(Social) Business Theory of Everything

Physicists have long sought a Theory of Everything to explain and link all known physical phenomena, so the outcome of any experiment could be predicted.

The problem is, unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics is so difficult that is remains a great unsolved problem in physics; and a Theory of Everything remains elusive.


Some social business initiatives aren’t working because tools are shoved in first, with no integration into existing workflows, low awareness and engagement among employees, underinvestment in training, insufficient buy-in across the exec board and other common pitfalls.

Others say social business is just a rehash of the knowledge management wave that was pushed in the 90s, then seemed to die a death.

On a more positive note, many agree now that it’s all about people, that employee engagement is hugely correlated to the bottom line, that culture is the main driver of business success, with people as agents – networked – in a complex adaptive system that’s guided by a meaningful shared purpose.

We understand human motivation better than ever; and we can see this in game theory being applied within SaaS products; and the emphasis on learning in organisations, to gain not only new skillsets but the feeling of wellbeing that comes from mastery.

Then there’s the constant debate about social business. What it is? How does it relate to social media? It’s about people, not technology, right? What about process? Collaboration?

It’s becoming accepted that organisational structures these days should look more like networks than hierarchical pyramid-shaped org charts full of divisional boxes. That way information flows more freely, people connect with one-another more easily and business gets faster, better, cheaper.

But hang on. Let’s park the whole notion of ‘social business’ for a second. What we’re all looking to do here is find ways to achieve amazing results while spending less money and making people happy. Happiness will enable the amazing results and efficiency, since energised people do more, think more and find ways to foster cultures of continuous improvement. So to achieve this utopia, we just need to enable, support and not screw it up. All things which traditional management structures, hierarchies and all those 20th century / industrial revolution legacy monsters seem to be doing by hanging around like your dad at the party.

The point is, so many elements of what makes a Jedi business (or ‘social business’, if you want to put it that way) need to converge. Instead of tangling ourselves in knots about where the boundaries lie (don’t know about you but I’m getting sick of hearing myself explain the worm’s eye view of social media vs the bird’s eye view of social business etc etc), we should be looking for the white space, the connecting tissue. We should be searching for a Business Theory of Everything. Whether we find it or not isn’t really the point (somehow I suspect that the physicists are more likely to work it out than we social business consultants – then we’ll just follow their metaphor). The point is, HR, internal comms, customer service, marketing, sales and all the rest are no longer separate. We pay lipservice to this with stating the ‘crossfunctional’ nature of social business and its ability to enable ‘cross-border collaboration’. But really, how do our human brains cope with this? We like boxes. We like straight lines. That’s how we avoid going mad (most of the time). Unifying these disparate pieces is going to be hard work.

Structuring business around function no longer makes sense. It is no longer optimum. Business needs to be structured around information. Performance needs to focus on the performance of process, not competing individuals or ‘units’. We need to get back to basics and use the new tools at our disposal to solve age old business problems.

Watch this space for my stab at a Business Theory of Everything. Which will obviously be wrong, but of course the value in theory, charts, decks, strategies and such is in the writing and showing, learning and sparking, not the thing in itself (as all those of you with reams of neglected yet agonisingly crafted powerpoints will testify).

(PS: There’s a clue in the pic…)


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