Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Social Business Summit London roundup

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Later this week, the Sydney Social Business Summit will complete the cycle of three events in three continents that began in Austin on March 11th. I am intrigued to see what sort of event our Headshift colleagues put together down under, and I suspect it will quite distinct from the two that have come before.

The Dachis Group’s Austin summit was one of the best one-day events I have attended in the past twelve months in terms of the quality of presentations. Doug Rushkoff opened with an entertaining historical riff on social business, followed by Charlene Li talking about open leadership in the social web. We then had several interesting client case studies from Citibank, Comcast, KFC and Intuit plus some stand-out talks on social psychology (Kate Niederhoffer), engaging passionates (Jackie Huba), Social Business strategies (Dion Hinchcliffe), customer centricity (Sam Decker from Bazaarvoice and the hilarious Lane Becker from Get Satisfaction) and the importance of user experience (Karen McGrane). There was also a great guest appearance from John Hagel, whose talk replaced a planned talk by Stowe Boyd, who sadly couldn’t make it to Austin for family reasons. I gave the closing talk about how Social Business Design can make companies more effective (Ross Mayfield live blogged it) and Peter Kim wrapped up the event before the ice cream man turned up with our reward for hard work.

There are good roundups of the event from my colleague Bryan Menell and Gordon Ross of Thoughtfarmer.

After a brief interlude for SXSWi, I returned to finalise plans for the London summit, which took place last week and was jointly organised between Headshift and Somesso. Rather than replicate the success of the presentation-led Austin summit, we intended to take some of the themes that emerged in Austin and open them up to a mixed London audience for discussion and debate. To that end, we had only two talks. Jeff Dachis gave an opening talk about how far we have come since the first wave of internet-led innovation, and where we are headed. JP Rangswami then picked up some of the key principles at work in social business, and provided an outline of how to design business structures for lower transaction costs, which was well summarised by David Cushman.

The rest of the day was given over to three group discussions covering internal use cases, external use cases and what we referred to as ecosystem use cases (business partner optimisation, supply chain, etc). The idea was to arm the three sessions with imaginary case studies from the future, and a few mini cases studies from the present, and then to discuss how we get to the former from the latter. In reality, I think were slightly too light touch in structuring these sessions and so the discussions veered off quite quickly into a general chat about how we overcome barriers to social business.

Reading the notes of colleagues who were in the sessions, and talking to people who took part, it seems there were some really good nuggets and issues that emerged from the discussions, but overall I think the format of these sessions mitigated against the kind of depth that we hoped to achieve. The internal discussion was the biggest, and contained the largest number of invited practitioners and commentators. It was ably led by Luis Suarez, who kicked off by talking about his own experience of trying to survive and thrive in a large company (IBM) without using email. This is not a new story to many of my colleagues in the social business or E2.0 worlds, but it was certainly an eye-opener to the client-side people who took part. Similarly useful, I think, was Mark Masterson’s account of piloting an enterprise social platform within CSC for 92,000 people.

One of the most obvious conclusions that I drew from these discussions was the variable velocities of clients and practitioners / evangelists and the danger this presents to an emerging sector. The feedback we have had from clients about the event has been almost universally positive, and they felt it was pitched at the right level for their level of knowledge and adoption. The feedback from individual practitioners and evangelists, however, was more mixed, and I get the feeling that some of these people felt we had a failed as a group to really get to grips with the deeper issues, as Ton Zijlstra has argued. I tend to agree, and I have to take the blame for that failure, having chosen the format.

Despite the fact we all complain about conferences being too one-way (too many keynotes!) and insufficiently interactive (not enough discussion!), the difficulties in getting a diverse group of people on the same page and ready to discuss a complex topic are not to be underestimated. On the day, I sense the internal use cases discussion was actually just getting started when we have to bring it to a close, and given another day it could have reached the depth that Ton and others felt was missing. The only alternative would have been to reach for the tried and tested Keynote full of pretty pictures and challenging ideas, which would have been easier and perhaps more comfortable for many people (myself included!).

An issue to consider here is that practitioners are in danger of getting too far ahead of clients in their thinking around social business. If it takes, as I suspect it might, 3-5 years to really have an impact on the way large businesses are structured from a social business perspective, then people who simply write about this field are in danger of racing ahead of practice and becoming disconnected with business realities. That is why we are happy to spend a lot of time in the trenches, digging away alongside people who are trying to change their companies from the inside, encouraged by the many small ways in which we can demonstrate progress towards the goal of socially calibrated organisations. A bit like Wikipedia or Twitter, the most interesting ideas and phenomena will be those that arise from practice, rather than predictions ahead of time, and we do enough of that already.

But like all such events, the real win was spending a day among such an interesting bunch of people; the fact that we could take a sunny stroll in Green Park was also a rare pleasure at this time of year. I am also pleased that JP continued the furry animal theme that began with the ducks and rabbits in Austin, with his amazing story of how Twitter helped him rescue a hamster using a knitted tie as a a ladder. For other observations on the event, see reports from Anne McCrossan, our event synthesiser, Jemima Gibbons, author of Monkeys with Typewriters and moderator of the ecosystem discussion, and David Terrar.

So, to Sydney, where Anne and her team have put together what looks like a fascinating agenda, including Salmon fishing in Yemen, reverse mentoring and a meaty panel discussion on transparency in business. Robin Hamman flew out directly after the London summit carrying the conclusions and themes of the previous events with him, so it will be interesting to see what Sydney adds to the mix.

After Sydney, we are committed to reflecting back the content and learning of the three events for those who attended, and for whose participation and support we are extremely grateful. Watch this space!

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