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Not everything was better years ago but some things were better defined. Clarity has become a rarity. A good example: relationships. Decades ago it was clearly defined. A relationship was between two people who liked or loved each other. Even without engagement ring or marriage contract, a relationship was nothing vague. A relationship was a well-defined thing with clear rules and a precise goal: improving the relationship over time. Before you started a relationship, there were declarations. We defined our expectations and were ready to hear the same from the counterpart. Besides these defined relationships, we had cheap encounters: We had something but no real ties that held us together, many exit doors in close vicinity. Nobody wanted to define expectations. More booty call, less duty call. That’s what we called a cheap encounter.
We’ve become used to this. Today we call it network.
Everyone does it with everybody. And it starts earlier than we think. Do brands really have a deep connection with their customers? Why do brands address me with my first name as if we just had a beer together? Do we know each other? Why do brands think it’s better to become my buddy than treating me with respect as a paying customer?
Sure, when you ask those questions you sound like an old fart. Nobody talks about basic politeness and a healthy distance. A healthy distance that would help us identify forced and real intimacy much easier. All these networks nobody claims to be able to live without, support the idea of social promiscuity. That leads to many cheap encounters but rarely to real relationships.
Global Relationship Economy
The word “Network” transformed into an empty word in the last few years. Scientists, database modelers and engineers defined network precisely. And enterprises started to understand that inflexible, hierarchical organizations that see themselves as a walled garden have problems adjusting to a new world of complex and collaborative work structures. Old enterprises were successful because they had everything under control. New enterprises are successful because they know who to work with others to solve a problem.
The last few years made clear that new enterprises got it right: Energy, IT, Research and Innovation: You can’t survive without cooperation, collaboration and co-creation. The walls of the walled garden came tumbling down. The old control economy will be replaced with the new relationship economy. Are we ready for that?
Looking for friends
Let’s pose the question differently: Are we engaging enough? Are we open to a cooperative working environment? Are we ready for relationships?
Actually, the word ‘Network’ is for most people a throw-away word, mostly used to avoid the answers to above questions. The Web made everything so easy. So much interactivity, so many opportunities, often too many opportunities.
Are we looking for friends on Social Networks?
I know the phone numbers of my friends, know where they live and have a beer with them once in a while. I don’t need a friend confirmation before contacting them. Those relationships are transparent, in almost every way.
I know the strengths and weaknesses of my friends, their likes and dislikes, their destination. I invest trust in and have respect for them. Sure, it’s a pretty big risk. I’m more interested in them as a holistic person, less in one of their characteristics. Human beings are more than the sum of ‘likes’ and favorites. And I know I can have in-depth discussions with them, advancing our relationship. These relationships don’t need to be dissected by my preferences and categories. There’s one rule in life: If it’s not for real, there will be a form you need to fill out. 500 million people have done so on Facebook to present themselves to the world. The results (just like government forms): Nothing. Or almost nothing. Instead of a blooming relationship economy, we now have a new form of social bureaucracy. Voluntary. And very 2.0.
Quid pro quo
To be very clear: Not all relationships on Social Networks are equal. And, let’s please stay away from relationship therapy, talking about relationships until there’s nothing to talk about. Social engineers work on their relationships until they deal with a complete wreck. That’s based on the crazy idea one can plan human relationships, direct them, construct them – until they conform with their view of the world. Leaving relationships to the arsenal of manipulation.
Cooperation and collaboration despises manipulation because they always ask: What can you offer me? What can I offer you? How can we create something together we wouldn’t be able to do alone? Cooperation is an evolutionary principle. We band together and 1+1 turns into 3. Nothing new or revolutionary here. Romans used the phrase “quid pro quo” to express this sentiment. A relationship is not a self-service kiosk.
A relationship is not a present. A relationship is a business. A deal. Quid pro quo.
Oh, I’m sure many readers will shake their head in disgust. At least, I hope so. Maybe they start to question the value of 14,453 global friends while there’s no time to meet a real person for lunch. Do we create peace, improve justice and new technologies with our network friends? Or are we just trying to avoid the real work? We could act, do and work together. Instead, we’re developing a fetish. That’s easier. And meaningless.
