conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Groundswell

The Problem with Collaboration: Can’t Touch This

leave a comment »

You talk. We listen. (Not so) Simple.

Let’s trace social technologies backwards and watch them infiltrate the organizations that launched them. Social technologies carry with them an implicit demand to be heard—if not an outright demand for action.

That demand, from those voices, will—sooner or later—run smack into the command and control mentality: the top dogs who always delivered the monologues. The higher-ups and muckity-mucks who get their way.

This is a problem.

Is this a problem?

Because this problem may be the starting line for any company culture that wants to change. It won’t be pleasant. Because the kind of people that help facilitate the change are a different sort than the ones willing to tell everybody else what to do. There’s a happy move today, currently gaining cultural muscle, to identify the boss-bully in the corner office and make them play nice. This even as people throughout organizations are getting a vision for collaboration vs. command and control.


Letting employees and customers (and possibly congregants and constituents) into the smoke-filled rooms where big decisions are made. What a concept.

Groundswell offered the example of, their Idea-Exchange and the grass-root effort to excise an annoying banner that always appeared. The company denied themselves, kept listening, and eventually removed the banner they loved and their customers hated.


The problem with collaboration is really an opportunity to become adept at identifying the things that cannot/must not change and holding the rest with an open hand.



Groundswell: Your Moment Has Passed.

with 5 comments

So 2008.

I’m done with Groundswell.

Oh, I like the book. A lot. And the argument for an empowered people (via social technologies) continues to make excellent sense. Li and Bernoff did a great service by gathering facts and stories into a rational retelling of where we are today with hearing and connecting en masse.

When I first read Groundswell, emotive moments of recognition flickered constantly. Li and Bernoff led the way in helping me understand this unfolding opportunity lodged in my computer. But those moments are not just in my computer any more. They are on my phone, in my pocket and before my eyes as I walk.

It’s the ubiquity of the opportunity that makes everything look different.

Students in my class assume forums for support will be available, they turn to product and service reviews first—why wouldn’t they? Reviews from peers have always been available. These self-proclaimed 90s kids (I guess that’s a thing) interact in most of the ways that Li and Bernoff predicted. So there are few emotive flickers from them even as I shout “Yes!” (possibly to their “Huh?” and amusement). And these students demonstrate a familiarity with technology far advanced from students even two years ago.

So…wheels turn and time goes on and books fade to triviality. I’ll suppose I’ll check out Empowered next time I teach this class. The last thing anybody needs is another old guy in their life telling how things used to be.

And this: the Groundswell moment just passed has opened on a much wider vista that seems to invite collaboration like never before. To not listen to each other is starting to feel like a cardinal sin. Not because it dishonors the human condition (which it does) but because the opportunities in working together are beginning to look massive.



Groundswell Plus: Please Write a Plus-Sized Book about Today’s Social Media Opportunities

with 2 comments

Beyond Li & Bernoff’s Groundswell03282014-book_gs_lrg

Groundswell was published by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in 2008 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing). I’ve used it a couple times to frame this new opportunity and give social media marketing students a sense of the possibilities of communication beyond liking a snarky comment, link or photo on Facebook. I’ll use the text again but I’m also prowling about for newer texts.

Groundswell is a grandfatherly text by today’s standards. Published (counting fingers: 9-10-11-12) more than five years ago and much has changed. I like the book for the authors’ optimism about building and maintaining communities. And that is precisely where it is starting to wear thin. It turns out building communities is a much more complicated endeavor that works best when flesh and blood people talk with flesh and blood people. The social media piece is a nice and useful add-on, but students need to see a larger picture.

I’ve got other texts that give details about best practices and content strategy. We’ll certainly discuss the disciplines of editorial calendars and fine-tuning their understanding of their audience and tightly defining what their audiences need/want. And, as always, we’ll write and share and write and share and learn what works for ourselves.

Groundswell is firmly focused on taking full advantage of business opportunities. That’s why I first started reading it and it may be why I end up with something else next time. My students tend to be a devoted bunch: they attend this Christian college and their writing (most are English students with a professional writing focus, plus a few journalism and business majors) bubbles up from deep theological streams. Many will say they have no interest in business right up to the point where they realize they actually have to pay off their school loans. That realization attenuates their post-college work vision. One my teaching goals is to help students start to see just how much those deep theological streams can pour through the world of work with all sorts of happy results (an income comes to mind, but also making a difference in real life).

What I’d really like is a Groundswell Plus. I’d like a version of Groundswell that paints a larger picture of the community-building opportunities. Perhaps Groundswell Plus tells stories from the Arab Spring (for instance) or Ai Weiwei and points readers toward organizing for social change. Maybe this plus-sized version of Groundswell could point readers toward unearthing social problems (along with business opportunities) that might respond to collaborative energies.

Because in the end, students want to give themselves to things that matter.

Just like the rest of us.



There’s Power in Connecting. Yet Most of us Remain Spectators.

leave a comment »

The Stakes are Higher to Trigger Action

It’s easy to get all optimistic about how social media can changes things. That’s where Clay Shirky was when he wrote Here Comes Everybody. He cited (among many examples) how people organized using social media to demanded accountability from the Catholic Church hierarchy as the priest sexual abuse scandal opened (turns out the 60’s were to blame, and the church is all beyond that now, thank you. Somebody bought some great research!). Shirky’s book carried an optimistic tone that continually wondered at what was possible when we start connecting.

And many of us are training ourselves to read reviews of products before we buy. The thinking is that the opinion of several people we don’t know is more accurate than product advertising issued by the marketer. So smart marketers are learning to plant negative reviews along with positive.

And, of course, we’re watching people organize in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria to oust the corrupt leaders. So it’s just one small step to thinking about the awesome power we have when we connect: power to overthrow decades old monarchs, power to hold authority accountable, power to see through marketing hype.

But Groundswell by Li and Bernoff helps cool that optimism to a more realistic pitch. Their Social Technographic Profile lets you pick a demographic and get a hint of how they interact with social media. And what you’ll see is that most people are spectators, independent of demographic profile. Most of us watch. From the sidelines. Which surprises no one: take any organization and you’ll find most people watching.

The lesson is not to despair of our tendency to be spectators. The lesson is to find and create an irresistible magnetic pull around the things that are most important.

The stakes are much higher for getting and retaining attention.


%d bloggers like this: