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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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« Wise words on using social tools in the enterprise | Main | Does technology lead change? »
Friday
Oct212011

Corporate permafrost

There tend to be three responses to the possibilities of using social tools inside organisations - enthusiasm, lack of interest, or resistance. Resistance is in part because those who exhibit it understand all too well what these tools are about. Even though they often don't use them, or in a conventional sense "understand them", they are uneasy about what they correctly intuit about their potential.

But this is not some sort of workers revolution. It is wrong to describe the appeal of social tools in business as bottom up. They can appeal as much to the middle and the top as they do to the bottom. In fact bottoms and tops don't matter - they are anachronistic concepts. The way to understand what is happening is to watch Occupy Wall Street and the other protests around the world. There is no one single clear demand, there is no overt leadership, there is not even a specific target. There is just a general and consensual feeling that things are not right and a willingness to do something about it. Even if that something isn't initially clear.

Those in conventional positions of power struggle with this. Watching the media trying to cover the Arab Spring when there were no leaders to interview was fascinating. Paul Mason has a great post about the underlying nature of what is happening. It is decentralised rather than anarchic, purposeful rather than pointless, not organised but not chaotic. He talks about OWS being a reaction to "economic permafrost". Maybe what those in business who ban the social web are resisting is the thawing of corporate permafrost?

Reader Comments (6)

I was really impressed by the presentation from Andrew Smith of the F.A. at SoCon 2011. To me, it is a really great representation of what can be done within a conservative organisation to engage a huge public on many levels.

As for the Arab Spring, I had hope and so did my friends in the region. That hope seems to be dwindling as the new incumbents try to get traction. The unknown is a scary place - under Sadat and Mubarak Copts felt marginalised but now they feel a greater threat. In Libya, the repressive "coherence" of Gaddhafi is now about to give way to factionalism/tribalism. As for Syria, I was not prepared for the brutality of the army even through I heard many stories whilst in Lebanon - who knows how that will turn out. Not that I am advocating political permafrost but I wonder how much the chaos of now will turn into a better tomorrow for the ordinary person. Here's recent source I stumbled upon http://is.gd/t0u5uB.
Lastly the Occupy Movement. While I love the sentiment and the passion, I remain pessimistic about what this communicates to the financial infrastructure and what it will change. Do they care about people - in my experience, no. Making money is a cold, dirty business in these quarters and I cannot see a social or procedural cleanup anytime soon. Sorry to go on but obviously(sic) you touched a nerve.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan Bain

Not "going on" at all and I agree with your points. I don't think that what we are seeing happen is anything like "the answer" but I do think it is early signs of different ways of groping towards any answers we are trying to find.

October 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterEuan

Euan
When I first read your post title I thought "here we go again; middle managers are to blame - SM is the answer"
Knowing you, I should not have been surprised to discover that this wasn't the point but I was (pleasantly)
In my experience, he permafrost in organisations is more often the centre than the middle (If that sounds like an oxymoron it's because sometimes those 2 things can be the same thing, but not always)
Those with maximum authority and minimum accountability tend to reside in corporate and economic centres and expect the world to revolve around them. Setting the governance and policies like castle walls to protect their empires and hide behind. I can think of many examples in my career when central functions behave like this; HR functions with the highest churn and the lowest engagement scores; IC stultifying conversation by trying to control the message; IT creating security to restrict information sharing; Brand acting as logo cops and creating inauthenticity. These behaviours make us ask the question "who regulates the regulator?"
The regulator should be acting to represent the best interests of the society they serve. Financial, media and political regulation (or lack of it) has been exposed recently. All too complex and tightly coupled for us minions to understand, but we all know when it just isn't right and we rightly demand it to be fixed. But too often the real villians portray themselves as the victims. Liam Fox's believes he was a victim of the media. Chris Huhne blames consumers for high energy prices. Tony Hayward blamed everyone else for Deep Horizon and "just wanted his life back"
So we get a deep resistence to accept accountability from those with authority. Social transparency challenges their authority and demands accountability. No wonder those in authority (whether they are in the middle or the centre) resist.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSean Trainor

Spot on Sean and I totally get the distinction between middle and centre. I nearly used the phrase "decentralisation isn't anarchy" in the post!

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I was going to use the term 'spot on" with respect to your key point in this post, but it looks kinda silly just after you've used it. So .. I think you are right.

And, your last sentence asks a good and pertinent question.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJon Husband

Thanks! :-)

October 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterEuan

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