Our Social Journeys

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Isabel de Clerq, the lead author of “Social Technologies in Business – Connect, Share, Lead” is a passionate advocate for social transformation of individuals and organizations.  At a beautiful book launch event in sunny Antwerp in June 2017, Isabel’s speech was all in Dutch – a language I don’t understand – but her passion and engagement came out crystal clear to me.  I remember thinking we would need more Isabels in decision-making positions in large organizations to make culture and behaviors evolve faster. But writing a book is already a great contribution to change. Writing a book in a social way is even more interesting: Isabel gathered friends and inspirations as co-authors, to make her book rich and diverse by leveraging collective intelligence.

Now, why a paperback book about social technologies? I just love books, Isabel says. It is one of the charms of this essay: personal, fueled with feelings and anecdotes, it has this little madness that echoes what we, social aficionados, perceive about social technologies: they’re much more than technologies. They’re an enabler for enhanced person-to-person connection at scale, a catalyst for more humane organizations – if we want to.

Not everybody does. See the hilarious email to all employees by fictional CEO John Brown, imagined by Rita Zonius. “If you’re wasting time [on social technologies] then who on earth is doing the real work?” We all have John Browns in our organizations, who haven’t understood yet that connecting is actually the real work, that social networks are the only way you can break Pr Allen’s 50-meter rule (Simon Terry), and alas sometimes they’re in the CEO seat (Damian Corbet’s chapter is for them). Alas, because our companies are still so much shaped by hierarchical thinking, many won’t do something unless the boss does it first.

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Positional leaders know that their first responsibility is role modelling; they understand the need to better understand customer needs, to be more creative, to act faster… yet for some reason, still few of them embrace social. The gap between what they comprehend and what they actually do never stops to amaze me. "My own journey has taught me that just because something makes sense, or even seems inevitable, it doesn't mean it will happen", Lee Bryant describes in a foreword that balances between encouragement and disillusion. So yes, digital subverts hierarchy (one of Isabel’s chapters in the book) and it is not easy to turn from dictator to influencer (Paul Miller); yes, some promoters of social do it awkwardly and turn people off (“15+ things not to do”, by Rita Zonius & Simon Terry); yes, some technologies seem complex (read Mathias Vermulen for advice – I personally found Yammer simple and perfect for our needs); and yes the transparency and authenticity involved in Working Out Loud demand a profound shift in relational habits and behaviors at work. Moving away from top-down flow of selected information, evolving from hierarchy to wirearchy, replacing control by trust, are big changes. No big change is easy. To be fair, positional leaders are not the only ones in need of change: “If there is somebody who needs to let go there are others who need to let come. Meaning: if leaders give up control and replace it by trust, those who had been lead before need to accept new accountabilities, as part of a novel role definition”, Holger Nauheimer wrote in a recent post about organizational agility. Yet it still falls on leaders’ shoulders, I believe. Those who have been lead before will gladly accept new accountabilities when they feel they are respected and included in decision making for something important that everyone cares for together, leaders included. Social networks make it possible to create a “we’re all in this together” feeling and to materialize a community of intent / action. It takes new leadership behaviors that leverage the power of social technologies – not in a push mode as before, but in a multi-directional, networked, co-creation approach. I just can’t wait for business schools to teach this, and for young leaders to dare challenge the old relational model offered by their more senior peers. As you can read from my own chapter in the book (“How social save lives”) the positive impact of social on collective performance can be absolutely tremendous. Why would they not do it?

Will this book convert those reluctant to social? I’m not sure they would even read it. But it can surely help the advocates, the ones pushing for social from down in the trenches, and maybe some curious minds. Step in… don’t be intimidated… we all start somewhere.

My own social journey started in 2011. Pretty late compared to many others. I was never an early adopter of digital, nor a techie. Not interested. I bought myself a fax machine when faxes were already dying. I purchased a portable CD player when most people had already switched to iPods. Facebook, blogs… I knew they existed, and were popular, but I wasn’t into that. I didn’t see the point and wasn’t motivated to learn. It all changed when I got a compelling reason to share and to learn. The grassroots movement that a few colleagues and I created at work back in 2011 to foster diversity in the workplace was this reason. The desire to advance a cause with others created my social opportunity. Suddenly, there was something worth the learning effort. I opened a Yammer group early 2011. A Twitter account end 2011. A blog mid-2013. It’s been life changing, really. I’ve explored and learned and grown, I’ve connected with people and ideas that have expanded my horizons, I’ve evolved my career and made my work become incredibly fulfilling. I am now able to support people in my organization and beyond with new leadership strategies that have a impact. Social connected me to brilliant souls, to a collective purpose, and empowered me to make a real difference. I joined a bit late… but would never go back.

What about you? What’s your social journey?


My gratitude to Isabel and fellow co-authors. You can read more reviews about our book here (by Ewin De Beuckelaer), here (by Ana Neves), here (by Simon Fogg) and here (by Ronald Hermans).