Shaping Social Business Ecosystems as Learnscapes

shapeThe emergence of social media provides people inside and outside organizations with a way to actively speak about, speak to, and engage the product and service offerings of enterprises. Currently, 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content and 34% of bloggers post opinions about products & brands. Enterprises, on the other hand, listen to, engage, and act on insights gained from social media.

A recent study of social media engagement by Ben Elowitz and Charlene Li covered the 100 largest brands and, among other conclusions, noted that,

One recurring theme throughout these case studies is that engagement cannot remain the sole province of a few social media experts, but instead must be embraced by the entire organization.

Channels, policies, processes, touch points and transactions are increasingly viewed as parts of the social experience organizations use to encourage employees in collaboration (also known as — Enterprise 2.0), and engage customers in conversation (also known as — social media) for the purposes of innovation and transformation of the business. The common goal of the ongoing discussion involves transforming business practices to incorporate social relationships into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders.

Integrating engagement into enterprises is crucial to strategic efforts to use social software throughout an ecosystem, inside and outside the formal organizational hierarchy, as social business design. My contention is that such integration is most likely to succeed with a focused approach to informal learning. In my last post, Scalable Learning and Learnscapes in Social Business Design, I offered the following point.

The concept of learnscape is a useful framework for thinking about the strategic challenge to the range of learning activities occurring as companies attempt to create feedback loops between their brand experience and the functional areas of their enterprise, especially in regard to the multidisciplinary collaboration needed to make these efforts successful.

The concept of a learnscape, initially outlined by Jay Cross, focuses our attention on designing ecosystems to heighten the innovation and performance of people. I lay out some thoughts about learnscapes and shaping ecosystems below, using key concepts from the Dachis Group’s framework, initially discussed in an earlier post on HP’s WaterCooler project. I don’t claim these insights provide proven techniques for shaping enterprise ecosystems. But, I do think they point in a useful direction for those thinking about Enterprise 2.0 and social media strategy to keep in mind.

Shaping Enterprise Ecosystems through Dynamic Signals and Metafilters

Enterprise 2.0 implementations use either ad hoc or strategic approaches in adapting to their brand experience and the collaboration challenges posed by social software. Indeed, the recent 2009 Enterprise 2.0 survey by AIIM found that, “the ready availability of Enterprise 2.0 tools in software as a service (SaaS) mode gives rise to rogue usage under the corporate radar in 24% of organizations.”

Suffice it to say, most observers think enterprises will increasingly develop strategic approaches to managing the challenges of social software. As this occurs, we can expect the issue of informal learning and learnscapes to increase in importance in efforts to manage the brand experience within Enterprise 2.0 implementations, to take what is learned from listening and engaging customers through social media and innovate, or transform, business practices through collaboration supported with social software.

Intel recently developed an enterprise strategy for social computing, explicitly noting the importance of informal learning, and specifically pointing to the fact that ad hoc, fragmented use of social software tools grows with or without an overall strategy to give direction. Among other tools, social network analysis, when used to study organizational networks (ONA), can provide visual heuristics for managing dynamic signals and metafilters as part of an enterprise social computing strategy.

Dynamic signals consist of the constant multi-faceted means of collaboration, e.g. wikis, blogs, twitter-like apps, etc. Metafilters, such as tagging by topic, keyword, person, as well as federated search, etc., provide methods for finding signals in vast amounts of noise. A key challenge is figuring out how to shape the connections within the enterprise, and with consumers/customers, to support the relationships needed to influence the flow of learning in directions that create strategic value. To paraphrase Valdis Krebs, a social network analyst, more connections are not necessarily better. Without presenting the overall argument here, let me note that the challenge involves more than establishing pattern libraries like we see in user experience design or information architecture.

Valdis Krebs, and other social network analysts engaged in ONA (Rob Cross and Steve Borgatti, for example) contend that the most efficient and effective adaptation to emergent challenges lies in “the pattern of direct and indirect links” in the ecosystem. You can read a straightforward overview of ONA by Valdis. The key issue is how to adapt the shape of connections within an ecosystem to the challenges that emerge for the enterprise in its social engagement of employees, partners, customers, and consumers. Jay Cross makes a similar observation on the importance of shaping strategies to learnscapes,

Learnscaping (creating networked platforms that combine work and learning) is an in-house shaping strategy for knowledge work and informal learning.

Different Shapes Facilitate Different Innovation Types

By the shape of an ecosystem I mean the pattern of dynamic signals through which communication occurs about an enterprise’s brand(s), inside and outside the enterprise. Steve Borgatti distinguishes between network shapes that support incremental or radical creativity and innovation. Consider the following simplified, hypothetical shapes of two different social networks.


Figure 1: Incremental Innovation Network

Referring to the overall shape of connections depicted in Figure 1, Borgatti explains that,

This is great for incremental improvements within a well-established paradigm, but tends to stifle radical innovation…In other words, if radical innovators are too well connected to the network, they can get swamped by the prevailing wisdom. As a result, radical innovation is facilitated by sparser and clumpier networks — as in a skunk works.


Figure 2: Radical Innovation Network

Borgatti’s conception of a radical innovation network shape is depicted in Figure 2. In a similar vein, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of the National University of Singapore recently contended that,

…today’s software developers work in social networks in which everyone is closely linked to everyone else. “The over-abundance of connections through which information travels reduces diversity and keeps radical ideas from taking hold,” he suggests…”To enable innovation it may be necessary to reduce the number of social ties between coders.”

It is easy enough to substitute the title software developer with any other from a corporate directory and the point remains relevant. In the language of social network analysis, the likelihood of radical innovation is increased as the occurrence of structural holes occur. The property of having ties to people who are not in the same social circles is called betweenness, or structural holes. A person whose social network is rich in structural holes has many ties, and the people they are tied to are not tied to each other.

Most of the Enterprise 2.0 thinking that I read seems to aim at developing social networking strategies to support incremental innovation, with the goal of generating as many connections as possible. A crowdsourcing strategy if you will. For example, take a look at the before and after network comparisons discussed in a previous post here on HP’s WaterCooler project.

The major challenge facing social business design is determining how to use dynamic signals –specifically, which ones to use — and how to use metafilters to shape an ecosystem that facilitates the strategic goals of the enterprise. All the while encouraging people to engage one another to share information and collaborate because nodes and links don’t interact, people do. Our next post considers the latter point.

What do you think?

Posted by Larry R. Irons

Share this post…

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

3 Responses to Shaping Social Business Ecosystems as Learnscapes

  1. […] Shaping Social Business Ecosystems as Learnscapes « Skilful Minds […]

  2. Antonel John says:

    how do i reduce these social ties

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: