Thursday, June 7, 2012

Social is changing the game, in more ways than you think


Allow me to move off ITSM a bit. Trust me, I'll get back to it.

I am not a social media expert, and I'm skeptical of many self-described experts. I did, however, recently hit a Klout score of 51; so I must be doing something right, at least regarding social influence and reputation (See "The Reputation Economy is Coming - Are You Prepared?" AND) if you believe in Klout's interesting, if flawed, influence algorithm.

What is most interesting about Klout is not the actual score, but the IDEA that the value of your sharing is based on the usefulness of what is shared, and less to do with speed and frequency. Feel free to disagree with how Klout calculates that value. It's much harder to disagree that the value of social sharing is far more based on the perceived quality of the shared content, as opposed to the speed in which you can register a comment, opinion, or decision.

A recent Forbes article on the coming reputation economy makes the following point:
The economy is moving in one direction and one direction only. Take time to invest in your online reputation and you will be more confident, more connected, and more desirable to work with.

But how do you invest in your online reputation? Think about the poeple and organizations you follow online. I'm not just talking about Twitter follows, but that's part of it. Who's posts do you pay the most attention to on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and yes, Twitter? We follow people who provide the most value. It could be entertainment value, professional value, home improvement value, etc. We tend to value quantity of posts, artfulness of the presentation, self-promoion, and quick judgements much lower in the social media context, compared to in person interactions.

Your character/reputation/influence is becoming strengthened by the value of the content you create and shepherd. The 20th century "conventional wisdom" rewarded extroverts, to the point where introversion had essentially become a handicap to overcome. The Old Boy network/corporate boardroom ideal that grew from the Harvard Business School's over-reliance on extroversion as an essential trait for success, is starting to die. Most people just haven't noticed it yet.

Think about it. How many folks reading this post are more introverted than extroverted? If you've got a high Klout score, how much of that is based on dominating the social world with quantity over quality? Unless you are a celebrity, no one cares what you have to say if you don't have useful content. No one caring = lower Klout. Limited, thoughtful, useful sharing = higher Klout.

Sounds like an introvert to me.

The Culture of Personality

We have deified extroversion to the point of allowing extroverts to lead in arenas where they actually detract from productivity and quality, primarily because we have agreed that extroverts make better leaders. This conventional wisdom continues to assert that introverts can only be effective leaders when they fake extroversion well enough to be convincing. This hasn't always been the natural order of things.

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, discusses the transition near the turn of the 20th century from a "Culture of Character" to the current "Culture of Personality". The Culture of Character was shaped by a shared sense of the rules of interaction. People knew when it was right to speak. Speaking out of turn made you look less enlightened. You spoke only when you had something of value to share. Slow, thoughtful decision making was a sign of integrity and intelligence. Fast, in-the-moment decision making was a sign of weakness and poor character. Most of the people we would call extroverts today were viewed with suspicion until they proved they were of good character.

Something changed as we started the 20th century. Societies were becoming more familiar with the reality that, at least in the United States, we were moving from an economy based on family-run agriculture to corporate owned businesses. More people were working in officies and factories than in the fields. Dale Carnegie helped bring the values of aggressive, confident communication styles into the mainstream. Over the next hundred years, fast, confident decision-making becme more and more acceptable, not just in business, but in religion, social circles, and almost every arena of our lives. Teachers now reward participation over accuracy, and, I would suggest, thoughtfulness. Preschools regularly counsel parents about their "withdrawn" children quickly falling behind in social circles.

In business, group effort is revered, even when it comes to finding new ideas. According to Cain, study after study over the past 40 years show with great clarity that group-based brainstorming reduces BOTH the quantity and the quality of ideas generated, compared to people brainstorming individually. With all rhe evidence to the contrary, we still force most people to do creative work, including assessing pros and cons of various decisions, in group settings. When has there ever been an innovation created by committee? Yet, in group settings, how do we determine the best way to solve a problem? The most confident and outspoken person convinces everyone else to follow their path.

And the problem of group decision making is not just around ideas for creativity and innovation. Cain references a study that looked at accuracy of decisions in group vs. individual contexts. Groups of people were asked to answer several relatively simple questions around current events and popular culture. When they answered the questions on their own, most people got 100% of the answers correct. When they formed into small groups to address the same questions, "ringers" were added to the groups. Some of the ringers were coached to be charming, confident, and decisive, while purposefully advocating for incorrect answers. They found that every such group got more answers wrong than almost everyone did as individuals. A disturbing number of individuals changed their correct answers to wrong answers after the group decision-making exercises.

The one context where group brainstorming and decision-making did not suffer from, what Cain calls "The New Groupthink"? Online group interactions.

That's a good teaser for the next post. I'll pick up and expand more on how social networking is not only changing how we share and make decisions, but also who most influences those decisions.

The introvert revolution (which will, of course, be slow and steady) is nigh!

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