The social network of the gods – The primordial soup of carbon atoms and water

carbon element in the primordial soup

Creating a dense social network by having the capacity to form connections is one thing and having a sustaining environment for those connections is quite another. The primordial soup (a mixture of carbon atoms, water, and other small elements) has both in equal measure.

According to many management thinkers and scientists, for social networks to be innovative and dense they need to lie at the edge of chaos between too much order and no order at all.

For collaborations and/or innovations to occur in social networks, we need two things. The first one is the capacity to make new connections and the second one is the randomizing environment, which encourages the collisions or the connections to happen.

Fortunately, for the primordial innovation engine (Our mother earth) has both the capacity and the randomizing environment to sustain stable connections over a long period.  The abundant existence of the uniquely talented carbon atoms, the so-called ‘great connector’ and water, the so-called “high-density network liquid” both need to act together for the connections to happen and sustain. This has made life and evolution possible on earth.

We have much to learn about social networks from mother earth and the very origins of life in this Universe. I drew inspiration from Steven Johnson’s book, “Where good ideas come from” to write about the connection between the primordial soup and social networks. You can find the book here.

Life would not have existed if there were no carbon atoms. Even if we had to search for life on distant galaxies, they too would be carbon based.

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Yochai Benkler – How the Internet’s social ties bonds us together

Yochai Benkler : Internet bonds us together

In the next few paragraphs I attempt to write about a chapter taken from the book “The wealth of Networks – How social production transforms markets and Freedom” written by Yochai Benkler.

Yochai Benkler is the professor of Entrepreneurial legal studies and Co-Director of the Berkman centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The book was first published in 2006. Yochai Benkler wrote about the future of the internet and how the internet is changing the society. The book is widely considered as an authority in the realm of our socially and digital networked world. The book with about 515 odd pages talks about the information economy and how we are all influenced by it and its contents stands true even after ten years since its publication.

What I attempt to do in the next few paragraphs is my own interpretation and understanding of one of the chapters in the book titled ”Social ties: Networking together’.

Yochai Benkler: The Internet’s influence on social relations is too soon to predict

Here, Yochai Benkler talks about two diagrammatically opposite views about how the Internet will affect the society and the community. The first one, which he elaborates as part of freedom and justice discourse  is that individuals will start living somewhat disconnected and arid lives.  This arid life will free us of the many worldly attachments like television and telephone and sometimes even our social relationships and make us grounded. Possible ! this effect was projected in the 1990’s. The other one was the ‘virtual communities’ where people interact, share and build a shared human communal existence.

New empirical evidence (Evidence which is hard, visible and experimented) shows that neither views will prevail. In fact it will be a mixture of the two. It is too soon to predict which way the direction of the Internet on social relations will take. It is obviously complex. Though Internet has clear effects on the human society, it will neither transcend or breakdown any particular aspect of it.

Thickening and loosening of relationships

Yochai Benkler elaborates further about the two types of effects that the Internet has on the human society. The first one is the thickening of relationships among previously not so tight relationships among friends, relatives and parents. The Internet has brought them together. Children who have moved away from their parents are now finding the Internet  a boon. They do not have to coordinate a time to talk to them or pay for long distance communication. The days of the email have changed all of that. The same is the case with long parted friends.

But this thickening of social relationships has also led to loose hierarchical relationships among their family members and friends. As individuals start connecting together again, they have weaved a their own peer relations and support networks. This will dismantle the hierarchal relationships which might have been stifling to some on their freedom to express their views and opinion.

The second one is the loosening of ties and relationships. They are the ‘loose relationships’. Many virtual communities may or may not fit into this aspect but that is the fact. This new aspect of ‘loose relationships’ might displace many of the age old, one to many communication models which exists now in the Television and Radio mass media. This old model will be replaced by a newer many to many model which encourages interactive participation and sharing of information.

The effect of Internet on everybody will not be same but the magnitude will vary among social relations and networks. Yochai Benkler agrees that the usage of the Internet and rise in the individual capabilities will not aid in social fragmentation and alienation. There stills exists the fear of disintegration.

To dissuade this fear of disintegration Howard Rheingold put it quite subtly in his now classic book of 1993  – “Virtual community“. Human beings inevitably will form a community and colonies. We have a hunger for colonies just like bacteria do. A portion of the text from the book ‘Virtual community’ is below.

