Back in 2000, he coined the terms #hashtag – yes, the popular icon that we all use in our social interactions today, as well as social tools.
He is Lead Analyst at Gigaom Research, exploring “the future of work and the tectonic forces pushing business, media, and society into an unclear and accelerating post normal era.”
In this exclusive interview, Stowe Boyd shares his view on the state of enterprise social, plus, what he believes the future of leadership is going to be.
Gloria Lombardi: You write, “the enormous scale of tools have led us to consider the world as an unbounded single network, while in fact we operate in many distributed and discontinuous social networks.” Could you explain this?
SB: The typical attitude of people discussing social networks is thinking at scale. Like in the popular theory of 6 degrees of separation, the idea is that you can direct people to a friend, who can then direct you to his friends. Ultimately, you will find your way to the senior manager in China who you have never met.
This notion of the world as one giant sphere is useful at times. Particularly, if we think of how epidemics or ideas spread through civilisations and societies.
However, the same notion is not helpful when thinking of the tools used by individuals and organisations at work. The way in which employees interact is not like epidemics. On a daily basis they think more instrumentally: I am connected with you right now for some reasons, and then I will go to interact with three and four other colleagues about another project.
While everything is bounded in the world, individuals live their work in different scales, operating and interacting through a variety of different communications.
GL: An interesting consideration. It makes me wonder of the implications for enterprise social networks (ESN). What’s your view?
SB: The idea of an unbounded social network where everyone is potentially communicating with everyone else is not helpful.
Employees are more willing to adopt different applications that help them organise that sense of scale. These tools are generally very context-bounded. Rather than interacting about everything going on within the business, people talk about the specific topic they are working on. We do that fifty times a day. It’s very different from the type of communications that we can have with the rest of the company on one ESN.
People are moving to tools that let them have more bounded, social and smaller-scale interactions. Depending on their projects and needs they can switch easily from one context to another one.
Small talk is big again…
GL: It may explain the huge uptake of enterprise apps that we are seeing at simply-communicate.
ST: Well yes. For example, chat-based apps like Slack or HipChat. But there are many more. The interesting thing is that all these applications started because developers themselves had problems they want to solve with their teams. And now, everyone in other business areas can use them on their own settings.
We are in a period of transition. Traditional collaboration tools are being slowly displaced – in some sectors, relatively quickly. It’s time for a whole new generation of contextual tools, where things are discussed and worked on in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
Plus, these applications tend toward a very open integration model. It means you can pull information from many other tools that people can link to, comment, or edit in their own stream.
GL: Are enterprises trying to build ESN adoption on a large-scale missing something?
SB: I think they will give up at some point. Companies are trying to use ESNs to encourage their people to have a voice. But, it doesn’t need to be on one social network.
The monolithic viewpoint is falling out of favour in times when people have to innovate and frequently change their practices to deal with an unpredictable world.
Enterprises should enable their staff to choose the tools they want to use: a wider collection of tools that people can select from to get their jobs done.
As long as the applications are simple to use, employees will prefer to switch between many of them. People are increasingly capable of using multiple social tools for different uses. Externally they use Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook for different purposes. They do understand that, when switching from a context to another one, the interactions will be different.
GL: A totally new mind-set applied to internal communications and the future of work.
SB: Yes. It is neither about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) nor Bring Your Own App (BYOA). It’s about BYOM (Bring Your Own Mind). The way we think and operate in the world is strongly impacted by the tools that you use.
The future of work and innovation is about fluidity and flexibility.
GL: You also write extensively about leanership, describing it as the new way of leading in the 21st Century.
SB: The term is the convergence of different thoughts, including Mintzberg’s theory on emergent strategy and the agile development practice.
Leanership is about a different approach to management, one that relies on self-organized networks. Leadership becomes emergent, as individuals take on responsibility to lead a project, an activity, a task, whatever, as needed. In this new way of work, leadership is no longer a full-time jobs, but something that everyone does to a varying degree.
Google is a good example. They want that kind of skillset in their people; the ability to learn, to be curious, as well as to be willing to step up and take a leading role in some activities when they have the right skillset supporting them.
GL: Will leaders of the future embrace this concept?
SB: Leadership will be approached in a different fashion than in the past.
There will be more demand for self-management. Employees are interested in autonomy and in managing their own work. After all, they have been hired for their abilities to invent their job. If they need to ask you for permission every time, then it will be very frustrating for them, and inefficient for the organisation.
But, there is still a role for leaders. They will set the cultural norms, pull ‘obstructions’ out of the way, and help people with their future so they can have a lasting career within the business.