Sunday, 29 December 2013

WTF: where anthropology & technology intersect

Every now and then, some quotes grab our attention. It might be because they shed light on an area of interest, transform the way we think about certain topics, give us some sort of guidance or food for thought.

For the last Marginalia on Engagement of 2013 I would like to share some extracts from What's the Future of Business? (WTF) by author, digital analyst and anthropologist Brian Solis. The book is original, innovative and elucidates the ongoing evolution of social business in an engaging way.

In his work Solis describes how social and mobile technologies have been impacting on the way of doing business. Innovative companies are working and communicating with both customers and employees in entirely new ways. They have transformed the way they operate, innovate and form relationships through social business. Adaptation is necessary to survival. While this changes are driven by technology, ultimately they are cultural and behavioural.

The below quotes are on the topics of the value of social media, communities, change, innovation, people, technology, vision and purpose. They may be a source of inspiration for a successful, productive and meaningful 2014.

The value of social media

The brilliance of social networks is the opportunity to transform negative experiences into positive outcomes. Conversations inspire opportunities for product refinement or innovation to create remarkable experiences from the onset.”

Social media is more about social science than technology. It is about experience. As such, its value is not realised in the Likenomics of relationships status or in the scores that individuals earn by engaging in social networks.”

The value of digital experiences is rooted in people, relationships, and the meaningful actions between them. Yes, it's not just's digital and real world experiences that count for everything. Value is measured through the exchange of social currencies that contributes to one's capital within each network." 

"Through conversations, what we share, and the content we create, consume, and curate, we individually invest in the commerce of information and the relationships that naturally unfold. It is in how these relationships take shape that is both in and out of your control. This is why, in the age of social and mobile networking, relevant engagement and ensuring experiences matter.”

As Marshall McLuhan once said, 'The medium is the message.” Now, the medium is not only the message, the medium is the experience. And that is why we cannot simply design for the medium; we must design the experience where the medium becomes an enabler to the journey and the end as devised.”


The future of community requires greater depth of understanding and intention. Community is much more than being a part of something; it's about doing something together that makes being a part of something matter. Community must have a purpose.”

“Contributing value to people and investing time and energy into networks of relevance will earn any organisation a position of equal or greater influence.”


“Change is taking place today with or without you. To what extent varies from company to company. But without an understanding of how technology and society are evolving and how decisions are influenced and made, businesses are left to make decisions in the dark.”

“This is a time of change which requires coalescence and solidarity. We can't change whether the culture is rigid or risk adverse. We can't innovate if those who experiment are not supported."

"Organisations need to focus on cultivating a culture of adaptation rooted in customer- and employee-centricity and, more importantly, empowerment. Those companies that invest in the development of an adaptive culture will realise improved relationships that contribute to competitive advantage.”

“To change takes two things: the aspiration and determination to change.”

“Change is inevitable. At the same time change is daunting. Undertaking it is certainly rife with obstacles. But, merely recognising the need to change is often the most difficult milestone to reach.”


“The ability to recognize new opportunities is perhaps the greatest challenge rivaled only by the ability to execute. Emerging and disruptive technology is now part of the business landscape. Innovation, trends and hype are not going to stop. In fact, they will only amplify. The capacity to identify and consider new solutions and responses is critical. It must be supported by innovative collaboration and decision-making processes and systems to access and react. Innovation must be perpetual.”

“To innovate first requires innovation within.” 


“Organisations that embrace the spirit of intrepreneurialism will empower employees to experiment through failure and success to improve engagement and morale.”

“Now's the time to form a special unit to start exploring needs, opportunities, expectations, and behavior to develop an action plan that doesn't distract your focus, but instead invest in the alternative realities that are already taking shape.”


“These are the times when getting caught up in technology, value, and new technology is often mistaken for innovation that inflates the dreaded bubble. What we don't need is to invest in the wrong technology simply because posts are constantly written with the “top 10” ways to grow our business with said platform. While we can watch them grow, the real focus should be on the development of a formal system that measures impact and prioritises resources around it accordingly.”


