In the old world, the separation between formal and social was clear: in formal spaces, like the office, formal rules applied. In social spaces, like our homes and cafes, social rules ruled. Today, that differentiation is gone: in the Social Age, we see a widespread convergence of formal and social spaces but, more importantly, a breakdown of the rules that apply in those spaces. An evolved social framework. Co-working spaces and answering emails from the bath may be the visible manifestation of that change, but it’s much deeper than simply where we carry out tasks. It relates fundamentally to the nature of our society and the ways we are connected.
Much of my own writing involves the convergence of these formal and social systems and spaces: formal being the ones under the control of the organisation, operating by rules imposed upon us, social being owned by us, by our communities, and operating according to internal rules, co-created and co-owned, often adaptive and dynamic.
This change impacts in two ways as both organisations and individuals adapt. On one side, organisations seek to adapt the physical and collaborative environment to foster innovation, creative problem solving and social engagement. On the other, as individuals, we seeking to understand the new spaces and claim them for our own.
As organisations try to implement social collaborative technology, so too we claim our own applications: publishing personal blogs, photo websites, music and art, sharing our own stories, enjoying the democratised publishing and creative tools, enjoying our ability to connect and create outside of any formal system.
As individuals, we are empowered: as organisations, we are adrift. That’s really the point of the Social Age: it’s a rebalancing of power, it’s a democratisation of creativity and control.
Formal systems can only adapt so far: they can create the conditions for success, but they cannot force it. Engaged, effective and coherent communities may align themselves to the organisation, but only if the organisations recognises that social rules apply. You can create the environment for success, but it’s only by relinquishing control and by recognising you don’t have ownership that you can get true engagement.
As the ground slips from underneath their feet, many organisations reach out, grasping at what they know from the old world to try to make the new one safe: hence the desperate need to control, to own, to moderate. They seek to both own and control technology and infrastructure in a world where infrastructure is everywhere, all the time. Many of the organisations i speak to describe how their IT teams virtually hold them to ransom: preventing them using the newly emergent collaborative systems that bring people together.
To dismiss this desire to control is not to dismiss the importance of security: it’s just that you need to achieve it in a different way.
If we rely on rules to create compliance, we are missing the point: instead, we should rely on the community itself. Organisational attempts to effect control through rules and enforcement simply drive adaptive behaviour into the tacit and tribal space, out of earshot. They never truly succeed.
In the rebalanced power of the Social Age, the way to get a highly engaged community who support and deliver the strategic change we desire is to simply engage with them fairly. The route to engagement is to engage, not to try to buy, force or control behaviour. The route to engagement is to listen, not just to speak, to learn, not just to teach, to be led, not just to seek to lead through formal authority and positional power.
We earn the right to success in the Social Age: we earn it with humility and trust. And we earn that trust through the consistency and fairness of our actions over time.
The formal and social world are colliding: the new space is co-created and co-owned. Organisations must not just bend in the wind: they must adapt, holistically and absolutely.
Only those that are able to change can hope to thrive.