Social networks will displace business processes, not socialize them

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Becoming social
  3. Business processes, roles, rules, and push communication
  4. Social networks, personal relationships, choice, and pull communications
  5. Where you wind up depends on where you start
    1. A psychosocial model for social network adoption
    2. Collective vs. connective
    3. An example: thinking about the future
    4. Fitting in
    5. Inverting the process
  6. The arc of business culture, while long, bends toward cooperation
  7. About Stowe Boyd


“Socialized business process” — the idea of adding social tools to traditional business processes — is unlikely to work in the long term. The enterprise is now transitioning to social network–based communication as introduced by social tools, and there is a fundamental conflict in communication models with business-process-centric business. The attempt to make the socialized business process work may be part of the adoption problem reported in the social-business industry.

The shift to social network’s pull communication, where individuals more or less subscribe to information sources, will run counter to business process push communication and eventually invalidate it. Push-and-pull communication styles won’t jibe, and pull lines up with the transition to social network–based communication. Most notably, this will undermine business processes and the collective-collaborative organization that evolved in parallel with business processes. The shift won’t take place in the way that email led to organizational flattening. Rather, it will invalidate the rules and roles of business processes and turn the process logic into just another kind of information passed along through the social network.

It may be obvious, but companies that are more oriented toward a connective-cooperative style of work will get more benefits from social networks than those that are less so. Stated more strongly, those wishing to get the boost that many believe is inherent in this lean, self-innovating, fast-and-loose model of work will have to actively move away from the cultural principles of slow-and-tight, twentieth-century business.

In order to better explore these rapidly changing dynamics, this report presents a psychodynamic cultural model for business called the 3C model. The name is based on three sorts of business culture:

  • Competitive: wheel-and-spoke organization, decision making by edict, feudal or clan culture
  • Collaborative: pyramid-and-processes organization, decision making by elite consensus, slow-and-tight culture
  • Cooperative: network-and-connections organization, laissez faire decision making, fast-and-loose culture

We also explore various archetypes of individuals’ psychosocial matches with the various flavors of companies. The freelancer and follower archetypes, for example, do well in cooperative settings, but they are poorly matched with entrepreneurial organizations (which may explain Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent edict excluding remote work.)

High-performing companies of the near future will be operating based on looser ties among individuals in and across businesses. Many more of them will be supported by next-generation cooperative tools. Individuals in these companies will have more autonomy, and there will be more opportunity seeking when compared to the largely slow-and-tight, risk-averse companies that are dominant today. The value of consensus is falling in a rapidly changing, unstable world where there is a higher premium for business innovation and more uncertainty than ever before. And this leads to a devaluation of business processes, in particular those business processes intended to direct human agency and to act as a surrogate for management directing employees’ every move.

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