“It starts with vision. Chances are that your organisation is already exploring new media, technology, and alternative channels. To start with vision is a seemingly trivial step, but its role sets the stage for a meaningful business transformation. Someone needs to press PAUSE to stop the chaotic rush toward modernisation and ask, “Why are we doing this?” Without doing so, businesses are only perpetuating the problem as it exists today.”


“Aspiring to a higher purpose is what separates mediocrity from performance and relevance. And, purpose is a pillar of experience.”

“The truth is that innovation works for us and against us. Investing in it with purpose and design is our responsibility. Whether you are an entrepreneur leading the latest or the next hot start-up, a business executive seeking solutions or competitive edge, a decision maker or a champion for change in any industry, this is the time to see through the chaos of features, trends, IPOs, investments, ballooning valuations, and so on, to clear a path for meaningful progress.”


If you would like to explore further the content of the book - which I would encourage you to read - here are:

video with Solis explaining the key concepts of his work during a talk at Google. 


A related post on Marginalia on Engagement: #B2Bhuddle with Brian Solis

A slideshare presentation:


If you would like to share any other resource or your own thoughts on the topic, please feel free to use the comment box. 

Best wishes for an innovative, purposeful and successful New Year!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

What's the future of leadership?

Various publications have looked at the topic, including Hay Group's Leadership 2030 research, Building the new Leader.

The study takes into consideration six megatrends: globalisation 2.0, climate change, demographic change, individualisation and values pluralism, increasingly digital lifestyle and technology convergence. Because of these six megatrends Hay Group suggests the leaders of the future to develop  a host of new skills and competencies if they and their organisations are to succeed.

The transformation will start from abandoning much of the thinking and behaviours that leadership adopted in the past. Leaders “will have to manage through influence rather than authority.” They will be encouraged to adopt a 'post-heroic' style, which means to be highly collaborative.

Good implementation and execution will be no longer enough. The tasks are enormous; it will be beyond the power of any single individual to accomplish them, making “collaboration among a range of different people essential even at the stage of conceptualising challenges.” Inter-corporate knowledge exchange as well as cross-sector partnerships will become more common.

Social media will lead to a much greater convergence between private and working lives. Individuals will be 'always on' and more and more business will be conducted virtually. "Digital knowledge workers will work anywhere and forge large number of loose digital connections with both personal and business contacts." It will become important for leaders to allow employees the freedom and autonomy in accomplishing their tasks, enabling self-directed ways of working, and supporting individualised leadership. Developing good relationships beyond the direct work environment will also be key.

Digital communications will continue empowering everyone to create and share information – positive and negative – instantly with a global audience. Embracing this new type of information exchange, and “fostering high levels of openness, integrity and sincerity,” will become crucial. Leaders will learn to lead remotely, combining virtual and face-to-face contact for effective decision-making, fostering motivation and loyalty.

In this scenario, they will be open to – and advocates of – visionary ideas. Leaders will “encourage innovation and act as orchestrators of expertise from within and outside the organisation in order to harness the potential of converging technologies.” Supporting these new technologies - the acceptance of which will determine the success or failure of innovations and new products - will be critical.

The journey has just began. I look forward to exploring which role social media in the large enterprise will play in helping to build the leader of the future. If you have any thoughts to share on the topic, please feel free to comment. I would love to know your view.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Employee and brand engagement

If you were looking for a book describing the role of brand as a powerful and unifying route to sustainable employee engagement, you may want to read Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life by Ian. P. Buckingham.

In his work, the author shows the link between employee and brand engagement, making a compelling case for branding as something that belongs to each employee of the organisation.

According to Buckingham, at it's core, engagement is based on reciprocity and the exchange of things with others for mutual benefits. It implies a state where the company and its employees exist in a condition of mutual understanding.

In this context, the employer strives to create a work environment that is satisfying and rewarding for its employees, while stimulating their emotions and desire to address their higher-order needs.

