haCkiNg sOCiaL

Call it a knowledge economy.  Call it an information economy.  Call it an innovation economy.  Call it an idea economy a technology economy or a fruit salad with a kick stand.  Call it what you will, social process is the engine that drives it.

Sharing and interpreting information, good decision making, problem solving, ideation and innovation…this is where the new competitive advantage is found and it is increasingly a team sport.

At the very core of all of this is the social process.  The relationship, the conversation, the meeting, the group culture…the stuff that happens between and through people.

Hacking the social process is really what I do.  I do not generally use that language as it tends to freak people out, but that is what I do. I think that organizations commonly have social processes that are constipated and dysfunctional.  Conformity, hierarchy, politics and power struggles all stifle the social process, and stifled social processes birth dysfunction. They get in the way of sharing information. They get in the way of honesty.  They get in the way of authenticity.  They compromise decision making. They punish dissent and listening and empathy and asking big questions…all incredibly important and valuable things.  The more stifled the social process in your organization, the more dysfunctional you have to be in order to be successful.  So, I try to blow the social process wide open to remove some of that constipation and to redistribute power.

A few of my favorite hacks:

  • make the invisible visible: There is a whole bunch of stuff that is incredibly important to our relationships and interactions but invisible, intangible and hard to measure.  This means it is often ignored completely.  Things like assumptions, individual and group blind spots, networks of relationships, organizational culture, trust.  Finding ways to bring this stuff to the surface for consideration and examination can be quite powerful, and it makes it easier for people to focus on what really matters.
  • human beings 101: We seem to be a little clueless when it comes to how human beings are wired and what kinds of things inform our behavior and decisions.  I share a lot of research and examples from the fields of social cognition, social psychology, behavioral economics, and behavioral neuroscience to better illuminate how we process information and make decisions.  One of the things that this helps us do is to release our grip on certainty. You do not have to unpack much of the science around human beings to come to the realization that we do not see things the way they are, we each come away with our own interpretation of a person or a situation.  Getting some clarity around the difference between facts and perspectives can be a valuable thing.
  • unbossing: Helping management focus on outcomes rather than observable activity. This is generally really, really, really hard but it is pretty liberating for employees and managers.
  • being imperfect in the pursuit of righteous aspirations: Even organizations that say great things about taking risks and making mistakes tend to frown on them and subtly punish the people associated with them.  Organizations, leaders and employees have got to do a better job of learning from mistakes and it is really hard to do that when they are doing everything they can to convince themselves they never make any mistakes.  I try to crack that open and position everyone to benefit from mistakes when they happen.
  • change who is in the conversation: Margaret Wheatley (who is an absolute Jedi) talks about changing the conversation by changing who is in the conversation.  I am a huge advocate for this and I have had great luck by mixing up who is included in standing meetings, who serves on committees and task forces, etc.
  • change the container for the conversation: In addition to changing who is in the conversation, it can be powerful to change where, when or how you have the conversation.  Even a simple change of location can change the group dynamics, but beyond that changing how you have a conversation or make a decision can have a profound impact on the group process…and  listening circles, open space, world cafe, appreciative inquiry, and murderboarding are all powerful tools for doing just that.

What tools or approaches do you use that you have found to be useful?

Be good to each other.

  1. gregorylent

    with just a couple of changes, this article could be about wikileaks …

  2. Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference

    […] last post was about hacking the social process and that is at the root of what A.A. does.  A.A. provides tools, guidance and spaces for very […]

  3. Charlie Judy

    All of these are so subtle yet so powerful. I particularly like “Change who is in the conversation.” I think this is harder, though, than maybe everything on the list. Success in this, IMHO, is based not so much in who is invited, but who declines. The privileged few who get invited to everything – those who for some reason the organization feels must participate in and then bless absolutely everyting – need to get comfortable…and more aggressive…with saying “I don’t need to be there. Please invite someone in my stead.” Give it up, guys/gals…the org will figure it out without you. Give people permission to exclude you from the conversation. Thanks, Joe!

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