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4 posts from March 2009

March 31, 2009

The age of expression

In 1968, at the height of the hippie movement and free love, the musical Hair sang it out: ‘This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.

Age of Aquarius small
Picture by anela. ©anela. All rights reserved.

I think that time reflects the first sensory stirrings of something that social communities are now bringing to fruition. The age of aquarius has paved the way for the age of expression.

The age of expression goes beyond having a conversation; what counts is the moment when people actually want to get onboard with your brand. Social marketing that’s really sticky is about putting yourself out there as a corporate or personal offer. Disintermediation, after all, can be harsh to take. Tacit judgements become a overt part of the equation in the social relationship, which calls for authenticity, blatant integrity, and new ways of behaving.

Social platforms and applications across the spectrum, from Facebook to Twitter to Skype, they all nudge people towards various forms of self-expression and elicit different preferences and, in the information age, they are not a management tool or form of information exchange that plays to everyone’s strengths in the same way.

Some of the current tensions we're experiencing now, commercially and socially, and some of the resistance to social marketing that exists within established management structures, comes from this.

A look at the variously described Keirsey Temperament Sorter will tell you, for example, that expressive communication is an anathema to analytical types and not everyone is comfortable with people over data, or the extraversion of putting it out there over the introversion of keeping it to oneself. Even for those who do, a little judicious judgement may be necessary. Getting social can be a bumpy road.

Having said that, as one of my favourite paradoxes of all time, the analytical type that will prefer to avoid socially oriented contact and extroverted expression, has become perhaps the greatest architect of the new social age.

In that regard, all points of the social compass point towards a coming together of data and community dynamics, where finding and articulating one’s voice becomes a value we can define and measure.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter small
Analytical temperaments work differently online compared to in real life. Online, process management is automated but in organizations a huge amount of human resource is spent on analytical transactions which can detract from the more useful activity of communicating. Corporates are having to work out what happens with the multiple, or multiplied, voices within their business, as are governments, in the age of self-expression.

Corporates can’t all talk with the same voice, and that’s a challenge, but a visceral business, that’s in tune with itself, is able to sing with the same voice. That’s the opportunity.

And beyond the need for conversation is the need for a new economic substance and a shared wealth to come from it. How people, businesses and brands develop in these times will depend on their capability to express themselves and generate the kind of formative ties that bind.

Buying In Benchmark small  

The age of expression is calling out for the kind of leaders than can be accepted by networks as well as hierarchies, and that can channel self expression positively into creating champions for their businesses to exist alongside them.

More than conversation, the power of the expressive age really peaks where it encourages and engenders commitment and contribution. That’s where we have to go to create the greatest potential we have available, and that’s how, I think, the age of aquarius can be converted into a fully realized prize in this new age of self expression.

March 30, 2009

It's about getting a grip or not

Grip Picture by RightEye. © RightEye. All rights reserved

As the G20 debate bears down on London, many are doing a bit of speculating: Will the marches be peaceful? Will we be breathing more easily by the time it’s over? Will anything concrete come of it, or will global indecision send us into an abyss?

It’s very tempting in times of uncertainty to tighten one’s grip, and the almost innate human reaction is to tighten the sphincter. When markets dry up, we’re supposed to sell harder, and when anarchy threatens to break out, the almost automatic response is more policing.

But this is potentially a very creative time. Consider the counter-intuitive reaction of less grip, not more. Psychological studies suggest that being in grip is neurotically playing to the opposite side of one’s best self. The laws of physics tell us that real change is not a violent swing from one side to the other, but the synthesis of thesis and antithesis combined. This is what creates direction instead of reaction, and possible, progressive ways forward.

There are lots of ways to get to grips with a situation. At his EdgeEconomy blog, Umair Haque is talking about a financial cold war and coup d'etat, calling
the Geithner plan 'a weapon of social, political, and economic mass destruction'. On youtube, Michael Hudson is talking about a kleptocracy, and both amount to the same thing - that the economic issue that the G20 must address is how to unloosen this unhealthy financial grip, the stranglehold of capitalism in the hands of the few that’s managed to drive sustainable business management into the buffers at the expense of the many.

How do we evolve from here? My own personal message to the G20 is it's time to profit with, and not profit from, the people, and what change demands is that we tune into new global psyche. Governments are not the natural home nor the harbingers of the creativity and innovation that’s now required to liberate and drive us out of depression; instead it’s the social voice that must now hold sway.

We have to drop our deference and, as people congregrate online, realize that the value of the trusted network is in a great ascendancy as the seedbed that can help to chart a creative and co-created economically sustainable future.

Howard Bloom puts this very eloquently in an article Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul in the Machine that should be required reading for all the attendees of the G20 summit, because whenever there have been times of great uncertainty economically, it’s grip that’s traditionally moved into place. Whilst leadership is needed, what's needed most of all are big ideas, the kind of leadership that can inspire as opposed to control. It's that which moves us. It’s leadership that requires blatant integrity. Going from Business to Usiness means dropping the ‘B’.

Uncertainty gave raise to dictatorship in history after the 1848 French revolutions, after the Russian Revolution and after the Weimar Republic, to name just three incidences in the last century of a fairly common and unfortunate social tendency. Then, in each instance, moderation gave way to authority and tyranny in the face of fear. The mass market of the day didn't have the tools to do much else either.

By comparison, now we do, and we need uncertainty to give rise to democracy as never before. There's a great challenge and an opportunity in this. Hierachies have their place and social order has to harmonize with the fluidity of network. But, as was the prize of the American revolution as a managment alternative to an outmoded sovereignty of the time, the social voice now needs to organize itself into a homestead for new value. That means collaboration not control and generosity of spirit instead of greed.