The employer literally invites them to bring themselves to work and become similarly invested (engaged) in the long-term success of their organisation or brand.”

A point stressed by the author is that employees' engagement with the brand is discretionary, which means it cannot be forced or faked. Engaged employees are usually self-electing rather than made that way by corporate programs. That is why two-way communication needs to be “expanded dramatically.” This requires allowing employees the opportunity to explore assertions made about the brand for themselves and two-way channels to exchange feed-back. The more empowered and involved they feel, the more likely they are to generate on-brand and on-strategy initiatives through their own power and efforts.

While there are variations, Buckingham suggests the most common traits exhibited by engaged employees, summed up by the ironic RIPE:
  • Receptive: they are open to opportunities to be involved
  • Involved: they are part of the program, not recipient of it
  • Proactive: they innovate without being asked
  • Energised: they do more things

With those qualities, engaged employees are achievers - the things they do tend to be fruitful – and advocates - they are proud and happy and actively recommend the brand.

The author also explores the type of organisations which seem to allow employees with RIPE-AA credentials to thrive. He notes that usually their top team are advocates of culture-led approach to brand management; develop a very clear business case for change; involve and engage all employees in the development and evolution of the business; and insist on partnership between the external and internal facing communication/engagement functions.

Linked to the last point is the need to look at colleagues as one of the many communities the organisation need to engage with. The author writes about a joined-up approach to engagement which takes into consideration the outsider world, such as communities, customers and corporate partners.

With the increasing use of digital communications and the power, reach, unpredictability and response time of social media, it's no longer possible to control stakeholder perceptions with silos-specific communications. Boundaries are blurring. 

“It's disingenuous, counterproductive and confusing to pretend that the brand the world outside engages with is or should be any different from the brand “presented” to employees.”

This requires trust and transparency inside the business. 

“Trust is fundamental to sustainable employee engagement and brands can't be sustained without engaged employees. 

There is a lot of noise surrounding the Edelman Trust Barometer for a reason.”

Thank you Ian. In the current social business era, organisations may find your suggestions useful. I look forward to exploring how employee and brand engagement will evolve in the next decade

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Social interaction leads to better decisions

Commonplace knowledge suggests that decision making is something that we do as individuals, and that some people are just better than others at consistently making good decisions. Author and Director of MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Enterpreneurship Program, Sandy Pentland, challenges the assumption by saying that people who are engaged with social networks make better decisions. “Social interaction is where the power of good decisions comes from.”

Pentland has been recently featured in an Harvard Business Review webinar, How Social Influence Does (and Doesn't) Affect Decision Making, where he discussed some of the points included in his new book, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread - The Lessons from a New Science (to be realised at the end of January 2014). 

The author started his presentation by citing Adam Smith, who as early as the 18th century noted: 
“It is human nature to exchange not only goods but also ideas, assistance and favours out of sympathy. It is this exchange that guides men to create solutions for the good of the community.”

Pentland emphasised that it is the social bonding between people that guide a community to make better decisions and the people in the community to make individually good decisions.

This is human nature, stressed Pentland, and social networks allow the phenomenon to amplify. He gave the example of eToro, a twitter-like social network where members buy and sell euros, dollars, gold and silver. It is an online trading community. Since the site is social, everyone can see what everyone else is buying and selling, and copy them. “This is a site where very dedicated traders who move significant amount of money try to learn from each other.” Based on idea flow, Pentland identified three groups:
  • Isolated. “These members thought that they could do best by just going alone”. They traded based solely on their knowledge and intuition.
  • Bubble. These users were very social, and copied the activity of many different traders.
  • People with a medium amount of social interactions. They reached out by looking at the different types of things going on. This group tended to copy what other people did when times were uncertain, while they did less copy when the market trends were pretty clear. “They substituted social learning from other people for the weakness in personal information that they had.”
Isolated people, performed no better or worse that the overall market. Bubble did a little better than the isolated but still were not the best “because of the loops that their crazy copying created.” One of the problems with bubble was that the same ideas were going around multiple times, creating an echo chamber-like effect. People with a medium amount of social interactions – who constantly accessed new ideas - ended up with making 30% more money of the people who went alone.

