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What I Learned today about Sharing & Social Business

Today I chaired a panel session on social business with some seriously smart people.

Sharing Economy Throwdown Panel about Social Business

The event was part of Social Media Week London and was called the Sharing Economy Throwdown.  Since I have no idea what a ‘throwdown’ is I’ll focus on the ‘sharing economy’ side of the story, which in my mind is the very same story as social business.

The crew I was charged with moderating included (from right to left above):

> Luis Suarez, Lead Social Business Enabler, IBM
> Gareth Davies, Head of UK at Studio D (Waggener Edstrom’s digital arm)
> Doug Shaw, Consultant, What Goes Around Comes Around
> David Keene, Head of Enterprise Marketing, Google UK

The idea of the session was to take a look at the new ways of working following the recent and massive shift in the technology landscape. Not just with advances in social media i.e. facebook, twitter, YouTube etc, but how these consumer style applications and platforms have transformed our working lives.

Not only how we work but what this means to the very industries we operate in. People are increasingly bypassing organisations to buy from their peers e.g. AirBnB and liftshare, or skipping traditional contracts to buy up idol inventory on assets such as office space e.g. neardesk. Make no mistake, the world in which we live and work is changing and sharing is a huge contributory factor.

What’s driving all this sharing? Advances in technology sure, but societal needs and economic factors too. The global population is ever increasing and yet our resources are ever dwindling. We are coming through (at least in some parts of the western world) one of the worst recessions in history, which has led to a lot of belt tightening and new business models being created.

We have the perfect storm for an explosion in sharing and it’s happening. We are all going to need to learn to share more.

In preparing for the session I couldn’t help but to read plenty of Jeremiah Owyang’s writing on the subject. His views are pretty clear on this, organisations need to evolve or die. I very much like his pyramid model where products evolve to services, services evolve to market places and market places to products.

It is well worth reading Jeremiah’s blog, or at the very least listening to his useful discussion with Mitch Joel from Six Pixels of Separation. Ow Yeah…

I started the conversation today with Jeremiah / Altimiter Group’s definition of the sharing economy:

an economic model that means shared ownership and shared access between startups, organisations and people”

This got us started. Luis jumped on the idea of sharing from the outset: as humans we are built to share. Helping other people is a fundamental function of why we exist as humans. It’s ingrained. But sadly the companies we work for have driven this behaviour out of every day working life. Why? To satisfy that oldest of ideas: ‘knowledge is power’.

It seems in the sharing economy, knowledge is no longer power, collaboration and sharing are.

Sadly the decision makers in the top echelons of global industry are still remunerated on the knowledge is power model. This is a key reason why you rarely see the CEO of a FTSE 100 company, or many board members, openly embracing social media or social technologies. The knowledge is power mind set is far too well engrained.

Later on in the discussion it was even suggested that corporate executives are rewarded for not sharing. Their compensation structures prevent them from being open, actually quite toxic within organisations when you think about it. I really wasn’t expecting executive remuneration to be a topic that surfaced in a discussion about social business and the sharing economy, but it’s an interesting perspective none-the-less.

Gareth quickly jumped on the idea that sharing exists at multiple levels. Not everything has to be public; you might have a different presence for friends, family and the workplace. This evolved into the work-life continuum debate: “if you’re a knowledge worker you’re on all the time” said David from Google.

Doug illustrated this point with a story of how his use of the middle finger was shared via a photo online and which later prompted an interesting response from an elder colleague. The new rules of how we work and communicate are changing, is it really possible to share all of the time, or indeed necessary? Is there a work-life balance to be had any more?

I could go on, but the discussion was quite wide ranging and frankly, as chair, I probably missed half of the most illuminating points as I tried to keep the conversation moving. Thankfully the event sponsors (Herman Miller) have facilitated the session being recorded and it will shortly be available as a podcast on the Sharing Economy Radio.

In the mean time I wanted to share with you a handful of the other gems I jotted down in my notebook:

> Data overload is a symptom of sharing too much.

Could this be the impact of a deluge of good, bad and ugly content marketing? Do we all need to get better at sharing the right things?

> It’s all about behaviours.

Sharing is not new, it’s just back in fashion perhaps.  Is this a result of those three core drivers: economic factors, societal factors and the rapid evolution of technology.

> The rise of consumer style devices in the workplace has shifted how we perceive work.

I very much agree with this point. We now expect facebook style apps to be ever present in how we communicate, both inside and outside work. It’s no longer acceptable to most employees to be working on quicker laptops and smarter devices at home then the clunky old PC with proprietary software available at their office.

> Sharing and advertising are not the same thing.

Absolutely. In fact we hardly scratched the surface on what social business means outside of marketing and communications. For example how we collaborate with our competitors to create new products, or share our logistics network to ship goods and services at a fraction of the cost of the postal service. We certainly need to revisit this area in another session.

> The corporate firewall will be abolished.

I’ll believe this when I see it. Perhaps for this change to happen a lot of senior people are going to have to retire. The notion that the control of information is power came across again and again. People at the top of organisations require control of knowledge to retain their cosy remuneration.

I thoroughly enjoyed chairing the panel and my thanks go to Bernie Mitchell from the Sharing Economy Radio for inviting me to take part and for the permission to use his image above. This is the second year we have run this discussion during Social Media Week and I greatly look forward to advancing the topic again, either in a year’s time, or perhaps a little more frequently.