If the Clothes Make the Man, Does the Bowl Make the Salad? : Thoughts on Yammer, Twitter and More…

 Twitter me this, Batman! It doesn’t matter if it is Yammer, Slammer, Stammer, Wham Bam Thank You Mammer or Caller ID; we are a long way from realizing the full potential of the use of intra-company social media tools.

Recently I was reading a review of the progress being made by Yammer as it becomes one of the latest social media products to go completely viral around the world. This is a company that opened its doors in September of 2008 and already has 80,000 businesses as customers.

As I was reading, I flashed back to a conference I attended held by the Bionomics Institute in the mid-1990s. While there, I attended a session featuring a panel of “industry experts,” people responsible for search engine development and innovation. If you remember names like Alta Vista, Lycos, Netscape, Magellan and others, you know the kinds of people I was listening too … pioneering, brazen, hip and bright.

The central topic of the conversation that morning in Silicon Valley was how to address and close the widening gap between the rapidly developing on-line communications tools and people’s actual interpersonal skills. In the view of the developers on the panel, the full value of the web as a communication medium would not be realized until this gap was addressed. There was no evidence in their minds that this gap had even been recognized. Following the panel presentation, the audience proceeded to engage in a number of rowdy arguments effectively proving the point the panel experts were making!

In an unrelated incident, I had occasion to reflect on closing this communication gap and on just how best to approach the continuous process of presenting the case for the Power of Context, the bane of all amateur communicators, which means most of us. (Read this lovely post by Eliezer Sobel) More specifically, how does our limited appreciation for Context continue to undermine the power of rapidly evolving social media tools?  

I was staying at a friend’s house overnight. She needed to make a trip to the local grocery store. On her way out the door she shouted over her shoulder, “If you are hungry there is pasta salad in the fridge!” Pasta salad, pasta salad, when we did we start calling cold pasta in a bowl a salad? “Salad” has been confusing to me since I was a kid, but I have learned to live with and am for the most part at peace with its seeming ambiguity. I now know that the seeming endless procession of salads in life is constrained only by the boundaries of definition:

Salad: noun a cooked or uncooked food prepared with a savory or piquant dressing and usually served cold. (This definition does not include German potato salad which is of course always best served warm!)  

However, a couple of years back another friend, a mischief maker I might add, turned my salad world on its ear one evening when he posed the following scenario. “If you see chopped up vegetables in a bowl …lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, etc… you readily recognize that mixture as salad. What if you dump those same elements out onto the table top, is it still a salad? Or do we see garbage? For a moment, time stood still …, and then I got his point. When we see something out of the context we expect, it is sometimes hard to recognize it for what it really is. Are we not the same way about people and the messages they carry?

We all learn early that here are some immutable facts in our lives, most of them in the physical realm:

1.      If you drop something under normal conditions it will proceed in a downward direction until it meets a solid surface

2.      If you go without water for a certain period of time death ensues, the same for the absence of oxygen, etc.

Generally speaking, if you are reading this post you know these immutable aspects of the physical world and honor them! However, when it comes to topics like meaning, truth, interpersonal connectivity and the like, we regularly act like someone who is surprised when a glass they drop on the floor actually breaks when someone misinterprets our electronic communication.

Yes, Yammer is great, so is email and Caller ID. Linked In can be a remarkable resource for inter-company communication. However, until we address our ignorance, apathy and sloppiness about the Power of Context we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over. We will confuse the message and the messenger, we will take opinions as facts because of the source, we will apply discounts to information presented from certain sources or simply ignore the information altogether. And we will suffer similar experiences at the hands of others. In short we will undermine the social media tools we and/or our company have invested in because we have not advanced our communication practices to match the power of the tools at our disposal. We still do not recognize that contribution and value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Whose communications do you regularly discount because 1) The author was wrong before 2) The author hasn’t been around long enough.3) They are part of THEM.

                          – What could you do to intervene in this pattern and why would you bother?

  • Whose communications do you accept without question?

                         – Why? Might it be worth challenging the source periodically?  



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