Monday, December 08, 2008

"Not to the point of chaos"

A story about about institutional use of social media.

I am on the board of an organization that, like many others, is facing financial stresses. The president decided to create some task forces to deal with various sectors of the company and look for savings and other solutions. I suggested that he might use wikis, blogs, and other types of social media to permit a rapid and comprehensive exchange of ideas and information between and among the task force members and other constituencies in the organization. I also suggested that this might help with acceptance and implementation of the plans once they are ready.

The response, "Well, broad participation is fine, but not to the point of chaos."

My rejoinder, "You need to trust the wisdom of the crowd."


citizentools said...

In the pre-Social Networking days, Jack Stack of Springfield Remanufacturing faced a similar situation in his employee-owned and -managed company.

Chaos avoided through training, so staff both are owners and think like owners.

A little more here:

e-Patient Dave said...

This is a great and important conversation. As finances get tighter and tighter we're all going to get really lean in what we can do with little or no cash outlay, and we're going to need to leverage every bit of content and information we can get our hands on.

Both of these point to social media - not necessarily in principle but in practical reality. Social media give us immense new access to information and thoughts, with no cash cost. As cash gets scarcer, you can bet social media will get used more.

And that changes one's perspective on the issue of broad participation.

Plus, life *is* chaotic, but we keep trying to manage it, control it, rein it in. My best friend, a deep deep thinker, told me recently that on the frontiers of physics one of the leading thought topics is emergence - the study of the emergence of new patterns amid the (literally) chaotic unfolding of the universe. A natural advantage will accrue to those who can sense those patterns unfolding, influence them (like seeding a cloud), and ride them. Conversely, those who want to rein things in will find life frustrating and hard to manage.

Talking about the very recent Motrin Moms debacle (I'll dig out a link if anyone wants), Forrester Research wrote that "in such a situation conventional PR is like trying to use a broadsword against a rain of poison darts." A roughly similar analogy can be made to riding the chaos vs reining it in.

A parting thought on the wisdom of crowds: over in the e-patient scholars working group, we talk about this a fair amount, and it too is important to understand. Merely assembling a crowd won't cause wisdom to arise. (Anyone who's been to Yankee Stadium has first-hand evidence of that, heh.) BUT, wisdom can arise, and it happens when people start to share a common need for good information and recognize it when it arises.

In the e-patient group we keep referring back to Tom Ferguson's analogies to American independence. I am no student of history but I hear that King George and the like (and similar thinkers such as Adams) felt that the people were way too stupid to be allowed to govern themselves. Jefferson, conversely, said if the people are *educated* they can be trusted to govern themselves. That was Ferguson's point, and he foresaw as early as January 1995 that when the Internet gave us access to medical information (and each other), we'd be able to do all kinds of things that weren't possible without that information. He specifically foretold self-help networks.

My humble perspective: when the people have no clue what's going on in the halls of management (what challenges we face, what resources are at our disposal) they certainly have no ability to contribute. When they do, you'd be surprised how much trouble they can take off management's hands.

E-patients: Engaged, Empowered, Equipped, Enabled. And especially lately we've been adding, Educated. And it doesn't just apply to patients.

Anonymous said...

Haha, that's a control freak speaking (him, not you.) However, he does have to have some sort of system in place to deal with the input should he take the tack you recommend. I recently had experience with that when I submitted my comments on health care reform at, Obama's website. I just wondered - is anyone actually going to READ this, or is it just to make us feel better?!!

Anonymous said...

Oops, that was me, nonlocal, at 7:36. Paul, unless you have a better forum you should consider also submitting your comments to Or at your level, you could call Daschle directly! (:


Rob said...

While I agree that social networking IS an excellent way to encourage a networked, self-organizing team... experience as a technologist is that you'll be missing some of the "wisdom of the crowd," as a large percentage of people won't participate, or will try, and become frustrated or intimidated.

This is not because people are backwards or stupid, but because it's very difficult to get a large user population to stretch beyond their comfort zone.

That said. Some wisdom is better than not-much-at-all. It's worth a try. But know you're receiving a skewed sample.