Systemic vs. Silo Thinking & Social Media

by Jay Deragon on 03/16/2011

Social media represents a system of communications unleashed to the entire human network. Howeve the “system” cannot be optimized for maximum performance or outcomes unless all the “parts” are connected.  Current usage of social media illustrates attempts to optimize the “parts” without connecting them to the whole. There is a clearly a lack of systemic thinking about social media.

Systems thinking  is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy and communications creates the difference..

Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practiceswithin a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Attempts to communicate improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system.

Today social media applications are living in prisons, under the tyranny of the prevailing style of management and the inability of the system to interaction with people, between departments, and with suppliers and customers. These prisons cannot optimize the use of social media unless and until the “silos” of thinking and subsequent communications are torn down.

What Role Does Social Media Play?

If social media are a new system for communicating one would think that management ought to pay attention, learn, understand and use it to improve management of the system. Instead we see examples after examples of management delegating the use and study of social media to outside resources or internal self-appointed experts.  Many still think that all this social stuff is for marketing or advertising. All fail to look at social media systemically.

How can anyone manage a “system” without using communications to listen, learn and understand what their system is saying? Since communications is the fiber of any economy one would think that management would study and improve communications. A system cannot be improved if communications aren’t considered a critical function that directly impacts performance of the entire system not just the parts. Communications can increase or decrease the cost of the parts based on the quality of integration. Results at the end of the system do not tell you which part of the system needs improvement. Communications are critical to improving anything and everything.

In order to truly understand current condition one must look at the numbers behind the numbers and put them into context of systemic performance. Systemic performance is not indicative of measuring results rather measuring processes behind the results.

Measuring results doesn’t tell you what is or isn’t creating the results. Behind every result there are processes, people, markets and related interactions. If you don’t understand the interactions and how well they are performing than you can’t effectively improve the pieces aimed at influencing end results.

Today markets, people, businesses, governments and society at large are influenced most by communications. Media represents a form of communications and media surrounds us, influences us and leads us to conclusions (results). If we are being led to the wrong conclusion (results) then we make poor decisions aimed at creating more results. Poor decision create bad results and the process repeats itself due to a lack of relevant and relative data from which we should be learning to make more informed and educated decisions.

Social media are an influence on markets. The market of conversations can be used to improve an organizations system and its ability to serve a market. That is of course if we understand the “system and all the interrelated parts”.

Most organizations are failing at social media because:

  1. It is being used in silos
  2. The current measures are not relevant to systemic improvements
  3. It is disconnected from the organizations people, processes and systemic improvements
  4. Use is isolated in marketing and advertising processes
  5. It is not designed around people’s intents or relational objectives

The advancement and improvement of any organization starts and ends with alignment of people, processes and communications. Not leveraging social technology systemically means the organization will be out of alignment.



{ 1 comment }

Joris Claeys March 16, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Great article Jay!
This hits the crucial part of why it is not that simple to copy-paste the success of social networking to the business environment. There is a lot more needed then just communication, understanding and connection with a company’s strategy, marketing and operations.
As you point out – in part and maybe I go a lot more steps further then the intention of your article – we first have to move away from the silo behavior and the hierarchical organizations we have known and accustomed to for centuries.
For those who think that the current hype around CLOUD computing for example is going to be the resolution to more productivity, improved processes, faster outcome / results / delivery, more accurate decision-taking based on shared information and mass communication, etceteras … will find desolation rather than resolution at the end of the line.
Cloud computing has some great aspects to assist us in many of these areas and its learning school is the fast moving expertise and successes from social networking, but in the end business will have to adapt CLOUD computing and adapt “itself” to integrate outsourced technology and communication services (to name it very simplistically). This will happen through BPM, CI, organizational change, team approach, change and acceptance of leadership style across an organization, managing outsourcing (both IT and business processes and activities) in a strategic and controlled environment, managing and improving knowledge and shared/obtained knowledge, etceteras…
Though your article concentrates on the issue of parts vs the whole of the equation (organization, process, market,…), I am taking this opportunity to point out the importance of the content of your article in a wider perspective: it is not just about organizations adapting or integrating social media in the equation – successful or not and the reasons behind that, such as silo behavior – your article also illustrates the wider issue that social networking/media solutions may not work in a business environment. CLOUD computing brings part of the solution, experience from the social networking is another, but more important is the business environment and the people who direct, manage and operate / interact with the business, business processes and information / knowledge, which needs change. There are some great results achieved by companies turning the switch as we speak and there is a huge requirement for the rest of the businesses who want to understand more of how to adapt and integrate social media and new technologies in a more manage approach then the wild-west of social networking.
To fill in this gap, I am in the process – sorry to make some commercial out of this – of setting up a new LinkedIn group around Collaborative Business Networking in/with the CLOUD. We hope to see both business and IT/software/infrastructure joining the forum to expose the reality of CLOUD computing in a business environment. Announcements will be distributed this weekend.
To close off, expecting to see you Jay with this article at the forum, to start some good discussion and insights as there is a lot more behind the results, as you point out … 🙂

Joris Claeys

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