Social networks, corporations and ambivalent purpose

October 18th, 2009, by Haydn Shaughnessy | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

My Sunday mornings are currently spent catching  up on John Hagel and John Seely Brown’s Shift Index work. Though this concept is not directly in their work I would like to air it – the ambivalent purpose of social networks in business. To all the people I am linked to in LinkedIn, at least for a while, I used to say, so how can we help each other? How can I help you? What will you do for me? I never got a constructive response to those questions.

Here is why organisations are better than networks.

First, in passing this morning I read JSB and JH’s comments on the large organisation:

Only 20% of people are passionate about their work, and the least passionate are likely to be working in large organisations.

The fear is large organisations end up staffed by people who really don’t care.

My feeling about large organisations is their future lies in being platforms that organise people in any way that leads to sustainable revenue. JSB and JH see it slightly differently:

“We believe big institutions will become more relevant than ever-once they focus not just on efficiency but on providing platforms for individuals to systematically experiment, learn, and innovate. As scalable learning replaces scalable efficiency big institutions will become more appealing to talented individuals.”

I like the idealism in that statement but as a knowledge worker I educate myself, by and large. It gives me advantages to do it that way. And I am increasingly inclined towards greater degrees of individualism.

And yet, I like organisations. I like them for this reason:

“….the second reason we believe that large-scale corporations will remain a prominent feature of our professional landscape: because they will be best positioned to develop and support scalable, long-term, trust-based relationships. Think about it. Even the most accomplished networker supported by social networks like Facebook can develop only a limited number of trust-based relationships. On the other hand, a large institution could scale these kinds of relationships far more rapidly and broadly than any individual could.”

Yes, this is what makes me an organisation man. The fact that they provide a short cut to trusted relationships. And relationships where a revenue purpose might emerge without ambivalence. Ambivalent purpose is one of the big snags with social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook – really guys I want to be linked to you not because I admire that profile but for business purposes and that is both enough and worth while.

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