Psychic Sharing: Done Best with a CS!

This, one of my columns for Shareable: Sharing by Design, was published there today.  I strongly recommend that you explore that site as well as this one, as both are devoted to ideas for a more socially-conscious world.

A recent call from a old collaborator reminded me of the importance of “psychic sharing.” Often, when we think of sharing, it’s around something material and measurable, like saving money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are also undeniable benefits to shouldering a burden, a problem, or, in the case of my phone call, a creative endeavor. The end product, be it a fresh solution or groundbreaking idea, is never what you thought it would be. It turns out to be something neither of you could have imagined, or executed, alone–something better, because two minds trump one.

In the past, I’d written three books with this man. Our respective roles were typical of 20th century collaborations: he the expert, and I the writer. I was his “with.” Now he wanted something different: to write a book together, as equals.

His personal reasons aside, psychic sharing is in the zeitgeist. And why not? The Internet has made it easier to Continue Reading »

Social Networker or Snake-Oil Salesman?

The question that seems to be on the lips (including my own) of any person or company that wants to use social media to get a message out is:  How do you reach out to people–strangers, consequential strangers, or close friends–without coming off as a snake-oil salesman?  (Sorry guys, although I normally prefer the non-gendered “salesperson,” have you ever heard of a snake-oil saleswoman?)  From my personal and very limited experience, here’s my best advice (subject to change, of course, as everything in the Internet age is):

Welcome diversity
. Seek out connections who are different from you given any of the usual parameters of difference: class, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, age, occupation.   This will connect you to people who have different ideas.  In the last several months, mostly because I’m open to it, I’ve “met” men and women of all ages–people who are thinking about new concepts that might have taken me years to discover and whose opinions are different from my own.  This has allowed me to build “bridges” to new communities where I find resources and a fresh perspective.  I can then pass those ideas onto others.  Otherwise, I’m just sitting here recycling my own ideas, which gets both stale and boring.

Position yourself as a collaborator
Thanks to thetechnology, it’s possible to communicate 24/7.   Ask not ask what others can do for you unless you’re also willing to help them with their projects. Comment on their blogs, retweet, recycle–and give them credit.  Social media should not be about numbers of “followers” or “friends” or how many people we have in our social convoys.  It’s about connection.  Admittedly, some of our online social ties barely qualify as relationships.  You might visit a website only once because you happen to see an idea that intrigued you.  But take the extra minute and add your two cents–and it will probably come back to you.

Be sincere.
Not that there’s anything wrong with profit and gain (as Seinfeld might have put it), but they can’t be your only motives. If you’re connecting with people only to better the bottomline, get more bodies into your church or store, or convince people to buy your book, they’ll catch on sooner rather than later. And they’ll probably desert you.  Everyone’s busy, everyone has an agenda.  And while social media has increased the possibility of getting large numbers of people to pay attention, it has also made us a little more selective, if not skeptical.   In my opinion, instead of figuring out “schemes” and “strategies,” just be…yourself.

Learn from people who’ve been there. It’s hard to believe but social network media dates back only a few years.  And before we had the software to allow us to be in touch with our convoys, there were internet communities and other precursors of what is now exploding on the Internet.  Here are some of the people/sites that have given me the best understanding of what it’s all about.  Start with Nancy White’s excellent blog, “How I Use Social Media.”  It’s one woman’s journey, but Nancy has been there from the beginning.   I’ve also found Pete Cashmore’s Mashable an invaluable resource for understanding what various social network sites are best for and how individuals and companies are using them.  Best of all, the site speaks to beginners as well as veterans of the net. I’d also suggest reading anything by Barry Wellman or Howard Rheingold.   They’ve both been looking at internet communities for decades; reading their papers and blogs is like getting a crash course in how we got here.  If you have any favorite people or sites, please include them in your comments.

Spend social currency not money. If you’re still uneasy about the new media, you might be tempted to hire one of the so-called experts out there–you’ll come across many of them.  Their blogs and tweets promise to teach you “how.”  And perhaps some of them can help, but it’s important to remember that no one knows “the best way” (or even the five best ways) to reach out to your people.  So why not begin by spending social energy rather than money? It might sound kind of old-school and not very flashy, but the best idea might be to just get out there yourself, find a slice of common ground, and connect–one consequential stranger a time.

How GM Lost Touch With Its CS…

…And How To Stop It From Happening in Your Company (Or Your Life)

General Motors went into bankruptcy because it had no respect for its consequential strangers–its employees, suppliers, customers, and colleagues in the same industry. In not so many words, that’s what the editors of The Week concluded in its Briefing, The Rise and Fall of General Motors.

