” it’s clear that we’re facing a big gap.

All the words we use in order not to make ten-lines-long sentences (2.0 being used for “building the capability of…bla bla bla) ends up by being problematic when no one uses them to tell the same things. It comes with a double risk : no only the project is built on a total misunderstanding but also the person in charge only discovers what’s at stake overtime…too late to get the means he or she needs to be successful.

For that matter, I hear more and more vendors saying that when a prospect comes, saying “I want to become a social business” they feel more worried than happy. Same things with consultants being told “I wand to deploy a social network”.

So it’s important to be clear and explicit about what one really wants to achieve through these vague concepts.

The other day I was remembering an old TV quiz game that was famous a couple of years ago in France (in fact…rather decades). It was called “neither yes nor no”. The concept was quite simple : candidates were interviewed for several minutes, asked questions, and were not allowed to use the words “yes” or “not” when answering. It looks quite easy but let me tell you that “surviving” 2 minutes was exceptional. So an idea came to my mind : wouldn’t it be useful to play the same game, replacing “yes” or “not” with the social buzzwords : social, social business, enterprise 2.0, communities…

It would be very valuable for a couple of reasons :

• assess that there is a real, deep project and not something shiny based on the vague understanding of catch-all concepts

• if the project lacks legs, the game will force people to deeply think about what’s behind, refine, improve, ask the right questions and re-define things using concrete and practical concepts, with a clear understanding of the needed actions…the whole explained with words any business person can understand.

• make sure that the project will survive the death of buzzwords and the decline of fashions because it will be deeply rooted into the business.

Ready to play ?