Rethinking organisations: the digital revolution, social and convergence

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An interesting question came up last Friday in a discussion with a group of Marketing and Communications folks from McDonald’s. It was about how social media might be situated and used differently depending upon whether you approached it from either a Marketing or a Communications team perspective. Also the question of who should “own” social media within the organisation was raised.

These are good questions and they got me thinking.

One of the things I often speak about is how technology is converging. How computers, televisions, mobile phones and broadband are converging together to give us new kinds of devices that call into being new kinds of content. As a result we are seeing the mashing up of media from diverse sources and its remixing. The much loved Hitler Downfall Parodies are a great example of this.

The convergence of technology is also being influenced by new kinds of software. Social software that is so easy to use that non-technical people can create and use it without needing to track down geek assistance. Software like Facebook and Flickr are great examples of this trend.

However, another trend associated with this change in technology is the skills and capabilities that businesses need to thrive in this new environment.

In the past, under bureaucratic systems that arose during the last two hundred years in the industrial revolution, specialised silos were created to enable businesses to scale effectively.

Bureaucracy has become a value laden term these days and it is generally used in a negative sense. However, bureaucracy was an essential way to organise people on a grand scale in an age before realtime digital communications. But now that there is almost ubiquitous realtime digital communications we are undergoing a digital revolution.

Our business structures, skills and organisation have not yet adapted to this new world. I can see the need for convergence of skills and activities to enable businesses to take advantage of the digital revolution. Thus I’m starting to see the need for a convergence of many roles and functions. We need to start thinking about how to totally remap the organisation to integrate digital functions effectively.

For example, in the areas of marketing and communications the boundaries start to blur already. The real task of these areas is to communicate with people, either inside our outside of the organisation. And, increasingly, their role is to converse and collaborate with their stakeholders. These functions are merging towards creation of collaborative communities as the audience morphs into participants rather than passive recipients.

The kinds of ideas that need to inform our thinking about how to reshape our organisations for the digital revolution include:

  • Networks: both human and technology networks are key, working out how to enable each of these inside and outside of the organisation is critical.
  • Amplification: understanding how these new human and technology networks amplify messages is imperative; defining cultural practices that embrace this idea is important.
  • Connected: determining how to manage people and business in an age where everything is connected – both people and things – as is how to use this power for business and social good.
  • Personal: the blurring of the boundaries between business and personal or between private and public is already occurring. We need to develop cultural and organisational practices that understand and enable us to manage this blurring of boundaries.
  • Social: human beings are social animals.  The Taylorist world view that has coloured much management thinking in the twentieth century needs to change and reflect this truth.  Humans are not interchangeable widgets and we are not machines.  It is time business leaders and structures change to reflect the social nature of human and business interactions.

We need to find ways to move away from hierarchy and silos. We need to find ways to move towards meshes and webs of relationships.  These are more like the way human beings relate in nature anyway.  The entire bureaucratic venture has been an unnatural way of being for humans. Humans need to find a way to make business more human and less machine like.

It seems that social computing and hardware convergence could be the catalyst for us to change our ways of running businesses so that they better meet human needs and map to human social needs, while continuing to make profits.

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One Reply to “Rethinking organisations: the digital revolution, social and convergence”

  1. I think we are part of a new world now and we can either sit back and ponder or start working on ways to interact with it.

    I have just been reading the book “Drive” bvy Daniel Pink and he makes some similar points from an organisational dynamics point of view rather than a technical one.

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