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Posts tagged with ‘the church of savviness’

The Church Of Savvy: Not Just In Politics, But In Enterprise Software

Jay Rosen has established the term ‘the church of savviness’ to refer to a belief system that ‘binds together our political press corps in Washington.’

Jay Rosen, Karl Rove and the Religion of The Washington Press

Conservatives think the ideology of the Washington press corps is liberal. Liberals think the press is conservative in the sense of protecting its place in the political establishment. Karl Rove once said that the press is “less liberal than it is oppositional.” (A fascinating remark coming from Rove, since it apppears to put him at odds with the conservative base.)

Whereas I believe that the real—and undeclared—ideology of American journalism is savviness, and this is what made the press so vulnerable to the likes of Karl Rove.

Savviness! Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in— their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it’s better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.

What is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Everyone knows that the press admires an unprincipled winner.

And, more recently:

Jay Rosen, "This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself."

To the people inside it, savviness is not a cult. It is not a professional church or “belief system.” It’s not really an object fit for contemplation at all.  But they would say that political journalists need to be savvy observers because in politics the unsavvy are hapless, clueless, deluded, clownish, or in some cases extreme.  They get run over: easily. They get disappointed: needlessly. They get angry—fruitlessly—because they don’t know how things work in practical terms.

The savvy do know how things work inside the game of politics, and it is this knowledge they try to wield in argument…. instead of argument. In this sense savviness as the church practices it is the exemption from the political that believers think will come to them because they are journalists striving only to report on politics or conduct analysis, not to “win” within the contest as it stands.

Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passon, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit.  As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “the savvy don’t say: I have a better argument than you… They say: I am closer to reality than you. And more mature.”

Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his or her observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sghted, but as practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, and dreamy.  This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself.

I have had a long interchange with Dennis Howlett over the years regarding the principles of social business, which I have defined in this way, last January:

Stowe Boyd, Defining Social Business

Preparing for the O’Reilly panel today organized and moderated by Josh Ross on the topic of 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.

The first question, aside from background of the panelists, will be “Please define social business.”

My short answer is ‘Social Business’ denotes businesses organized around social networks and the use of social technologies to support them.

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.

But it really is larger than that. 

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.

The context for business has changed dramatically in recent years — a shifting global economic climate, accelerating need for sustainable operations, and a political and societal demand for increased openness and transparency in business. Add to that the implacable impact of the social web, which is changing the way people interact and perceive the world and their place in it, and which has already drastically changed media and society.

The combination of these forces is already changing business operations. Once businesses have intentionally reconsidered their core premises — how to innovate and prosper — in light of the real-time social web and the new context for business, we can expect a profound reformulation of business operations, technologies, and culture. 

Einstein stated, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” I maintain that a new sort of business is needed to fix the mess that 20th century business has created.

Metaphorically, a social business will seem more like a village than an army, and where a lot of 20th management approaches will be obsolete. We can expect these features:

  • ubiquitous use of social tools, and social networks,
  • greater levels of personal autonomy,
  • self-organization of groups and projects,
  • very porous boundaries with the world,
  • high reliance on non-financial motivation, or personal meaning and purpose,
  • internal marketplaces for ideas and talent,
  • and senior management operating more like Hollywood producers or investors than autocrats. 

As Gibson said, ‘The future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed.’

Over the next ten years, we will see companies in a staggeringly wide distribution of these and other related characteristics. Some will seem like companies straight out of The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, while others will have moved so far along these lines that they almost don’t seem to be ‘businesses’ in the conventional sense. Social businesses may seem more like communities, movements, or religions than what we think of as businesses, currently.

And Dennis has been making his displeasure about the use of the term ‘social business’ known, but not by arguing about the principles involved. Instead, Howlett has adopted a ‘savviness’ cant: he isn’t arguing, he uses his savviness instead of arguing.

The most recent example comes from a series of tweets yesterday:

R Ray Wang
Best Practices Report: Applying Social Business Challenges To #socbiz Maturity Models #rscwebinar#constellationrg
15 hours ago 

Dennis Howlett
@rwang0 the notion of best practices re social business is nonsense. Stop pimping that stupid idea. Seriously.
14 hours ago

Stowe Boyd  
@dahowlett baloney
14 hours ago

Dennis Howlett
@stoweboyd really? Try selling that bill of goods to businesses that do serious stuff and not the airy fairy crap you talk about
14 hours ago

It struck me, last night as I was boarding a train from NYC headed home and after reading this interchange, that all of Howlett’s howling is of this sort. Those advancing new ideas are cast as ‘pimps’ who actions are suspect because the ideas are new, and they don’t line up with his savviness notions of how hard-bitten, ‘practical’, shrewd executives make decisions. And of course, it’s all about adoption by these same savvy executives: it’s all about winning.

Howlett is being purely oppositional, and he makes no first principle arguments. His rhetoric — like the airy-fairy wisecrack — is dismissive of the idea of new ideas, the notion that some new insight could come from reconsidering the world based on new information. See The Social Business Naysayers, for example: 

Howlett is not alone in opposition to new ideas in the software enterprise space. Andrew McAfee, who is the leading advocate of the Enterprise 2.0 meme is similarly dismissive: see Andrew McAfee on ‘Social Business’ versus ‘Enterprise 2.0’, One More Time, in which McAfee tries to make the case that ‘social business’ is a very old idea as a means of dismissing it.

I have argued that what is going on here is the collision of two mindviews.

One — the Enterprise 2.0 school — are much more conventionally grounded in the prevailing ideas of 20th century information technology and business management, and who see internet technologies of as just a collection of slightly newer tools to replace the slightly older tools in place in the world of busines.

The second — the Social Business contingent — believe that the social dimension is the most important aspects of the new web, not the technology that underlies it. We feel that there is an opportunity for businesses to reformulate themselves, and at a fundamental level, to operate more efficiently and sustainably in a changed world.

As is generally the case when a new worldview comes along to upset the established premises and priesthood of an established orthodoxy, there is a great deal of invective and animosity. It’s very personal. 

So Howlett calls me airy-fairy, resorting to savviness, using wile and wording where no argument is offered. After all, the subtext runs, no serious executive wants to run a business based on what we’ve learned from behavioral economics, social pysychology, network analysis, and cognitive science? Or what customers of social business consulting firms are learning? That airy-fairy stuff?

Thomas Kuhn argues — in The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions — that the distance between these sorts of divergent world views is simply too great to be spanned, since the words and values of the differing groups are incommensurable: they simply are talking past each other. But, inevitably, the evolution of ideas leads to a Darwinian selection process, with those ideas that are most productive will survive.

Savviness is simply a technique to cloud the issues, and to persuade those shopping in the marketplace of ideas to defer rationale discussion: it sheds no new light. At the best, it is side commentary; at its worst, it is mockery, and often, intentionally so.

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