“One division’s cars often cannibalized the sales of other divisions. Its in-house parts companies overcharged the various car divisions, which were barred from seeking lower prices from outsiders. And the various divisions resisted consolidating back-office operations such as purchasing and payroll.”

Acknowledging that high-cost labor contracts “crippled the company’s ability to cut costs,” the author also cites “management’s arrogance and complicity” as a factor in GM’s fall. Who could blame the average worker for feeling resentful?

Executives were literally walled off from the rest of the company behind the double electronic doors to the 14th floor of GM’s Detroit headquarters. They entered the building through a private basement garage and took their gourmet meals in private dining rooms. They rarely interacted with customers or even their own dealers, who knew firsthand their customers’ like and dislikes.

The story of GM mirrors how other ailing companies have lost touch with their consequential strangers: when employees and managers exist in two different, non fraternizing worlds, when one division doesn’t communicate with another, and when a company fails to look outside its own walls. They are insular; even consultants brought in act and think like the founders. Such companies are neither as profitable nor innovative as companies that collaborate across boundaries.

And it’s not just companies. Any group of people with a common goal–for example, a grass roots health organization or a spiritual center–can face a similar issue as it grows. It can happen to successful individuals, too. When a close-knit entourage, consisting of a few trusted friends, morphs into a branded enterprise with lawyers, handlers, trainers, accountants, and countless go-fers on the payroll, it makes it difficult for the person to connect. (See Was Michael Jackson Your Consequential Stranger?)

So what serves as preventive medicine?  How do then you stay in touch with the workers, the customers, the volunteers, the constituents, the fans who helped you grow or put you on top in the first place? Not surprisingly, the first step is to acknowledge that an assortment of consequential strangers is vital to the health of your undertaking. To stay connected, even as you grow, you have to innoculate your company against isolation:

Welcome diversity. Seek out coworkers and colleagues of a different class, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and age. Even more important, look for people who have different ideas.  Connect with other companies.  Building such “bridges” brings in new resources and a fresh perspective. Otherwise, ideas get stale. And as the story of GM illustrates, people become unmotivated, even bitter, in an environment that squelches innovation and cooperation.

Create a climate of collaboration. The bigger an organization becomes, the greater the need for policies and procedures. But you can never lose sight of the fact that, first and foremost, you need people. And you need them–the high status and the low, the right-brained and the left-brained–to work together. One way to nurture such a climate is to think about your company as a “social convoy”– a constellation of individuals, in and outside the company, who travel with you toward a particular goal. Imagine yourself at the helm, riding in a hybrid minivan down the center of the road, flanked by a handful of your closest advisors. In the outside lanes are employees–perhaps members of the same divisions riding together–as well as suppliers, customers, and others in your industry. In a traditional corporate structure (like GM’s, which Alfred Sloan called “decentralized operations with coordinated control”), workers–if they are heard at all– have to go through appropriate channels to propose a new project or render an opinion of something already in the works. Conversely, in a social convoy cars can jockey positions. And thanks to the technology, it’s possible to communicate with all of them.

Be sincere.  Not that there’s anything wrong with profit and gain (as Seinfeld might have put it), but they can’t be your only motive. If you’re connecting with people only to better the bottom line, get more bodies into church, or convince people to buy your book, they’ll catch on. And they’ll probably desert you. As some might put it, “N.Y.P.A.”–we’re not your personal army.  So just be…yourself.  Do it over lunch, on a street corner or in a café, on the phone or over the Internet. If you’re uneasy about the new media, you might be tempted to consult with one of the so-called experts out there, whose blogs and twitters promise to teach you how. And perhaps they can help, but no one knows “the best way” (or even the five best ways) to reach out to your people.  Instead, why not spend social energy rather than money on expert advice? It might sound kind of old-school and not very flashy, but the best idea might be to just get out there, find a slice of common ground, and connect–one consequential stranger a time.

Obama gets it

Listening to his speech yesterday, I of course heard his words through the  filter of all that I’ve researched and written over the last three years.  Obama’s speech drove home the point that we need to acknowledge, value, and connect with the broader social landscape at all levels of society.

As individuals to stay current, be informed, and access a full range of (human) resources–and to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

As commercial enterprises, institutions, or organizations… to promote participation and engagement, spur innovation, and inspire loyalty in customers, colleagues, and constituents outside our own walls.

As nations… to deal with, and help find solutions to, global problems that requirer the understanding and insights from people who often have little in common but much at stake.

These ideas are not knew.  Since the Sixties, pockets of thinkers across many disciplines have called for more collaboration and connection.  But the fact that a powerful man whose background and success (so far) epitomizes the wisdom of reaching across traditional boundaries, sends a powerful message about how we need to view ourselves and the people around us.  It’s a matter of survival.