Defining Social Business Design: Style vs. Substance

Since communicating the definition of social business design earlier this month, I’ve noted a wide range of reactions to the concept.

For the most part, people understand that we’re talking about what’s on the horizon for business. However, most detractors seem to take issue with the style of the idea’s communication rather than its substance. Some say they don’t understand. I’ll take that at face value and suggest they try harder. Others ask why simpler words weren’t used. Well, as a certain bald-headed guru told me, “words matter.”

Words do matter. When I began my stint as a Forrester analyst, I was directed to write for the smartest clients in the room. I patterned my blog with a similar approach. I’m not a journalist, reporting about what’s happening now – Mashable, Consumerist, and TechCrunch are great at that. I’m a business consultant who analyzes what’s happening now in order to advise companies on what happens next.

But style matters too. A lesson I learned the hard way years ago was that often perception matters more than reality. Some people have difficulty with how Dachis Group has defined social business design, which reminds me of another lesson I learned long ago – if you’re going to complain about something, offer a constructive solution.

As for substance, I believe there’s quite a bit in our thought piece. However, to put a finer point on the definition:

  • Social Business Design [the key concept] is the
  • intentional creation [deliberate, not accidental] of
  • dynamic [live and constantly changing, not static] and
  • socially calibrated [a primary filter/perspective]
  • systems, process, and culture [three key elements of all organizations].
  • Its goal: helping organizations improve value exchange [whether monetary/non-monetary or short-/long-term]
  • among constituents [people who care about the organization for some reason].
  • Social Business Design uses a framework [i.e. how it can be applied to different scenarios] of
  • four mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive [MECE is a key to strategic problem solving]
  • archetypes [ideal states that serve as goals]:
  • ecosystem, hivemind, dynamic signal, and metafilter. [connections, culture, communication, content]
  • This model can be applied to improve customer participation, workforce collaboration, and business partner optimization. [business functions that relate to professional roles]
  • Doing so provides insight to help measure and manage business [you need to measure it to manage it] to
  • produce improved and emergent outcomes. [results – read this for more on emergent outcomes]

I welcome the conversation around social business design and hope that we can help guide the way for the confused.

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  1. The attitude of superiority and condescending tone in your prose is truly frightening. You obviously don’t understand the basic tenet of social software — listen to your customers/colleagues with an open mind, then meet their needs. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do business with Dachis Group if this piece is representative of the organization.

  2. Your comment has quite an attitude of superiority and condescension, doesn’t it?

    I know enough about the social web that public identity gives words credibility. Not anonymity.

  3. I appreciate the clarification here Peter. Ever since we spoke last Nov I’ve been intrigued by and followed closely the work at Dachis. While I understand the nature of ecosystem, hivemind, dynamic signal, and metafilter, I could see where it posed a problem for people who hadn’t taken the time to delve into the explanations for each.

    I watched David’s presentation at Social Fresh in Charlotte and simultaneously watched audience reaction. It seemed like it got complicated for many of the people being introduced social business for the first time (at least in the way you guys have defined it.) After, I asked David about the words and if they were what caused members of the audience to ‘glaze over.’

    Though unnecessary, the truth in the anonymous comment is that there ARE easier ways of saying and explaining these things to novices, but then Dachis is just one amongst a multitude instead of gatejumpers making their own game. In continuing to prove why social business is integral to the future of most businesses being at the forefront earns the trust necessary to continue leading.

    It’s clear countless hours of thought have gone into the various components that to date have made up your team’s strategy.

  4. Peter, why all the defensiveness? While I understood what you and the Dachis Group were trying to communicate through the Social Business Design thoughtpiece, I did find it a bit murky in some places. And your finer points above don’t do much in the way of further clarifying. The concept that you’re laying out there is new for many, many folks. Don’t be surprised when they’re confused.

    Yes, some of the detractors are trying to bait you…but not all of them. Take their feedback for what it can be: a gift. Those of us working in the space of understanding how enterprises are evolving as social entities look to y’all as leaders in the space. Keep refining the message so people grasp what you’re saying and what Dachis is building.

  5. I agree with “Anonymous”. That tone is not a winner for many if any customers. I would just apologize. People with incredible records of creating new life-changing technology can get away with that sort of attitude…

    I’ll work through the paper and try to find something concrete behind all the talk.

  6. I’m a big fan of what you’re doing and have spent time to really understand your and Dachis’ take on Social Business. That being said, it does the project a disservice to talk down to people who have taken issue with what some find to be a dense academic and corporate style of speech.

    Instead of sniping at those who can’t grasp it, a simple soundbite explanation or even a video along the lines of might be in order.

