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One of the things I like about the social media is electronic serendipity, especially when it comes to finding new books and articles to read.

Before the rise of Twitter, Google+ and Facebook I was a frequent visitor to bookstores where I could browse the titles, pick them up and read a few paragraphs or pages according to the patience or generosity of the shop staff.

I would also take recommendations from book reviews and frequently from colleagues and friends.  Finding a hidden treasure was both rare and pleasurable.  Which is why I have to thank the social network for introducing me to The New Instability by Peter Evans-Greenwood.

New Instability Book Cover


One day I just happened to catch a conversation on Twitter between two enterprise architecture mavens, one I knew and admired and the other a complete unknown who had recently published his first book.  The discussion was about whether enterprise architecture would be needed in the evolving world of virtual services, globalization and crowd sourcing. I was unable refrain from entering the conversation.  One week later Amazon delivered Peter’s book.

“The New Instability” is an important contribution to our embryonic understanding of the challenges to industry and the changes necessary to compete in the new world of ubiquitous connectivity, virtual services and social activity.

It is unlike books like Nicholas Carr ‘s “The Shallows” and Thomas Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum‘s  “That Used to Be Us” which have gently and persuasively indicated the path on which we are traveling, where we have come from, our current position, the perils that surround us, and our likely destination.  Such tomes have identified the challenges and behaviors that this new world order evokes.

Evans-Greenwood goes much further.  His book challenges the scalability and structure of the current industrial model, based as it is on an imbalanced focus on asset ownership and process improvement through extreme measurement (the current though Victorian approach to manufacturing efficiency devised by Frederick W. Taylor). In order to survive and grow these concepts have to be more than just revised, they have to be rejected. Businesses will have to be deconstructed with many of the functions distributed and externally resourced.  “The New Instability” provides grist for the mill, it forces the reader to think as the author confronts established wisdom and illustrates its redundancy.

But the author is more than just a detractor of modern practices,  he also suggests the nature of successful navigation in the developing new business environment.  This is not a silver bullet, they simply don’t exist, or even a recipe that can be easily followed.  It is a paradigm that is evocative and immediately understandable, based on the experiences and keen insight of an American pilot by the name of  John Boyd.

Boyd offered a bet  that he could beat any other pilot in a dogfight in less than 40 seconds, even with the other pilot sitting close on his tail.  He never lost that bet.  According to Boyd “…success in a rapidly changing environment depends on your ability to orient yourself and decide on and execute a course of action, faster than the environment (or your competition) is changing.”

“The New Instability” explains what this means and what it infers for both individuals and organizations.  Evans-Greenwood devotes a chapter to the topic of Labor, starting with how technology has enable workers to address and execute greater complexity.  His model is equally applicable to knowledge and knowledge working, since the ability to manage information complexity may well provide the greatest competitive advantage.  Equally importantly he understands the nature of the new work environment with its close similarities to Massive Player Online Role-Playing Games (MPORG) such as the World of Warcraft.

“The New Instability” is a challenging book, not in the sense that it is hard to read or comprehend, but challenging to one’s preconceptions and understanding of structure and stability.

It is a book that should be read slowly, because its value lies beyond the page within the mind and cogitations of the reader.  There are many points that cry out for discussion and progression and some that prompt resistance, all commendable especially if they compel others to online debate.  It is a brave book and one that deserves an appreciative and responsive audience.  May serendipity lead you there too.

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An enterprise dilemma – who deserves the social media golden apple: Marketing, IT, Business Development?

Who should own Social? I have heard this question asked many times, and though the answers given are nearly always the same “CMO, CIO or COO“, the fact that the question continues to be asked suggests that such responses are not satisfactory.  Most certainly the question is not the right question, after all who can own an adjective?  As soon as you add the noun the dilemma is not as  muddy but it is still far from clear.   Whether its social media, content, information, stream or network we still don’t have obvious answers although some of those nouns give us clues.

