Magazine article Talent Development

Amplified and Connected: Social Technology Pushes Us Forward, Together

Magazine article Talent Development

Amplified and Connected: Social Technology Pushes Us Forward, Together

Article excerpt

The unexpected has a way of catching our attention. Take these recent developments:

* McDonald's is educating 750,000 frontline employees about nutrition and calories so they can help customers make healthy choices.

* An IBM survey of CEOs reveals that many are encouraging more open and collaborative cultures--not to be nice guys but for the strategic value of engaging employees and customers.

* Some of the largest and fastest-growing uses of the Internet for learning are massive open online courses (MOOC), an innovation not from the military or the corporate world but from higher education.

Why are we seeing these pleasing departures from business as usual? Many cite the struggling world economy, the head-warp that younger generations of employees bring to the workplace, and globalization down to the microlevel of organizations. These change-makers often are invoked--and while they are certainly prime movers of change, they don't explain everything.

The force driving the most radical change in organizations today is knowledge gained and shared through social media, the great amplifier of our time. Businesses can't hide from the expectations of customers and employees (the iPhone 5). Governments can't hide from the expectations of citizens (the Arab Spring). And trainers can't hide from the expectations of learners.

A counterpart to information exchange through social media is the ability to collect and analyze enormous amounts of data about customers, partners, markets, and other quantifiables. Big Data, as it is called, allows companies to respond rapidly and with relevance to their constituents, and leaves them few excuses when they don't.

Nate Silver is a statistical analyst who plumbs the meaning of opinion polls. His new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't, is about the explosion of data available in the Internet age, and the challenge of sorting through it all and making thoughtful decisions.

Silver compares the invention of the printing press with the digital age. The printing press reduced the cost of producing books by about 500 percent. When books became widely available, not just to rulers and the wealthy, "You had widespread dissemination of ideas that hadn't circulated in the mainstream before."

Martin Luther's theses, for example, reproduced 250,000 times, and spread ideas that led to the Protestant Reformation. The growth of popular knowledge about nutrition and calories no doubt influenced McDonald's to change its menu and to become a nutrition educator. While the content in these two examples is vastly different, the catalytic effect of widespread knowledge is the same.

CEOs get it

Every two years, IBM polls CEOs around the world about their views on emerging trends. "This year, they identified the overflow of data and information as one of the most important issues influencing their strategic business decisions," says IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. The 2012 IBM CEO Study, Leading Through Connections, identifies and analyzes this trend through the eyes of more than 1,700 CEOs and public sector leaders.

"Their focus is shifting to the power and potential of recent advances in social media and analytics to re-imagine connections among people--whether that's customers, employees, partners, investors, or the world at large," says Rometty. "Many of the highest-performing enterprises are already developing far more open cultures and embracing the most disruptive forms of new innovation."

Above any other external factor--even the economy--the CEOs in the IBM study expect technology to drive the most change in their organizations during the next three to five years. One key change noted in the report is that CEOs are "creating more open and collaborative cultures--encouraging employees to connect and learn from each other. Collaboration is the number-one trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical. …

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