  7. One thing I am sure of is that the principals of everything we are talking about are 100 percent sound. See:


    Words do matter indeed, but they are no longer inscribed in stone. We’re taking in feedback from all sources—and many of those are not in the public domain. I’m confident that the substance as Peter indicates is there and everything else will fall into.

    Ryan, it was nice meeting you at Social Fresh. I didn’t get the same takeaway that you did about people’s reactions to social business design at the conference—the audience seemed pretty engaged. I also used lots of real world examples which I think are the tip of the Iceburg for where this is all going…

  8. “Some say they don’t understand. I’ll take that at face value and suggest they try harder.”

    Peter, I think you misunderstand the nature of people and of the concept “brand.”

    When conveying the essence of what you do and its value to your community, it is up to you to try harder to gain people’s understanding and interest, as well as to make it easy for them to share that understanding with others.

    I believe it was Pascal who wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Take the time and make the investment now to make the essence of your brand value simple, enticing, and believable. It will save you a lot of time, money and aggravation in the future.

  9. It sounds like Peter’s post created some “noise” in that some found it insulting and were duly distracted from the attempt make the white paper a bit more clear.

    I read the paper and did not find it that pedantic, the framing of the problem description matched the research I was involved in at nGenera, and the terminology framework is serviceable (although I dislike the term “hivemind” – it insectifies people). What is not coming through for me are the unique solutions that have been developed at Dachis Group that can be communicated using this Social Business Design worldview. I assume that comes later as some sort of product and/or service offering.

    I’m especially interested in how this team addresses (or chooses not to address) some of the classic problems with social systems.

    1. How to get people to add metadata – incentives
    2. Privacy and visibility control – who and what and where – needed for partnership collaboration and other stuff
    3. Ground-up collaboration – assignment, volunteering, tracking/publishing, notifying, assessing/estimating
    4. Measuring and analyzing social activity – this seems to be a focus area, still interested in examples

    All in all, I’d say a terminology framework is a good place to start! I’m interested to see where things go…

  10. Writing for the smartest guy in the room doesn’t mean it has to be complex. Einstein said it all with E=MC2.

    I only have issue with SBD being touted as something new when it has borrowed heavily from work in social, organisation and complexity sciences that can be traced back to the 1980s-90’s. Your unique selling proposition is how you have pulled all the essential elements together with technological tools to potentially provide and end to end solution for tomorrow’s organisations. Perhaps referencing some of this material my give all those who are confused and ‘ah, ha!’ moment to connect with what you are proposing.

    I’m totally engaged with SBD and look forward to contributing to its ongoing growth and development.

  11. @David – You were obviously able to get a better ‘feel’ than I was from your vantage point (able to see faces/reactions) and vast experience speaking. The sentiment of those I spoke to afterward just indicated to me that they were excited/engaged and thoroughly enjoyed your presentation, but that parts of it went a bit over their head or would take more time to digest. And again, it’s not like I surveyed the room – wasn’t meant to be a stab at the discussion, just an observation.

  12. Peter – as a true fan and friend – as one who is often accused of being obscure – being at 60,000 feet etc – I have to admit to being stumped by the Dachis public writing style as well. It’s a style that you all use.

    But you and others have written so clearly before about what is going on and what might be done.

    So I ask why have you chosen this way?

    Your fan and friend

  13. Rob, I’m realizing that “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Our thinking behind the Social Business Design concept developed over the course of a year. It’s taking a lot longer than a blog post or two to communicate the essence. Although we are actually doing the work for clients and they seem to understand the concept, I want to share the idea with world at large because I truly believe it’s where we go next with all this social stuff. But clearly that’s not going so smoothly – I’m not ready to let the concept evolve freely and have it devolve into something that already was/exists vs. standing for something that is to come. It’s humbling to know that so many people are watching what Dachis Group is creating and we are spending a lot of valuable time engaging in discussion because we are convinced that working this out will be better for all of us in the long run. More to come.

  14. Peter – I know that you guys “have it”. I am sure your clients do as well.
    Maybe using story and metaphor may be a “better” way of describing things that don’t really exist at the moment?

    I am thinking of Plato’s Cave – Dachis is out of the cave and has come back and is trying to describe the world out there to people who have never seen it – confusion and even anger is a result for many.

    Complexity is not best described with precision I think – vis Dave Snowden – Story may be your best shot – ps did you se Dave’s video on Running a Kid’s party – that is what I mean –—dave-snowden-shows-us-how-silly-our-plans-usually-are.html
    Good luck

  15. Peter – I’m a big fan of yours. I’m struggling though because I see it as “Communication Business Design” instead of “Social Business Design” when exploring a new definition for what you are doing.

