Charlene Li on leading without control – sxsw

Most people would agree that the Groundswell is here in full force.  And while many organizations embraced it, there is still some resistance – fear, perhaps – from companies afraid to leave their comfort zone and cede control.

According to Charlene Li, social technologies are no longer ‘an alien race’ ; that bright shiny object to gawk at.  But in order to adapt to the changing landscape, businesses will need to move from command and control to a culture of sharing.  She calls this approach Open Leadership (the subject for her forthcoming book).  The SXSW hashtag is: #openleadership.

Li contends open leadership can only happen when people have the confidence and humility to give up the need for control, yet still remain in command.  It’s based on a fresh and more transparent approach to relationships and requires that new structures/processes be put in place.

She suggested five ways companies can become more open:

  1. Align openness with strategic goals. Start with a plan and select goals where being open and social can have an impact.
  2. Understand the upside. What’s the value of a relationship and can you quantify that in business terms? Right now, that’s still a challenge to measure.
  3. Consider a new formula for customer lifetime value (CLV). The old formula is: CLV = value of purchase – cost of acquisition. The new formula could be: CLV = value of purchase – cost of acquisition + value of new customers from referrals + value of insights + support +customer ideas.
  4. Develop open leadership. Leaders should be realist-optimists, who combine an openness to change with a strategic understanding of what needs to be done to make it work. Risk can be managed with ‘sandbox covenants’; a process for sharing with clear rules of engagement.
  5. Embrace failure. Keep a failure file in order to learn from your mistakes and move on.

Here comes a great read… Clay Shirky book review

Every once in a while you read a book with such fresh ideas, clarity, crisp writing and aha moments that it literally jumps off the page.

I recently had that experience with Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book, it’s an essential text that examines social networks from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective; seamlessly interweaving present and past. The author provides a context to better understand the ch-ch-changes unfolding all around us.

Shirky, a consultant and adjunct professor in the graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, has a deep grasp of social media and a straightforward way of articulating complex ideas.  He contends we’re in the midst of a communications revolution, akin to the creation of Gutenberg’s printing press. And because we’re enmeshed in it, no one can predict exactly where we’re heading and what new developments we will see.  As an example, he cites the publishing industry and the fact that when the printing press was invented, few could predict it would spawn a bookselling industry and portability of shared knowledge – the parallels with smart phones are not hard to see.

He also talks about professions like journalism and how they’re based on a scarcity of resources. This makes sense. Not too long ago (last year?), all journalists were specialists in their field, employed by media companies (another scarce resource) to present and interpret news.  Along comes social networking and all of a sudden anyone can report news – and does.  We’re not talking about quality or talent or editorial integrity – just the act of reporting.

According to Shirky, the ‘management’ function of the industry has changed. In the past, editors would hear about a story and send a reporter to cover it. These days, it’s hard to find breaking news that citizen journalists haven’t uncovered because they happen to be there and have the technology at hand.

These are just a few of the topics Clay Shirky covers in a book that’s hard to put down, poses questions and challenges us to imagine the future that’s just around the corner.

Blogging backlist

When I worked in publishing, new releases were very important, of course. But of almost equal importance was the backlist – those books that had already been published and had built awareness, an audience, a niche.

If your title moved to the active backlist, you could say it took on a life of its own. It had staying power.

Now that I’ve written a blog for three years – and many people have done it for longer than that – it struck me how little attention we pay to a blogger’s backlist – those entries that were posted last week, last month, last year or more. Because in blogs they’re moved to archives – and we all know how often we visit an archive.

I think that’s a real shame because many (OK some) older posts are probably as relevant now as they were the day they were published. Unfortunately, social media’s immediacy pushes things to the bottom of the heap faster.

So here’s what I’d like to suggest.

Bloggers – Go back and carefully reflect on which posts truly stand the test of time. (Likely  fewer than you think.) Then republish some of your greatest hits. But don’t use this as excuse to be lazy.

And readers, when you have a few minutes – I know, who has any extra time? – why not dig a little deeper and have a look at a blogger’s past (entries, that is).

I’m sure you’ll find a few gems. And when you do, I hope you’ll share them.

How are you reading?

Normally, the question we’d ask is: what are you reading? As in content you’ll hopefully share. And, of course, that’s key.

But with the recent announcement that Canada’s largest newspaper chain put itself in bankruptcy protection and with all the drastic  changes to MSM in the past year or so, I wonder if media, and publishers in general, should also be asking the question: how.

It’s common knowledge we’re in a state of print transition. And, while it’s certainly a different order of magnitude, it reminds me of the switch from professional typesetters to DIY typesetting on computers. There’s a large empty building on Dupont Street in Toronto that stands as a somewhat bleak monument to that change.

But while it took down an industry, it didn’t alter the fact that we need (and enjoy) text.

