On Wednesday night we occupied under the arches of the ICA’s cafe bar for one of our regular Combined Social Business Sessions London meetups. Our main speaker was Euan Semple (@Euan on Twitter), well known keynote speaker on social business and collaboration as well as the author of Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do. Eaun probably wouldn’t mind being described as a catalyst for change – he’s been talking around his topic (which he would say is really just common sense, but covers everything from knowledge management through to digital transformation) with organisations large and small for around 14 years. Wednesday’s meetup was slightly different to our normal format as we didn’t have a projector and screen – no PowerPoints and just talk, which made for a more intimate session with some enthusiastic, top quaity group discussion.
Euan’s talk was based around 3 of his recent blog posts and was of (corporate) dinosaurs and Lipstick on a Pig – a phrase I love and use often. Euan related stories from his recent camping trip to Exmoor wondering what Tess of the d’Urbervilles would make of modern farming or watching the corporate types normally hunched over their laptops now hunched over their steering wheels fighting through the holiday traffic to get away from their SAP or other corporate systems to the tranquility of Devon. Like the farm workers of Tess’s time, todays firms and office workers are facing immense changes with jobs under threat from automation and all manner of disruption of the digital kind. Euan talked about his experiences with Senior Management in these big corporates and sees a shift happening. The older demographic who were maintaining the status quo, marking time until retirement are now recognising change is happening on their watch and maybe they need to do something about it. However, he worries if there is a desire for real change when actually the reaction is usually to start some initiative for employee engagement or developing leadership potential. Are these programmes put in place with a desire for real outcomes or just there to demonstrate being “busy”. That’s where the term “Lipstick on a Pig” comes in – are these social collaboration projects just for show, without enough commitment to make real change that helps the bottom line and changes the firm for the better. Euan’s worried that he’s spending his career trying to resuscitate dinosaurs. But those are his darker moments – as I said he’s been at it for 14 years and counting, and he’s still enthusiastic about making change happen. Actually he believes it will happen from “small acts of disobedience”. He prefers not to talk about top down or bottom up change management programmes, but more about people and their behaviours and encouraging the individual to take small steps, little and often.
His talk flowed in to some lively discussion with the whole group joining in. Those of us in the thick of new ways of working, the adoption of social tools inside business (as well as for external communication), or talking digital in its various forms are always expecting change to happen more quickly than it actually does. We’re in the middle of a shift as significant as Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press triggering the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Age of Enlightenment. Actually we’ve been talking digital for 20 years, and you add to that the current level of connectivity and how many of us now have smart phones. We also need to remember the importance of more basic mobile phones and cellular networks facilitating banking and doing business in the third world. In discussing smart phones, somebody raised the importance of good design, shifting these devices from expert and geek use, to mainstream and easy, so that now over 3/4 of the UK’s adult population has them and uses them day in day out for internet access, apps, access to social networks (and occasionally phone calls). We talked about Facebook and social networks. We talked about the way things have developed from last decade when social media and social networks were more like villages, to their current urban sprawl and focus on content marketing with all of the associated noise. Euan talked of his kids commenting on the nature of his online friends, but changing their view when they met them “for real” and face to face, maybe on a transatlantic holiday trip. We talked of the value of these social media friendships and networks that we create, although we also talked of the importance of face to face contact and the extra triggers and understanding you get from more conventional networking and meetings.
Adam Tinworth (@adders on Twitter) live blogged from the event and took some great photos, and he’ll be doing the same at our Enterprise Digital Summit London next month. Also in the run up to the Summit we plan to have another Meetup on 7 October – the atmosphere under the arches was so great, we will probably be back next month for the same style as this one.