A while back I posted some thoughts here about how the word “social” can sometimes undermine executive enthusiasm for Enterprise 2.0. “Social” is too often equated with “frivolous”. In that post I made the argument that we could dispense with the word “social” altogether and start referring to Enterprise 2.0 tools not as “social media” tools but as “knowledge media” tools. I’m not going to discount the arguments I made in that post, I still think they’re valid, but I feel compelled today to come to the defense of “social”.
If you think “social” is a negative, then perhaps you don’t understand social. I’m moved to this thinking because I’ve recently begun reading the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam. Here’s a passage from the description on the back cover of the book:
Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work — but no longer…Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans’ changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures — whether they be the PTA, church, or political parties — have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm these broken bonds have wreaked on our physical and civic health, nor had anyone exalted the fundamental power of these bonds in creating a society that is happy, well educated, healthy and safe.
Broken social bonds have wreaked harm on our physical and civic health. It’s hard to consider that and still think that “social” activities are “frivolous” activities. Recently Mike Gotta of The Burton Group released data on his study of social networking finside businesses which showed that among other benefits, social connections between peers through Enterprise 2.0 social media tools contribute to measurable improvement in employees’ professional competence. So in that Burton study as in Bowling Alone, data supports the idea that social bonds and social interaction are a source of security for the individual and strength for the institution.
I just walked into our lunch room here at Allyis to get a glass of water and had to walk past two employees playing ping pong. Is that a frivolous activity? On the surface, yes. But looking beyond the surface appearance I understand that what I’m watching is two peers bonding with each other, solidifying a relationship that is necessary to their success here.
Don’t discount “social”, recognize it’s contribution to your organization’s strength.
I’m finding Bowling Alone a fascinating read, though a very slow one because every few sentences I have to stop and underline or make a note about a passage that reveals just how critical a tool of strength and success a dynamic social environment is. I recommend the book to you, but if you want me to read it so you don’t have to, I will. And with that in mind, here are my key take-aways from Chapter 1: “Thinking About Social Change in America”
- “Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals — social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (Interesting to consider that our social connections are not ancillary to our ability to move successfully through the world, they’re central to it.)
- “…our lives are made more productive by social ties.”
- “…most of us get our jobs because of whom we know, not what we know — that is, our social capital, not our human capital”
- “Social connections are also important for the rules of conduct that they sustain”, such as reciprocity. There are two kinds of reciprocity — specific and generalized. Specific reciprocity means “You do x for me, I do y for you”. Generalized reciprocity means “I’ll do x for you with faith that someone, sometime will also do something nice for me, even if you don’t directly repay me for what I do.”
- “A society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. If we don’t have to balance every exchange instantly, we can get a lot more accomplished. Trustworthiness lubricates social life a society more efficient. Social ties make a society more efficient. Social = more efficient. Business leaders, are you listening?)
- Social capital is a powerful force as it can enable us to accomplish things we could not have accomplished on our own. Strong social networks = strength. Business leaders, are you listening?
- The positive consequences of social capital include mutual support, cooperation, trust, institutional effectiveness i>
- <”Economic sociologist Mark Granovetter has pointed out that when seeking jobs — or political allies — the “weak” ties that link me to distant acquaintences who move in different circles from mine are actually more valuable than the “strong” ties tha link me to relatives and intimate friends whose sociological niche is very like my own.” For moving an idea or a project forward, the experience of people far from you can often be more valuable than that of the people closest to you. That’s an argument for creating social networking tools inside business that connects people across department or functional team lines — create opportunities for the input of disparate experience.