Why ‘social’ matters in innovation

In an era obsessed by technology it’s easy to lose sight of the obvious: organisations are still about people. Leadership is still about getting people to do the things you want them to do. Innovation is still about unleashing people’s creativity and taking the best ideas forward. “How well an organisation works depends on how its people interact and work together,” say Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald, Gartner executives and co-authors of The Social Organisation: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees. “Thus, every organisation is ‘social’.” The problem is, organisations tend to work through social interactions structured around hierarchy or business processes, ignoring a crucial third element: the social dimension. “We see this when people get things done by working in the so-called ‘white space’ in the organisational structure, or by working across the ‘seams’ of a business process,” Bradley and McDonald say. “In their ways of working and connecting with each other, they do more than just what they are told top-down and more than what is defined as their job.” Such connections can be enhanced by social media, they say, but that’s not a panacea for a tightly controlled, risk-averse culture. What’s involved is truly changing the way your organisation works, to a far more open, collaborative model. Work-based learning researcher, Anne-Marie McEwan, argues that much can be learned from a fresh look at how factories operate. “The trajectory towards social business/enterprise 2.0 began more than 20 years ago with the shift towards the ‘learning factory’ model,” she says. One of the major learnings has been “the emergence of relationships as a key lever in making the transition to new ways of working”, she adds. “I think we learned that the meaning of work was and continues to be in the relationships we have with each other, the relationship we have with the organisation we work for, and in the service we give to others.”

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