The fact is that we do not know what the golden apple of social media really is.  We do know that it is current, topical and massively popular.  Additionally the more we engage the more we realize that “social” is a mindset, a behavior and like the big data that is produced – extreme.  That last word should send a frisson of caution through any CEO or Board of Directors, enough to suggest careful consideration before any “engagement” let alone appointment of “social” responsibility.

“Social”  means different things to different organizations and communities, so before  delineating any bailiwick, the CEO or board must determine what “social” means to their business, their business culture and above all their customers. Customers are most important because the world of social is public, visible, and can act like litmus paper in highlighting public opinion, good or bad.  Like it or not customers are going to be influenced by an enterprise’s “social” reputation.  In turn customers and even the general public are going to influence business strategies and objectives to some degree.  Understanding the risks, opportunities and attendant costs over time is critical input for any plan, and social engagement is no different. However with “social” any implementation is more visible, and feedback is much more immediate and amplified.

The best way to get to grips with the issues is through experience.  The best way to get early experience is to perform Proof of Concepts (PoC).  Notice the plurality, which is extremely relevant to “social”, because it is a behavior and an operational style, not a function or a process.  PoCs allow you to apply “social” behaviors and styles to specific functions or processes within organizations.  At the detailed level that might be Customer Service Problem Management, Sales Force Automation Management or it could be Asset Control Process Improvement.  While these functions might not be the first in line for examination, they do illustrate that there is no division or department that presides over all the possible functions.  Of course Marketing, Finance and IT are going to be involved, as they should,  but the purpose of the PoC is to determine whether “social” behavior is a fit for specific parts of the business.  Further analysis and possibly additional PoCs can then determine the scope and reach of “social” adoption.  Some organizations will be better suited to “social” behavior, others may have to consider major organizational and or cultural changes.  However the decision to adopt, in part or in totality, depends on business need and business commitment at the highest level if anything other than discrete projects are being considered.

The Judgement of Paris is the myth of impossible choices.  In the story Paris, a Trojan prince, was asked to present a prize of great value, a golden apple, to one of three goddesses, Aphrodite/Venus, Minerva/Athena and Hera/Juno.  Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, the most alluring and beautiful of the three, securing her appreciation and support in the future war with the Greek states.  Alas he also incurred the disdain and wrath of the other two goddesses, who supported the Greek kings and princes, Agamemnon, Ulyses and Achiles in the conflict.  The apple didn’t cause the war, that was Paris committing another poor judgement call by absconding with Helen, Agamemnon’s daughter, and carrying her off to be his bride in Troy.  But the apple did establish  which godly powers belonged in which camp during and immediately after the hostilities.

“Social Media” is a golden apple.  Marketing, Finance, Business Development, Audit, Operations and IT are all potential recipients.  Giving the responsibility or ownership of “social” to one of these functions is fine if the business only wants to operate “social” exclusively within that function.  But here lies the dilemma in which Paris found himself, the business gains on one side but not on others.  For example allowing Marketing to direct and control “social” could require the subordination of IT (I have heard that said many times) which also provides service to all other functions, their processes and their data. Is that a responsibility that Marketing really wants to be accountable for?

Paris didn’t have the option, but he could have approached Zeus, the CEO of Olympus and either given him the apple or asked him to decide.  Social business is larger than any one department, it is likely that most businesses that depend on consumerism will become fully “social” both internally and externally.  It therefor makes sense, once the analysis of early trials has been conducted, to create a change agent at the most senior level, reporting to the CEO or Board of Directors who is charged with developing the “Social” strategic plan and the transformation, if necessary, of the enterprise culture.  Once the transformation is complete the change agent can withdraw and  the functions will run themselves as they did before, they will just do so in a “social” style.   In the “social” business, everyone should have a slice of the apple.

The illustration above is from an 1848 publication of the UK periodical “Punch”.  The cartoon refers to the famous myth and depicts the political dilemma faced by French voters in the 1848 French General Election.  It is easier to compare business departments to politicians than it is to enchanting immortals.

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