Less grip, not more.

March 12, 2009

What are we going to do with this sharing thing?

Breaking bread2
Picture courtesy of kmf221

When Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web at CERN, his working model was that of a free-market economy, unrestricted by the boundaries of geography.

The priority was to make technology accessible to everyone, not to create a product for financial gain.

The reasoning was that if he had a commercial interest, it would be hard to remain neutral about developments on the web and true to his original vision.

This was a moment that began a change in the course of our commercial history that is perhaps only now just beginning to fully unfold.

Up until this epoch-making shift we lived in a world of ‘give and take’ and ‘keep’. In that moment, it changed to beginning to be about ‘share’.

And now, thanks to the ubiquity of the web, ‘share’ is everywhere.

When Twitter, for example, defaults feeds as public and shared instead of private, we’re encouraged to live in a world characterized by ‘share’.

‘Share this’ is more than a widget, it’s an invitation to the group mind to become active, it’s an encouragement, it’s a way of life, a clarion call to participate in a new kind of collaborative economy.

As we change our behaviour, so we change our world, with profound implications for economists, marketeers and social media experts everywhere.

At the Social Networking World Forum in London this week, one thing that was noticeable was how much the economic agenda has already shifted towards what Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital described as ‘financial systems that serve the ecosystem’ as an imperative.

Alongside this, planted front and centre, there was also the conventional agenda, the big question that loomed large, how do we monetize for profit, where 'share' was barely there.

It seems we’re currently stuck in the middle between these two conversations. It also seems inevitable that the impact of ‘share’ is not going to go away anytime soon.

Personally, I’ve never really liked selling, but I do like sharing. When financial systems serve the whole ecosystem, brands blend into communities by having permission to exist instead of being pushed into place. This is a cheaper and more durable way to go. It can create communities populated with a sufficient diversity of interest to create a thriving marketplace. Working with a collective mind can serve a common good and share the spoils, collaboratively, non-exploitatively.

It's a world where egos get left at the door, and it implies a different set of values to the ones we've had as long held assumptions. Conventional values, the ones that have underpinned competitive gain and commercial profit, the ‘I win: you lose’, dog eat dog, winner takes all, and ‘profit from’ as opposed to ‘profit with’ mentality, they don’t really resonate in the world of share.

‘Share’ is where the consumer must be credited, and paid attention to. Share asks businesses to embrace their duties and obligations of corporate responsibility fully, moving towards the creation of social capital in tandem with their audiences as part of a collective whole, where the traditional roles of consumption and production are redefined and redistributed.

Are we toying with the idea of share as a token gesture instead of looking at what it may turn out to mean? ‘Share’ is an idea who’s time has come but how many businesses are countenancing ‘share’ fully, at either a strategic or a practical level?

Whether we’re looking at the G20 and global financial regulation, the distribution of our energy or how to credit the participation of advocates in our brands as followers at a micro-level, the issues are the same. From here on in, it may not be possible to create a sustainable business model for the future without explaining what we’re really going to do with ‘share’.

March 05, 2009

Manners maketh (social) man

As the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) publishes a code of behavioural advertising good practice to set a standard for companies that collect and use data for online, I wonder how much reputation and good manners may be becoming an important foundation for a new social age.

It’s interesting to note how and why highly mannered societies happen. The gentility of the Victorian era is one of the most obvious chapters where society thrived to a high degree on mannerism, and it’s maybe no co-incidence it occurred during the time of the industrial revolution.

Victorian manners
That was a time when the wealth that came out of industry and mechanised production created the surge of a new class in society. The industrial revolution gave birth to the middle classes that were enfranchised by an economic step change and capitalism was born.

Manners then were the almost indispensable glue that bound that society together. Manners created social cohesion in the face of change and new protocols became the means whereby a nascent social order was able to function, learn and grow in safety.

It’s often in the nature of highly affected societies that some kind of management imperative is at play. Who knows how basic exchanges of trade would have been able to be established, let alone happen at all, without the manners and values of that age.  Victorian manners were an exaggerated antidote, a calming restorative to help society cope with cataclysmic change.

Today we have a new social revolution underway and how we get our heads around it may similarly involve new values and protocols. As it unleashes a mass of twitterers, blogs, social networks and  facebook pages, how people connect and build preferred networks is potentially encouraging a similar need for convention.

When attention is hard to come by, earning and keeping it requires the creation of trust, and this favours some reliability in terms of online behaviour. Trust requires that tickets of entry and rites of passage are understood and observed.

Reputation too, stands and falls online as a result of whether one’s footprint is being well maintained. Blatant integrity and transparency rule within a socially capitalized environment, as does attentiveness and the kind of civil behaviours that mean a new common good can come into play.

In his excellent work around the creation of Constructive Capitalism, Umair Haque is one voice amongst several calling out for a recognition of new social values that can underpin the economic growth of this next age, and I agree.

The days of the youtube yob, those that make their mark on a social forum by invective and by calling out instead of by making a contribution, are numbered. We're rapidly having to learn how to connect, and connect well, in order to seed and make the most of the new opportunities within social networking we see as part of this tide of change. The bottom line is they require cultivation.

Though it may sound quaint to say this, for all sorts of hard-headed reasons, to make sense, meaning and profit out of the huge diaspora and degree of cultural development that moving to a socially connected existence online promises and entails, manners may be the making of us.