It’s human nature to like and stay loyal to the familiar ways of doing things: poring over the morning paper, appreciating the visual textures of magazines, the pleasure of reading a book that seems to be speaking directly to you.

I love to do all of these. But more important is the fact that I just plain love to read.

These days I almost never read the print edition of a newspaper for news anymore – I get that from different sources, mostly online. But I do read the paper for more in-depth stories, opinion and because I don’t yet have a reader that I can take to the kitchen table (it’s on my list…).

I think media and publishers have to take some big chances, accept that the printed page has faded and act accordingly. Only then will they be able to start thinking creatively about the ‘how’; as in how are they going to provide us with a fresh and innovative way to read, share and engage with their content. And yes, make some money, too.

They need to get out of their comfort zone; we need to get out of ours.

Social reading

This holiday, it feels like I’ve been treated to my fiction wish list with new books by two of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth. Roth’s is The Humbling, a short novel about acting and dying (literally); and Vonnegut’s is Look at the Birdie, a collection of early unpublished stories that very much ring true today. I’ve read one book and am halfway through the other and wish neither would end.

And speaking of books (now there’s a segue), I thought this is a good time to highlight and recommend a few social media reads that stood out for me in 2009. All three books offer insights on the lay of the social landscape and its growing importance to business.

They are (in no particular order):

SocialCorp by Joel Postman – I reviewed the book when it first came out and feel it’s a great starting point for any organization seeking a strategic approach to becoming more social. The writing is smart and crisp. Of particular interest are the case studies and Joel’s approach to ethics and transparency.

Six Pixels of Separation
by Mitch Joel – I finally met Mitch in person this year (having been a reader/listener for a long time) and thoroughly enjoyed his book. Again, it’s aimed at businesses who want to enter the social arena and is filled with ideas, tips and real-world examples. His writing is sharp and knowledgeable. And he’s managed to capture the essence of his engaging speaking voice in print (not an easy thing to do).

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff – This isn’t a new book, but it stands the test of accelerated time (in this case about two years). It’s a researchers approach to social media, technographics and the marketplace. But while it’s filled with data, it’s anything but academic and offers practical approaches to getting started: listen (first ) and then engage the people you’re trying to reach (both inside and outside an organization).

One other non-fiction book that stood out for me is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s written in his inimitable conversational style and has some wonderful stories about why some people succeed and others don’t; looking beyond raw talent and taking other, often surprising, factors into account.

By the way, I read all of these in the old fashioned print format. I’ve yet to get an e-reader, but now that Kindle’s available in Canada, that’s something I’ll probably try.

Do you have any other titles to add?

A letter to Philip Roth

You don’t know me (nor I you). But I am one of your legions of readers; and have been for many years. I think it’s safe to say that your fiction has helped shape and deepen my understanding of the human condition.

I recently finished reading Indignation, your latest novel, and I just wanted to thank you. For being so eloquent and witty, for posing the essential (existential?) questions, for screaming our insecurities into the night and for showing us how a small community can be a microcosm for the rest of the world.

Your book tells the story of a smart young man from Newark who comes of age in the 1950s. He ventures from his cloistered Jewish-centric hometown to college in the blandly-dangerous Midwest because he desires to escape his family’s narrow beliefs; he wants to be worldly and craves mainstream acceptance. Yet despite his best attempts to be himself, to excel academically, circumstances cause him to make choices that lead to an unfortunate path.

There are few artistic events I look forward to more than one of your books. You never fail to challenge my curiosity, spark an intellectual debate, entertain and make me laugh (and cry) at life’s unavoidable triumphs, mistakes and yes, indignities.

SocialCorp – the company ‘social’

Nearly every day, I’m asked about social media and how businesses can jump into the fray. Lately, I’ve been referring people who want to learn more to SocialCorp – Social Media Goes Corporate, a great new book by Joel Postman.

Joel is a former corporate speechwriter, PR practitioner and consultant who recently joined Intridea. I first met Joel when he led a session on social media for Counselors Academy and found him to be knowledgeable, witty and somewhat skeptical; an early adopter with a balanced view.

All of this comes through in his book, which is clearly written and, unlike the blogosphere, well organized and thought out.

Joel begins by offering his definition of a ‘SocialCorp’ and then goes on to discuss what it takes to become one. In chapters filled with case studies and examples, he provides a strategic overview of the tools, talks about the impact on brands and audiences and offers a perspective on ethics (they haven’t changed) and measurement (it has).

He believes it’s most important for organizations to articulate their business goals and then develop a communications plan that incorporates the relevant web 2.0 tools that will help to achieve them.

Two highlights: a social media readiness quiz that quickly gives you a snapshot of where you/your organization stand (you can try it online here) and a useful glossary.

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the business of being ‘social’.