Back-forward integration between laughing and doing

I’ve always been fascinated by new ideas, by exploration, by going beyond what exists to find alternative options not so much as new shining objects but as concrete opportunities for individuals and companies to thrive.

While going through my friends’ posts in Facebook, this quote from Azim Premji, one of the richest men of India, struck a chord as it happened to me more than a couple of times:

“If people are not laughing at your goals, your goals are too small”

I find it very true.

While nowadays this entire idea of people centric organizations enabled by collaborative platforms is well-known among many web inhabitants and managers, this wasn’t the case at the end of 2006 when the journey started for me. Such as in any meaningful transformation trajectory, changing the way enterprises functioned by putting employees, customers and partners at the center looked dramatically utopic with the the very first years much more similar to a nightmare than to a linear, even if slow, adoption process. Thanks to the initial successes, accumulated case studies, improved change management methodologies, more capable social software platforms and the tireless job of practitioners, some of the initial laughs have left space to the thousands of projects inside organizations.

Fast forward to 2012, many of us expected those days to be gone forever thanks to an interrupted learning curve from Social Business infancy to business relevancy. And yet, after 6 years of social media experimentation, we are at it again at two different levels:

  • A bridge into the future. Enterprises are still laughing at social meant as a sterile approach mostly disconnected from the peculiar mechanisms of every industry / business context and not able to produce replicable quantitative benefits. This is not the economic climate for wasting time or money
  • A bridge into the system. It may sound absurd but most of the organizations still don’t have the cultural tools to understand social and won’t ever get it without an enormous effort in building the basic bricks needed to breath how much our world has changed and why this is meaningful to them. When you are not equipped to understand something, it quickly goes into the not so relevant-crappy-stuff basket.

As there is so much to do to fix the situation, I’ve started to call this process back-forward integration. Actually it is not very different from a tree that, in order to live, has to symmetrically develop in two directions: its leaves and its roots. One mirrors the other and for the formers to grow up high the others have to get deep into the ground.

While clearly at the forefront of Social Business adoption, back-forward integration poses two serious challenges to the pioneers of this space:

  • Integrating with the business. To be ingrained into the system we have to intimately understand its internal workings. This means a first hand experience of the specific issues affecting every single industry, region and potentially customer. An industry focus is inevitable for reaching social business maturity.
  • Integrating with the culture. A door is needed to penetrate into the system. With Social Business this passage is quite always connected to the cultural, management, leadership barriers contemporary organizations face when opening up the doors to horizontal participation. This kind of integration requires a common language, common constructs and some shared experience of what is happening outside of the enterprise. A good dose of openness and patience are also welcome.

Without deep roots and extensive leaves, no tree can survive storms, winds and floodings. Without understanding the business and being understood by the current culture, no social business can help the organization.

In this second inning of digital transformation, enterprise are laughing not because they don’t believe this is the future but because they expect much more from it: more value, more replicability, more measurability, more integration at a fraction of the cost. Unprecedented hybrid capabilities at the intersection of technology, business, change management, communication are at play to meet such expectations. Packaging them together will soon differentiate those that add value from those left behind.

If executives are laughing again at Social Business, it may be because our goal is to transform the very world they have learnt to call home.

What do you think? Are you equipped for this?

Emanuele Quintarelli

Entrepreneur and Org Emergineer at Cocoon Projects | Associate Partner at Peoplerise | LSP and Holacracy Facilitator

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