“One of the main take aways here," commented Pentland "is that if you are listening to different ideas, seeking out new information all the time, and getting updated knowledge regularly, you can make much better decisions than the brave people who try to go alone or the people who go only with the crowd.”

While eToro is an external social network for finance people - and many internal communicators and professionals in others industries could wonder 'What does it have to do with me?' - the same principle applies inside the enterprise. The author identified two important communication patterns associated with idea flow and harvesting ideas from a diverse set of people, demonstrating the subsequent effect of increased productivity:
  • Engagement. This is the density of sharing information within a work group which “allows everyone in a group to be on the same page. This is an important part of good decision making. Here is where you need to have everyone talking to each other.” Even in the most standard situations involving decision making, Pentland found that engagement accounted for 30% of variation in productivity. “What it means is that the decisions of the workers are 30% more profitable for the company when they interact with all the people in their work group. The ability to make good decisions quickly has to do with this social engagement.”
  • Exploration. This was defined by Pentland as harvesting new ideas outside one's group. “Exploration outside the work group – interactions with management, support personnel, sales people, etc. – accounted for another 10% of variations in productivity.”

“Harvesting ideas around you and different perspectives, is a major factor in making good decisions. It is not about special individuals who are smarter than everybody else. Those who appears as the smartest are the ones who better harvest different perspectives.”

When people share ideas and learning through their company's social networks the quality of decision making inside the organisation can be dramatically improved. Within the process, Pentland recommended to “watch out for bubbles”. As with the eToro bubble traders who ended up with using the same information and ideas over and over, organisations can suffer from information flow becoming stagnant. To prevent this, it is important to pay attention to how employees get information and ensure that fresh ideas are constantly in the mix. Also, “ensure that decision making groups are diverse.” In this context, diversity means a group with a variety of viewpoints that represents different stakeholders and inputs. "Getting people with a diversity in strategies, diversity in source of information, different viewpoints is key to good decision making."

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Socially enabled organisations

Today's high-performing firms make social business an essential part of their overall business strategy. A good number (46%) of larger organisations (those with 50,000 or more employees) report that they are already socially enabled enterprises. Eight in 10 companies believe their investment in social platforms will increase over the next 12 months.

These results are part of the findings from 'The Socially Enabled Enterprise' survey, recently published by Social Media Today.

The study, based on responses from over 500 organisations across the world, explores what it means to be a socially enabled enterprise.

The use of social technologies within an organisation's day-to-day operations, first appeared on the scene more than 10 years ago...During this early period, the business case was shaky, at best, but the pioneers held on to the belief that eventually the benefits would emerge...As the use of social tools expanded and organisations become more adept, a growing awareness emerged that these organisations needed to do more than simply use social tools to broadcast messages. They needed to embrace the two-way interactions and relationships these tools facilitated, becoming a socially enabled enterprise.”

Among the key factors for success, the study suggests a “strong and collaborative leadership”, and “a linkage between the strategy for becoming a socially enabled enterprise and operational plans.”

The survey found that there is a greater number of organisations (95%) adopting public external platforms – especially Facebook (92%), Twitter (86%) and LinkedIn (80%) - than internal ones (58%).
However, “employee engagement platforms are starting to emerge with strong business case support.” Internal social media are proving to have a “significant impact on company culture, staff productivity and retention.”

One of the key points about the journey to become socially enabled is the consideration of the cultural change that organisations experience during the transition. VP of Community Strategy at Shell,  Don Bulmer was interviewed for the study. He suggests to view social business “more as a mindset and behaviour than a technology or community platform. Social is a dimension of how we engage and communicate; it's a mindset that requires the organisation to think about its stakeholders differently.” Also, using social as a business conversation that helps to use knowledge and expertise to be more effective daily.

