2010 .::. A Social Odyssey

What is essential is invisible.

There’s a lot of talk going on these days about how businesses need to embrace their social nature and intangible elements in order to compete [see Enterprise 2.0, Social Business Design, etc.]. The reason being that very few businesses produce anything tangible and even those that do still rely on a complex web of relationships, ideas, insight, brand, collaboration and leadership in order to do it.

This evolving understanding of the business landscape reminds me of man’s understanding of a different scape >>> space.

Until recently it was believed that our Universe of visible stuff [planets, stars, comets, gas, etc.] would continue expanding for a bit and then begin to recede. But the data didn’t agree. The expansion of the universe was actually found to be accelerating at a rate that means it will continue to expand eternally.

What’s behind this mystery? Dark matter and dark energy. Their presence is required in order to explain the behavior of the objects in space that we can see. The same is true for the networks and intangibles in organizations.

Dark matter is described as being “undetectable by its emitted radiation, but whose presence can be inferred by gravitational effects on visible matter.” Sounds like office politics to me.

dark matter pie

Seriously, though, dark matter and dark energy are true forces with which to be reckoned. Estimates are that they make up about 95% of the known universe as the chart here shows.

Scientists were recently able to visualize these forms of matter and energy through what I’m sure is some pretty basic math [not]. What they produced was both eye-opening and jaw-dropping. It shows what was previously invisible and is allowing them to better understand it and its effect on us.

dark matterThe picture here shows a lonely Hubble [to the lower left] as it peers out into the distance and sees massive clusters of galaxies [the bright spots in the image] surrounded by enormous globs of dark matter. 

The ability to see these formations as well as analyze the data that comprise them allows scientists to better understand how the Universe works and how our role in it can be affected.

Until recently most organizations focused just on visible things [products, materials, warehouses, property, etc.] in order to operate and compete. The problem was that only focusing on tangible things left out the major driving forces of business today [i.e. relationships, ideas, knowledge, brand, etc.].

And just as scientists needed to be able to *see* dark matter and dark energy in order to measure and understand it, we too need ways of visualizing the critical elements of organizational performance in order to affect it in the new business landscape. Enter Organizational Network Analysis and Value Network Analysis – two tools designed to see how organizations really operate today.

symmetric ties_1_no namesAn Organizational (aka Social) Network Analysis reveals the social fabric of an organizations and, depending on the question asked, can show us who people go to for information, which geographic locations that may be out of the loop, where holes may develop as a result of succession planning, and countless other scenarios. 

The image here is the actual output from one of our clients with global operations. Dots=people; lines=information flow. Just knowing that you can see that there is no information flowing from site to site – it all comes through corporate. Not being able to see this as well as analyze the data behind it wouldn’t allows us to create and execute on a strategy to save money, reduce rework, increase innovation, etc.

newmont_vnaA Value Network Analysis shows us how work really gets done from more of a process perspective. The key differentiator is that a VNA includes both the tangible [i.e. reports, deliverables, communications] as well as intangible [i.e. credibility, confidence, brand, etc.] elements that are required for success in business today.

The image here is another real example from a global client. There were several departments at headquarters whose collective objective was to support the activities of various global sites but they had never been able to visualize how their activities were affecting the sites. The VNA revealed that despite their best intentions, the sites [the oval on far left; mid-way up vertically] were not receiving the intended support and allowed us to create a strategy that coordinated and focused these activities into a process that reduced workload and better supported stakeholders in the field. 

The topics of Social Media, Social Networking, Enterprise 2.0, etc. are all the buzz these days. There’s even a raging debate on whether to include the word ’social’ [my opinion is that ‘intangibles’ is more inclusive/accurate than social but not nearly as sexy]. Scratch the surface, though, and much of these discussions revolve around technology. I’m the first to admit that there are some pretty slick tech offerings out there to help organizations operate in this new landscape but to implement them correctly there must be a comprehensive understanding of the whole environment.

So just as scientists have leveraged Hubble and some wicked math to learn about how our Universe is structured and therefore how we can play in it, businesses must have a deep understanding of their culture, ecosystem, processes, people, etc. before launching any of these social [intangible] initiatives. So…what does your organization really look like? Can you illustrate the invisible forces that are truly determining your path?

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