‘My direct observations of online behavior around the world over the past ten years have led me to conclude that whenever CMC [computer mediated communications] technology becomes available to people anywhere, they inevitably build virtual communities with it, just as microorganisms inevitably create colonies. I suspect that one of the explanations for this phenomenon is the hunger for community that grows in the breasts of people around the world as more and more informal public spaces disappear from our real lives. I also suspect that these new media attract colonies of enthusiasts because CMC enables people to do things with each other in new ways, and to do altogether new kinds of things—just as telegraphs, telephones, and televisions did.’

Yochai Benkler goes on to say that online relationships not only restrict themselves with just being on the Internet but also forge their way to a healthy offline face to face relationships as well. Such face to face relationships are alive and kicking and exist along with the online Internet relationships.

Cheers.

 

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How to reap social media benefits for SMEs ?

social media benefits for sme

Reaping social media benefits for SME’s depends on how well social media is internalized within their own organizations. We have seen and read many articles from various publications and blogs world over on how small and medium enterprises can reap social media benefits externally for business development.

By externally, I mean in the areas of digital and content marketing, advertising, understanding customer preferences, product development and website traffic boost. But little has been spoken on how social media can help organizations internally by capitalizing on its people’s connections, strength, and relationships.

Organizations, big or small need to capitalize on the connections that are available to them. They (Organizations) come with varying business models, profit or non-profit and customer base but they all have one thing in common and that is the people.

Emphasis on people is important for realizing social media benefits

The success of social media in organizations is not about the efficient use of technology but about its people. The relationships and connections that people have can boost ideas, energy, and purpose. Such relationships can bolster the social media marketing efforts externally as well. After all, employees are the best brand ambassadors of the company. If you keep them happy, they will spread the good word. Such goodwill is far more valuable than the exclusive digital marketing of your product on a popular social media tool.

It is important that SMEs should try and make the usage of social media a success within their own organization and showcase this to the world. Once they do it, it goes without saying, there is every chance that social media users across the world will simply love it and start adopting or engaging with their products and services.

People form strong bonds of social capital within themselves and with their work environment. Being open to their ideas, sharing tacit knowledge and genuine insight stems from this fact. Also, openly sharing, peering and acting and collaborating together, locally or globally are some of the key aspects of social media collaboration among employees.

In fact, these are fundamental to the use of social media collaboration tools. Tools like Wiki,  chat software, discussion forums and communities of practice have traditionally existed. The latest entrant in this space is the use of whiteboard collaboration where documents and diagrams can be edited in real time.

A simple case study for reaping social media benefits in an SME

To build this case and to capture the lessons learned, I would like to look at a small leadership consulting and organizational development firm called Emergent Solutions Inc. headquartered in Palo Alto in California. I would like to thank the authors of the book “social media at work” in the presenting the nuances of the challenges and issues faced by this firm.

As with any SME during the growth phase, much of the employee’s time gets buried in running the operational and transactional processes of the company. Being in the leadership consulting space, the focus had to be more on the projects, best practices, resource materials and effective customer solutions.

The organization after looking at various software finally chose the Wiki collaboration for social media collaboration among its people.

They created separate workspaces for sharing news, posting project details, best practices and ideas for improving customer solutions. They even had separate workspaces for presenting customer challenges and thought leadership discussions for seeking insight and ideas from everybody involved in the organization.

For capturing client inputs and requirements they had even set up a space for private client workspaces.

Employees were able to track their projects and present solutions to their clients on time for their consulting engagements.

The effective use of collaborative Wiki has in-fact streamlined their operational processes and they were able to focus more on other value-added consulting activities.

The company has even taken a step further, for showcasing their own collaboration success story to their clients and thereby showcasing their own global capabilities and as an effective solution partner.

A summary of lessons learned

The success of implementing a Wiki collaboration software for realizing social media benefits was largely a case of commitment and ownership among the employees. Nevertheless, there are some lessons that can be shared.

  • It is the essential to share the vision and benefits to the entire team. So that everyone understands and knows where they are headed
  • Creating effective process templates that suit the need of all the employees is important so that it encourages co-creation.
  • It is important to keep and make the implementation exercise a fun to explore and engage. People are more likely to accept and ease into the new ways of working when they are not forced.
  • Most importantly, it is important to employ a community manager or a ‘knowledge broker’ who can clean up and keep things tidy for other members to access the tool and contribute content.
  • Lastly, the founding members need to show the leadership commitment and passion. This commitment and passion will drive the commitment among their community members.

There are multiple ways that SMEs can reap benefits of social media in their organizations. As seen in the above example, business processes and customer base might vary among organizations but the central theme remains the same. We just need to see how we can embrace social media and adopt a new mindset and also on how those technologies can yield results.

Cheers.