Social Business Design

Reading the Economist special report on social networking, coincides with my preparation for a seminar that I'm facilitating (in March) on the new designs of organizations, and in mulling over the tack to take on that I came across the Dachis Group who have a white paper on Social Business Design. It's a pretty interesting bundle – although conscious of my current thinking on 'management guff' v plain English I felt this was weighted toward the management guff end of the spectrum. One can't really argue with their start-point that Technology, society, and work are all changing at breakneck speeds. Businesses that seek to create and capture value from these changes must harness opportunities at their intersection, the hub of social business.

But then the nub of the white paper explains that

Social Business Design is a holistic, comprehensive business architecture that helps an organization improve value exchange among constituents. The Social Business Design framework consists of four mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive archetypes, Ecosystem, Hivemind, Dynamic Signal, Metafilter

Every business contains these archetypes; however, the extent to which they are dynamic and socially calibrated can typically be improved. Social business design provides insight to help measure and manage these areas to produce improved and emergent outcomes.

However, on his blog David Armano one of the writers of the paper converts this into plain(er) English "In its purest form, it (social business design) is a shift in thinking-less about media and more about tapping the benefits of being a social business in a purposeful way.

His colleague Jevon MacDonald explains that "Social Businesses are those which are designed from top to bottom as a reflection of the world we all live in online today. A business where everyone is connected and able to contribute but also where the right tools are available to them to do all of this with a business intent from the beginning".

It all sounds exciting and persuasive – but I found myself asking (myself) – where is any reference to anything around the greater good of all this? And I smiled at the Results section which has two paragraphs – one on improved outcomes and one on emergent outcomes. The latter reading The most compelling outcomes are the ones that cannot be immediately predicted, but will appear over time as a result of the altered system working in dynamic, social calibration. Which I interpreted to mean 'We don't have a clue what will happen if we go down this path but we think it will turn out ok."

Also this week I read a Fast Company article Cisco's Big Bet on New Songdo: Creating Cities From Scratch which had a very similar social design intent. One of the comments made there seemed to present a counterpoint to the Social Business Design argument: "Cities are highly complex systems, and one of the elements of highly complex systems is that when you monkey around with them, their predictability goes to zero," says Pip Coburn, a technology analyst whose book The Change Function argues that the reason so many technologies fail is because the pain of changing old habits outweighs any benefits. And when it comes to something as complex as cities, he says forget it. "If you're trying in advance to define a future city, you're out of your mind. You'll spend years and money disrupting people's lives."

Substitute the word 'businesses' for 'cities' and the risk inherent in remodelling businesses in a social design framework for an unknown outcome is clear – but that's not to say it's not worth taking the risk. It may well be.