Quickies and Wikis
That doesn’t mean networks and wikis are useless because that world is is maturing. We see two separate network trends: the Facebook world and the Wiki world. On one hand you have cheap encounters (quickies), on the other hand constructive cooperation. Here self-indulgence, there collaboration.
The Wiki world works together because they extract value. Many enterprises use these tools because they experience the benefit of working together, not against each other. This is not the old team where everybody hid behind the other person. The Wiki world goes beyond that thinking: Innovative projects happen because the old control model ended in the trash. The other department/division/company is not an enemy, they are partners.
Quid pro quo. The network matures.
It might be also a sign of our recessionary times. When people prosper, they focus on themselves and don’t see any benefit in working with others. It’s easier to complain, criticize and bitch about others. Cooperation in this world feels like capitulation. A defeat. We can beat them by merging or owning them. But working WITH them? Please.
Cooperation/Co-Creation and Collaboration has increased in the last few years. It might be the tough times or just the plain insight that enterprises don’t have to do everything themselves. They can become better companies and more competitive when working with others. In the old days, enterprises were forced to collaborate. Now they want to.
Collaboration as a basic element of economic activity has been researched by academia for a long time – game theory as an example. Home Cooperativus is far superior to Homo Oeconomicus. Cooperation and collaboration grows up and becomes just a normal part of the business routine. A good sign. But as long as we talk about networks with this quasi religious undertone, we still have a lot to figure out. Homo Cooperativus is not a new form of humankind, a new us. We’re still driven by our own motivations and desires. We just know that we have to cooperate and collaborate to achieve those. The old term ‘relationship’ is filled with moral implications, always implying there are no selfish motivations. That’s why we read so much crap about the new way of working together, Office 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, co-creation. Nobody wants to be honest and admit the one reason for the advent of collaboration: It benefits us.
Until a few years ago, cooperation meant attacking each other (Call it Mergers & Acquisitions.) Those translated in conquering market shares, not developing new markets. A successful merger was one where the winner eliminated the last traces of the losers corporate culture. Often not motivated by a sense of business. Motivated by legacy emotions.
That doesn’t work anymore. Structures are too complex. Employees too confident. Markets too saturated. Forced marriages were replaced with marriages of reason. We should be happy about that.
That forces all parties to adjust to various corporate cultures. They have to negotiate, find a consensus and then decide: What is the value for each of the stakeholders? How much of my identity do I have to give up to succeed? Answering questions like that lead to clearer rules, clearer rights and duties. If you want to have a relationship, you have to declare your self. Clear and explicit.
Enterprises are trying to break through the walls and silos, expanding the definition of relationships. Collaborative efforts become the norm of corporate culture. The groundswell has just begun, forcing enterprises to rethink everything. I’ve worked in the agency world for almost 20 years, often more involved in a client culture than my employers culture. More often than not, feeling more loyalty towards my work than my boss. Good relationships center around content. Not form factors.
Still, many people have problems sharing their knowledge. One of the skills we learned in the corporate world was to hide our expertise and knowledge from competitors and internal divisions. That’s was a key to survival. We all know those little organizational piranhas. Ready to digest any little piece of knowledge and spreading it around the organization, poisoning the culture. Didn’t we get punished for collaboration, being too open for cooperation? And how often do terms like “Team” and “Group” equal “Buddy System” and “Organized Nothingness”?
That’s the trick: Eliminate organizational piranhas, the buddy system, the “relationships” that kill an enterprise. These little games have to stopped before they start. Fact: If your organization lacks cooperation because of internal parasites, your business will suffer. That’s a leadership problem. Maybe the most important leadership challenge for years to come.
So easy and so hard. Cheap encounters sold as relationships are still running the network. As relationships, these encounters are nothing better than a fling between teenagers. We’re still far off from transforming these connections into 1+1=3 relationships. That’s the only result that counts.
A relationship between adults.