Andrew McAfee on ‘Social Business’ versus 'Enterprise 2.0', One More Time ⇢
The debate about which of ‘Social Business’ or ‘Enterprise 2.0’ should be used to describe the adoption of social tools in the business has flared up again.
Andy McAfee thinks ‘social business’ represents an old and outmoded way of thinking. He supports this argument in a recent post by reeling off a bunch of old-timey business management gurus, who he is saying, I think, advocated some collection of theories that he thinks are equivalent to what people are associating with ‘social business’.
I bring this up to make one point: the idea of a ‘social business,’ a hive mind guided by open leadership marshaling people, process, and technology, is not new. It’s been around for 80 years, and has been studied intently throughout that time. In contrast, Enterprise 2.0, which I’ve defined as the use of emergent social software platforms by organizations in pursuit of their goals, is a novel phenomenon.
This distinction matters. It matters because telling business decision makers “There are some important new (social) technologies available now, and they’ll help you address longstanding and vexing challenges you have” is very different than telling them “Business is social, and the more deeply you embrace that fact the better off you’ll be.”
Hmmm. I don’t see how the two sides of this line up. Working backward, how about telling business leaders ‘There are a lot of things we are learning about social tools on the open web, and they are likely to be useful and at the same time challenging for businesses to apply.’
McAfee’s argument that ‘social business’ is rewarmed leftovers from a Management 101 course is specious. The rise of social networks online and the impact they have had on business, media and society is unprecedented. It has all happened in the past ten years, and none of the crowd that he reels off had much of a glimmering about that, back in the mid and late 20th century.
And more importantly, we have seen the rise of a lot of supporting science in fields as diverse as sociology, anthropology and cognitive science that move us past the ideological mumbo-jumbo of MBA and best selling business books. What we are learning about social cognition — about how people influence each others’ reasoning, values, and behavior — is empirically grounded, not conventional business wisdom codified by the Harvard Business Review. (My topic at next week’s Defrag, by the way.)
I will just make the observation that calling the adoption of social tools in business ‘Enterprise 2.0’ is a stretch, and the ‘2.0’ meme is pretty worn out. The obviousness of social business when we are talking about social tools seems to escape McAfee.
And then Andy says that even debating the terms is pointless… in a blog post reopening that debate:
“Should this movement be called ‘Social Business’ or Enterprise 2.0?’” is a dumb debate, and one I’m not going to participate in any more (here’s what I’ve said about it). Advocating something like “social business design should place technology at the very, very end, and people first” is both dumb and harmful, which means that a response is important.
Let’s clarify his mischaracterization of what ‘social business’ is intended to mean, at least by me. Here’s my definition from Defining Social Business:
A social business is an organization designed consciously around sociality and social tools, as a response to a changed world and the emergence of the social web, including social media, social networks, and a long list of other advances.
Which I would now amend to include what we have learned about social cognition.
At any rate, McAfee cites no one else’s definition — certainly not mine — but instead creates a straw man of his own, and proceeds to knock it down. I am not asserting the tools should come at the ‘very end’: on the contrary, I think social tools form the foundation of the social business, and that it isn’t possible to have one without the tools.
I think McAfee was taking a shot at Martijn Linssen’s piece, Enterprise 2.0: The Prodigal Parent, without mentioning it explicitly. Martijn wrote:
Following the Enterprise 2.0 conference on Twitter via its hashtag #e2conf, I noticed a strange phenomenon: most tweets weren’t about Enterprise 2.0, but Social Business.
Martijn suggested that McAfee’s attempts to make Enterprise 2.0 the term of art had failed, and that the marketplace of ideas had moved on to social business. He also posted a bunch of tweets from the conference, very inside baseball, some that snipe at McAfee’s expense.
But nothing has really changed since I wrote The Sum Of All Fears: The Social Business Naysayers last November, when I wrote about a kerfuffle regarding the two terms:
Here, I think we have a bastion of the old guard arguing that the new ways of thinking are illegitimate, have not been proved, and those that espouse them are crazy.
I deeply and strongly believe in a different worldview, as I recently stated, on the Social Business Epicenter blog:
Today, more than ever, management is reexamining and rethinking the basic principles of business: how to innovate and prosper. To that end, managers are looking to stay in step with a changing world, and the rise of the social web in particular.
How should today’s business leverage what is being learned about the social web? Certainly what is going on today is more than just social media marketing, limited to marketing and community outreach efforts. Some of the leading thinkers in this area believe that we are at the start of something much larger than a retake on marketing.
We are seeing a rethinking of work, collaboration, and the role of management in a changing world, where the principles and tools of the web are transforming society, media, and business. The mainstays of business theory — like innovation, competitive advantage, marketing, production, and strategic planning — need to be reconsidered and rebalanced in the context of a changing world. The rise of the real-time, social web has become one of the critical factors in this new century, along with a radically changed global economic climate, an accelerating need for sustainable business practices, and a political context demanding increased openness in business.
These issues cannot be dealt with one by one, but instead approached as connected elements of a new world order for business.
I believe that Kuhn [in his The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions] was right: there is no way to logically encompass the new, revolutionary worldview through the terms and values of the old. Which is one of the motivations of leaving behind the Enterprise 2.0 handle: it is too mired in years of argument firmly rooted in the web 1.0 and pre-web world views.
To the extent that a post-industrial or 21st Century worldview has begun to emerge, it is being applied to a new set of principles and practices surrounding the future of work and business. It cannot be judged by the dictates and dogma of the past, as much as the naysyers would like that to be true. We will have to develop a new set of values — and rules for defining them — based sui generis in the heart of what we discover, not what we find in the trunks up in the attic, left over from an earlier generation of IT strategy.
So, I disagree with McAfee in the most central aspects of his position. First, I believe that having the discussion about the name of what is going on is important because metaphors matter; the way that we cast the context for what we are doing says a lot about what we value and what we reject. Second, the central element of what we have learned about the web today is that it is social at the core. As I have said many times, We invented a web structured in such a way that all its roads lead back to us.
That’s why social business is catching on as a term, despite McAfee’s continued and strident opposition.