Monday Aug 13, 2007

The Age of Diffusion

In this week's issue of BusinessWeek, the cover story is all about managing multinationals.  It's a fascinating read. I was especially taken by Peter Engardio's article, Managing the New Workforce.

He takes little time in painting a compelling picture of why social networking is moving from the play pen to the office, as he describes a global IBM team coming together through IM, Blackberrys, and cell phones to jump on a major opportunity in a matter of minutes.  "Within minutes, Chiu had 18 chat windows open simultaneously on his laptop."

As knowledge, workers and stakeholders are increasingly spread around the globe (thus BusinessWeek's term, the Age of Diffusion), the ability to make connections in an instant goes from being interesting to being vital.  If you had to pull together a team quickly, how long would it take you to reach the team members and organize a conversation?  Precious seconds tick by while we're fooling around with people's schedules.

Look, it's no secret that speed, ideas, information and relationships fuel a successful business.  As our workforce shifts out of the office, out of the campus and out of reach of "behind-the-firewall" technology, we need to be smart about how we pull these forces together.  As fast as we're moving, I'm afraid we're still too slow.  We need to go, go, go. 

What further proof do we need that social networking is the foundation for the future?  It has nothing to do with millenials.  It has everything to do with business success and ability to win.

Wednesday Aug 08, 2007

Keeping the Social in Social Networking

Sunday night, my son and two of his friends joined us for dinner.  Over barbecued chicken and corn-on-the-cob, we swapped stories about jobs we'd held, places we'd been, meals we'd eaten.  But the most interesting part of the evening - at least for me -  was the conversation we had on communication and the role that social media plays for these twenty-somethings.

Their take, in a nutshell:

  • Text messaging:  Air and water (btw, dinner was eaten to the background music of cell phones beeping, singing or tooting alerts of new messages coming in).  How you know where to meet your friends, where the best band is playing tonight, what time to pick up a friend to go out.
  • MySpace:  The ultimate site with the best functionality and the most friends
  • FaceBook:  Used mostly because photo-sharing was better, but features such as "poke" were met with rolled eyes and groans:  "What kind of loser 'pokes' someone?  If you have something to say, be sociable and text message!"
  • Instant messaging:  IF you have a pc and IF you happen to be using it, a good way to multitask conversations with a variety of friends
  • Will you be my friend?:  Friend lists also elicited groans.  Why do people you haven't heard from in years now want to be your "friend?"  Is it a contest to see who has the longest list?
  • Twitter:  Huh?
  • E-mail: E-what?
  • Second Life:  A dangerous addiction.  The heroin of the electronic community - once you get started, you may find hours of your life gone.  But very interesting, and the idea that one can make a living in a virtual world quite fascinating
When I explained that part of my job at Sun is to build communities and that meant helping non-networkers learn some of these tools, I was met with expressions of disbelief and astonishment.  Why, they asked me, would Sun care?  All this stuff is just their way of keeping in touch with each other...what does that have to do with business?

Such an excellent question.  My dinner guests see social networking  A way to communicate, keep in touch, know what's going on.  That's its power.

And that's my takeaway from Sunday night.  Relationships drive our business.  And healthy relationships are built on common knowledge, trust, respect and a large degree of likability.  These tools can help us find common ground with each other, learn about each other, and as a result, possibly quicken relationship building and trust development. 

Over 3,000 Sunnies now use Facebook.  For the most part, we use it because it's a fun way to exchange information, share photos, learn about each other's interests.  There's not a big business side to it.  But that's OK.  Because it's keeping the social in social networking.

We have a lot to learn about this world, but let's not forget what we already know - that we want to work with people we respect and like.  Getting to know someone is a big part of that process.  How social media can help us expand our relationships and expand our worlds   - and how to keep the joy of interpersonal, inperson relationships sacred - are the really big issues we'll need to tackle in the months and years ahead.

Thursday Jul 19, 2007

A Visitor to Our Strange Land

Here's another funny thing about revolutions:  once you're caught up in it, you can't believe that everyone isn't equally passionate about it.

To point: I was spending concentrated time with my extended family last week, none of whom are in the high tech industry. Lawyers, health care providers, finance folks, sales professionals representing organizations as diverse as non-profit organizations to big conglomerates.  Ages 23 to 85.  But no high tech. As we were catching up with each other and I was sharing our work at Sun on community building and social media, my family's reaction caught me off guard.

Lots of curiosity.  Lots of interest.  Lots of questions.  But remarkably little hands on experience. And no real understanding of why Web 2.0 is significant to business, to communities and to culture.

It was a healthy reminder that we, too, can get caught up in our own ivory towers.  It was also a boost to see eyes light up as we explored the subject and how it could impact their lives.  We talked for hours.  

One result is that I'm now working with my brother-in-law to introduce how social media can help the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, a non-profit organization, use the network to better connect donors with recipients, and how to connect philanthropists with each other to unite behind common causes such as education, health care and other areas supported by the Federation.  Oh, and how the network can help the Jewish Federation build more collaboration internally.

He's on fire with ideas, and I'm smiling ear-to-ear.  Revolutionist and evangelist - not how I thought I'd be spending my, uh, late middle age years. Whodathunkit?

Monday Jun 11, 2007

The Face of Communication

When our daughter, Carolyn, was a new baby, I used my limited craft skills to create a little human faces mobile to hang over her crib.  Aside from the fact that my husband claimed that the faces looked more like demons than humans and worried I was traumatizing our firstborn, Carolyn stared and cooed at the faces endlessly.  This is hardly a testament to my craft skills - it's a fact that babies are wired to recognize and react to human faces.

So I can't say I was terribly surprised to see the results of a recent survey at Sun that showed 61 percent of our employees still prefer to get information from their manager.  Social networking makes it easier for managers to reach out to employees and do much of what employees like - provide context to the information, cast it in terms of what matters to the manager, the employee and their group, and just talk about it.  Emoticons make it possible to humanize the interaction, sharing feelings and being more genuine.

But there's still something about face-to-face communication that is pretty impactful.  Consider a seminar I attended last week on social media and communication.  At the session, we saw a demo of a virtual world that was used for company meetings. Part of it was way cool. Virtual meeting places, personalized avatars, interfacing with the real world through a window to a physical conference room...great stuff. In fact, the person speaking to us was from Europe and joining us through his avatar on a big screen in the conference room.

But.  I found the experience devoid of emotion and not terribly engaging. Why? Because I was looking at a face that didn't smile, wince, roll eyes, frown, blink or show any kind of reaction at all.  Any expressions that came through from body positioning (fold, unfold arms, etc.) were consciously initiated, taking the authenticity factor away.  We saw what he wanted us to see, not who he really is.  I couldn't relate to him.

So while I find virtual worlds intriguing, I can't say I find them engaging.  And I think we'll have to do a better job on the engagement side so that the worlds are not just an intellectual exercise or a video game.  Or I think lots of us will lose interest in them pretty quickly.

We're pioneers together in this world.  And because communication is at the heart of our humanity, what we do in shaping this world will in turn shape ourselves and our children - how we share, how we relate.  What an opportunity we have.  And what a privilege.




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