    I am starting to share your thoughts with my customers around the country to begin their transition to be “Emergent”. I share Boeing’s Wikinomics example and am watching how Best Buy, Jet Blue, and Dell are trying to adopt a social business model.

    Did you struggle with what you would call this?

    What names/phrases were runner’s up in your choice to go with SBD?

    Blessings and Regards,

  16. Mark – interesting observation. I think these concepts are compelling, however they can be confusing if one has not been following the thinking here. SBD as defined here goes well beyond an individual businss and has implications to how business is conducted in general – and how technology and information will take us there. Individual business are just now getting beyond individual functional areas and beginning to apply social metaphors and web 2.0 effects to collaborate, surface information and approach business in a more integrated fashion (accross functional areas). This is what is immediately next for businesses in the social context. We are seeing this already. As this continues, technology and information sharing will push Social Software to mature more rapidly and we will begin to reach the collaboration eutopia that most business yearn for (Best Buy, Jet Blue and others well on their way). This slideshare does a decent job of showing this progression toward a socially designed business.

  17. Peter, it seems that your organization is doing something of value and taking the lead to define social business is one of the ways that you folks are contributing. However, the act of going out on a limb, pioneering a thought, is an act of leadership, and as a leader and a consultant, the roles are both versions of a teacher. If people are engaged and asking for more clarifications, they are truly interested, and it is another opportunity to assume authority, and perhaps it means that the definition is not understood completely (ie. if you can explain Calculus to a 6th grader, than you really understand the concept), and the message ultimately falls on the shoulder of the communicator.

    I think it’s fine that your target is for the smart people, however, isn’t the air really thin up there, sometime?

    Because social media & social business is still in infancy, there is much more to be defined, and dissidents about any topic is a good thing because the future of business seems to be moving into the realm that includes social media more and more, and will probably include a lot more people in the discussion.

    I also think it’s interesting that “detractors seem to take issue with the style of the idea’s communication rather than its substance,” and further comments are made about your reply to “Anonymous.” I believe that’s the essence of business (social or conventional): relationship.

    Nonetheless, great stuff here. I look forward to more thoughts.

  18. Paul,
    I agree with you. My clients are really excited over SBD because it is the future and they see it.

    By taking the SBD approach it helps them see the bigger picture. I’m loving this natural progression to SBD. It’s changed our company and propelled our business from dismal revenues in ’08 till mid ’09 to doing as well as we were pre-banking industry disaster.

  19. Mutually Exclusive ‘Archetypes’?


    I read through Dachis Group’s Social Business Design whitepaper with interest. Dachis has some good thought leadership here and its interesting watching this framework evolve.

    In reading through the framework section, I was struck when you and the other authors described the archetypes (Ecosystem, Hivemind, Dynamic Signal, and Metafilter) as mutually exclusive. My interpretation is the exact opposite.

    Your analogy to a business as a social ecosystem is a good one. It acknowledge that the level of interactions now pulling and pushing at businesses thanks to social media rival that of the interactions of natural systems. It helps organizations understand that you can exert forces on an ecosystem but you can’t necessarily control them any longer by edict and PR alone. It was when I got to Hivemind that I struggled. The ‘Hivemind’ as Dachis describes it is really one proposed governance model for an organization’s ecosystem. Every organization has an ecosystem but not all have adopted your Hivemind governance approach.

    Similarly the Dynamic Signal concept that you describe is communication waves within a Hivemind, which is within an Ecosystem. And finally your Metafilter, is just a way of listening to the dynamic signal and offering feedback.

    I see these archetypes as very much interconnected and dependent on one and other not mutually exclusive. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  20. Writing for the smartest guy in the room doesn’t mean it has to be complex. Einstein said it all with E=MC2.

    I only have issue with SBD being touted as something new when it has borrowed heavily from work in social, organisation and complexity sciences that can be traced back to the 1980s-90’s. Your unique selling proposition is how you have pulled all the essential elements together with technological tools to potentially provide and end to end solution for tomorrow’s organisations. Perhaps referencing some of this material my give all those who are confused and ‘ah, ha!’ moment to connect with what you are proposing.

    Bingo !

    Please see “Looking To the Past for Enterprise 2.0 Adoption Principles”.

    I don’t want to pretend that I have the answers, but as a generality what you are outlining in SBD to date is a path that has been trodden before … it’s just that it’s now 2009 and there’s an infrastructure and easy-to-use tools that were only an imaginary glimmer in a few peoples’ eyes when STS (socio-technical systems) theories and practices were being developed.

    I think you folks will do a good, thorough and capable job of helping your clients come to erms with these complicate and / or complex (h/t Snowden) conditions.

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