Another interviewee, author and technology journalist Paul Gillin, refers to sharing knowledge as the essence of social business. He recognises that some organisations are still resistant and culturally not prepared to share information - an act often viewed as a threat rather an advantage. However, he believes that “as people become more comfortable using social networks in public, they will also become more comfortable using them within corporation.” Gillin acknowledges the roles played by internal evangelists, C-level executives' involvement and buy-in, and the delivery of a well defined purpose and unique value of the social networks to employees. “Internal social networks will ultimately be successful and will probably be will become simply part of the landscape.”

In her interview, Whole Foods Market's Natanya Anderson, does not talk about internal social media. Instead she describes how social has allowed the company to engaged with customers through a new type of relationship based on shared values and listening. However, she emphasises that in order to do this, the first challenge for the company is cultural. The process “really touches every elements of the business,” with huge implications for staffing. “In social and digital today people are seeking authentic conversation. They don't want a canned response. They want a human being to respond to them and they want the conversation to be person to person. To do that you have to have people engaged.
Being a social organisation means utilising social technologies – and not just technologies – but social attitudes and the preferences of everyone involved in the enterprise to help run the business.”

It sounds like an exciting time for most organisations heading in the direction of becoming socially enabled. I look forward to knowing how social media inside the enterprise is going to evolve.

Image by iStockPhoto, Jesùs Sanz 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A look at internal communications through the world of cartoons

This week, the very first cartoon created by famous animator Joseph Barbera has been sold at Heritage Auctions. I was reading this news on the Metro some days ago.

The story about Barbera's work made me want to write down a few thoughts from an internal communications perspective.

Back to the Metro's news, it reported:

Jim Lentz, from Heritage Auctions, said: ‘The story of Joe Barbera’s first cartoon is a fascinating one. He decided he wanted to have a go at writing a story.
So he sat down and drew a complete cartoon which was then shown to his boss, Paul Terry. He took a look at the drawings, shrugged his shoulders and told Barbera to get back to work'.
This historic sketch was based on an aeroplane race between Kiko and a moustachioed dog called Dirty Doug.
Determined to write stories, Barbera quit his job as a junior animator at Terrytoons.”

This is also documented on Wikipedia:

In 1935 Barbera created his first solo-effort storyboard about a character named Kiko the Kangaroo. The storyline was of Kiko in an airplane race with another character called Dirty Dog. Terry declined to produce the story. In his autobiography, Barbera said of his efforts..."I was, quite honestly, not in the least disappointed. I had proven to myself that I could do a storyboard, and that I had gained the experience of presenting it. For now, that was enough."

What did happen next?

Barbera joined GMG where he met William Hanna. Immediately, the two made friendship, and a partnership that lasted for more than sixty years was born. Together, they co-founded Hanna-Barbera and created some of the most entertaining cartoon characters of the last century including Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show, Top Cat, Scooby-Doo, The Quick Draw McGraw Show, Yogi Bear, The Smurfs, and The Jetsons.

When it comes to the working relationship between Barbera and Hanna, Wikipedia again reports:

Most of the cartoons Barbera and Hanna created revolved around close friendship or partnership; this theme is evident with Fred and Barney, Tom & Jerry, Scooby and Shaggy, The Jetson family and Yogi & Boo-Boo. These may have been a reflection of the close business friendship and partnership that Barbera and Hanna shared for over 60 years. Professionally, they balanced each other's strengths and weaknesses very well, but Barbera and Hanna travelled in completely different social circles. Hanna's circle of personal friends primarily included other animators; Barbera socialized with Hollywood celebrities. Their division of work roles complemented each other but they rarely talked outside of work since Hanna was interested in the outdoors and Barbera liked beaches and good food and drink. Nevertheless, in their long partnership, in which they worked with over 2000 animated characters, Barbera and Hanna rarely exchanged a cross word. Barbera said: "We understood each other perfectly, and each of us had deep respect for the other's work." Hanna once said that Barbera could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."

