11: Integrating Social Tech with Velocity

Technology often seems wondrous - but at heart, it's just a tool-kit. In the hands of someone who doesn't know what they're doing, and who doesn't know how to use the tools properly, they produce little value and much waste. In the hands of a skilled practitioner with a clear goal, they can produce wondrous results.

One of the main problems today is the pace of change. Until the past 20 years or so, change was seldom: a person could work their entire career with one set of tools and techniques that were well understood. Presently, technology changes tools so rapidly that there is barely time to learn the basics before everything changes again.

In this environment, the individual or organization that learns to leverage technology tools faster than their competitors are the ones that progress. (EN: This edges into the belief that tools are more important than skills, to which too many subscribe. An word processor gives no competitive advantage to an illiterate over a literate person with a pen and paper - nor is it true that a literate person could produce more valuable work if he were able to type it into the system at a faster rate.)

Why Being Early Is a Positive

The author is an advocate of rapid adoption. Especially given that many social tools are free, there is no financial reason to delay adoption. And while he does acknowledge the detriment to morale of people who have barely learned to use one tool being told to abandon it for something a little newer and not much better, he feels "this is an unenlightened view." Waiting for "the industry" to adopt something means waiting until your competitors have an advantage before beginning to build your own capabilities - by the time you come off the bench, the race is already well underway.

However, there are still costs: the cost and time to train employees, the lack of efficiency while they ramp up. Leaping on every new service and version upgrade simply isn't an option, but neither should you go to the extreme of waiting for social tools to settle down and a standard set to emerge. This is unlikely to occur.

Generally, you don't want to be at either extreme of the continuum: neither the first to adopt every quirky new technology nor the last in your field to finally get on board.

(EN: this is a lot of cheerleading without much in the way of support - not even a case-study to demonstrate the advantage gained by an early adopter or the disadvantage suffered by a firm that waited too long to adopt.)

Pilot Projects as a Velocity Tool

Using test groups and pilot projects for new technologies can be a helpful method of overcoming reluctance: by using a new technology for a small group of people or a small project, you can better assess whether it has real value and should be more widely implemented.

The author notes that this may skip a few steps: once a tool is discovered, research its capabilities and have a few employees test it out for a few days and report their impressions - specifically if the new tool has capabilities that existing tools lack - before deciding to pilot test it. However, in some instances, a single individual using a tool is not a feasible test method.

When you've concluded a pilot is needed and merited, the author suggests being very scientific about your analysis. As with any tool, determine the benefits you expect to derive, measure them objectively, and compare results to objectives. Of particular importance is comparing the costs incurred and results achieved with a new tool to those achieved by current tools to determine whether there is a significant advantage.

Building a Culture of Velocity

Velocity is largely a matter of culture: some organizations tend to move nimbly, others are more deliberate. However, even stodgy firms recognize the need to be innovative, and will generally provide some latitude for experimentation - and if that experiment leads to success, the appetite for additional innovation will grow. Inertia will bind a firm to tradition, old and established ways of doing business that have worked in the past, so it requires a conscious effort to campaign to try something different.

Generally, smaller and newer firms tend to be more nimble than larger ones with decades of experience, and decades of rules, procedures, and bureaucracy to ensure that traditional ways of doing business are preserved. The author relates that at a small firm, you can purchase software and services easily, using a personal credit card and filing an expense report; but at a larger firm, you must to go through multiple departments to get the purchased approved, executed, financed, and delivered.

As an example, the author refers to internet blocking and filtering. Very few firms with less than 20 employees filter Internet usage - but the larger a firm becomes, the more it filters, blocks, or disables. For this reason, managers in large firms have to become involved in politics to clear the red tape so his people can test and experiment with social tools.

The author points to Jet Blue as an instance where social tools have been successful: their use of Twitter as a tool to announce discounts of flights that have seats to fill. (EN: I looked into this - a number of technology enthusiasts think it's cool, but there's no indication they are actually selling more tickets as a result. However, I did notice a few customers happy with customer experience, such as the customer who complained on Twitter there was no-one at the baggage counter two hours before a flight, and someone at the airline responded immediately and called the airport to have someone come to provide service. That's not quantifiable, but it's a great example.)

A separate example is of a Jeff Hurt, who made a point of using social tools and made a point of becoming an expert in using them, and a consulting firm that noticed his social media presence made him a job offer. (EN: I met Jeff some years ago at a gathering in Dallas. My point in mentioning this is that he made a strong enough impression in person that I remember him several years later: that is to say he was good at networking even before social media came along, which reinforces the notion that a skilled person can use the tools, but a person who adopts the tools doesn't necessarily gain the skills.)

It's entirely likely that if you devote effort to learning to use social media, you will be well ahead of others in your organization, and will become an evangelist and advisor in their use, benefitting both your company and your career. It's also likely that if you neglect to adopt social tools, you will find yourself a step behind, following the lead of a peer or competitor who has been more aggressive in adopting them.