Today, is there anything we can take from a story which happened almost a century ago? A few of my thoughts can be briefly summed up by the following points:

  • the need for sharing ideas and collaborating in decision making: it would have been useful if Terry had known what other people in the company thought about Barbera's story. I wonder what could have happened if Barbera had had the chance to use internal social media inside Terrytoons at that time? He could have posted and shared his cartoon with colleagues. Perhaps a group could have been created and the project brought forward? Even if, after a broader involvement, the cartoon still had been considered not appropriate to be produced, Barbera could have appreciated the two-way conversation, feed-back and consideration given to his first work and efforts.

  • the relevance of listening to people, recognising their skills and supporting them in developing their own work and ambitions: Terry lost a great talent;

  • the respect for and relationships with people are paramount: they can give birth to strong partnerships, like the Hanna-Barbera one, generating value both inside and outside the company;

  • taking calculated risk can be good and necessary: Barbera had the courage of leaving a job where he felt undervalued, to find success afterward in his career. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and pursued his goals with purpose, action and determination. He did not let negative feed-back demotivate him or lose enthusiasm: Terry's abrupt response, did not stop Barbera's belief in himself and in what he wanted to achieve in life.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

From novels to organisational transformation

Is there something a novel from the 1800s can tell about how to improve the way companies work in the 21st century?

In 'Transform. How Leading Companies Are Winning with Disruptive Social Technology', author Christopher Morace, brings attention to the popular story 'Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There' by Lewis Carroll, to make the case for today's organisational transformation.

The digital age is characterised by distributed networks, free flow of information, and accelerated speed of business, all of which are requiring organisations to change the way they work.

Morace refers to Carroll's novel in the chapter, 'Disruption in the Enterprise', by writing:

Alice, the main character in Lewis Carroll's Through the looking Glass, experienced this same relentless acceleration on her adventure. One character she encountered, the Red Queen, challenges Alice to race across a chessboard. In the Red Queen's race, Alice finds that she must run faster and faster only to stay in the same place. Frustrated and painting, Alice turns to the Queen and says, “In our country, you'd generally get to somewhere else – if you run very fast for a long time.” To this the Red Queen responds, “A slow sort country! Now, here you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to go somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

Today, many businesses find themselves in a similar situation, notices Morace:

They're running twice as fast but making little progress. It's like an accelerating treadmill with an equally elusive finish line. When business processes hit the limits of their speed, devices like smartphones seek to make workers more productive, but only at the expense of their evening, weekends, and vacations.

Companies have over-engineered efficiency and exhausted the notion of working harder. They have hit the outer edge of what's possible – yet the demands from customers and competitors keep increasing. The way work is being approached today is unsustainable. Businesses need to find fundamentally new ways to increase productivity and build value. They need to reimagine themselves as companies of the future and let go of the business ideas conceptualised in the eighteenth century that are setting them up for failure. Survival depends upon breaking out of the Red Queen's race entirely – jumping right off that chessboard and into a game they can actually win.

Morace continues his argument by suggesting social, mobile, cloud, and big data to be the technologies that can help organisations to move forward; however technology alone is insufficient.

To date, most companies that have embraced these technologies have failed. Behind the headlines of failure, however, a pattern of striking success has emerged. Hundreds of enterprises have transformed the way they work to take full advantage of social, mobile, cloud, and big data to fundamentally improve critical parts of their businesses in measurable ways. They have reduced costs, boosted productivity, accelerated results, and improved outcomes, putting themselves on a completely new business trajectory.”

According to Morace, to be successful in the 21st century organisations need to:

  • deeply understand technologies and the new capabilities they offer;
  • make the behavioural changes that enable these capabilities to be incorporated into the day-to-day  operations at a profound level;
  • know where to start, how to avoid pitfalls, how to maintain progress, and how to measure and communicate success.

The journey is long, but taking the first step is urgent. Beginning in the right part of business allows workforces to become familiar with this new way of working. They can then apply it to other part of the business and ultimately, transform the company.

Eventually, they move away from battling that stubborn Red Queen and secure their winning place in the race for the future.