What next for Social Business? Patchwork Elephant Event Report

Event Sponsored by Compare the Cloud

As part of London’s Social Media Week we put on an event called Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant Revisited asking “What next for Social Business?”. We were kindly sponsored by our friends here at Compare the Cloud and we introduced the event and the speakers in an earlier post.

The idea was to get 8 different perspectives on where we are at, and where we go next, with using social and collaboration tools “inside” the business to add value and work more effectively. Why is the “Social” word seen with such suspicion by some executives in the C-suite? With the explosion of social media use in marketing or customer support reaching out of the organisation, why aren’t more companies using it all over their organisations? We believe change is happening, but why aren’t we further forward with “Social Business”?

A few weeks after our event, Chris Heuer did a guest post on Brian Solis’ blog that moved in to the same territory we covered asking Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next! and highlighted the problem with:

“While the ideas behind the moniker are invaluable in defining the future of work, most large companies simply aren’t buying into or investing in Social Business transformation efforts in more than a piecemeal sort of way”

Why is that? Here are the 8 perspectives and presentations from the 27th November 2013:


Alan Patrick, Broadsight.com

Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant 01 – The patchwork elephant revisited – Alan Patrick from David Terrar

Alan set the scene for us by revisiting our event from 3 years ago, highlighting that demand generation was the quick win and that social media structures are orthogonal to the normal hierarchy of command and control and so: “resistance may be futile, but strong!”

He talked about social business being systematic, connecting the front end to the back end, looking to add value, and that culture follows commerce. He highlighted how value will be created, and referenced a McKinsey study on where the potential productivity improvement might be over the next 10-20 years by industry sector. He talked Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm and how they exist to reduce transaction costs, and highlighted that social technologies can directly help with that.



Janet Parkinson, D2C & Technotroplis

Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant 02 – think forward 40 years – Janet Parkinson from David Terrar

Janet talked about the unthinkable idea, and asked if business could become nothing more than a social object, with individuals collaborating via social networks, doing things businesses used to do. She quoted James Burke who suggested earlier this year that: “Nanotechnology will destroy the present social and economic system – because it will become pointless” and then revisited Burke’s 1973 predictions of what 1993 technology might be like. He had some things wrong, but a lot right, foreseeing the proliferation of the computer in offices, schools and homes, and the creation of metadata banks of personal information. She highlighted how difficult prediction is, but then talked about a future of radical abundance where technologies, like the early 3D printing we see now, will mean people can produce their own goods from virtually nothing for virtually nothing, and how that will have a knock on effect changing the business world dramatically – it will affect production, transport, consumer facing businesses selling goods, sales and marketing, business support services and finance. It could change the nature and need for cities, and even governments. Does business become a social object?



Will McInnes, Brandwatch

Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant 03 – culture shock – glimmers of hope – Will McInnes from David Terrar

Will wanted to provide glimmers of hope. He talked about the Culture Shock (his book) of how networked our World has become. How society has moved from ancient times when we gathered at the the stone circle for social interaction, to everyone being connected with smart phones and tablets, even wearing technology, and he referenced that YouTube video of a small child expecting a Magazine to work by touch like an iPad. He talked about the data we collect today just as a byproduct of the technology we use. He talked about preconceptions and misconceptions – the jazz segment of the music industry is $100m a year, but Grand Theft Auto’s latest game version sold $800m in the first day! We don’t have colonies on Mars, we have Facebook instead! He talked about decentralised, bottom-up innovation. He talked about the purpose of an organisation and quoted Umair Haque (who spoke at our 2010 version of this event) tweeting:

“Making shareholder enrichment the basis of an economy is probably an idea that belongs up there with Cheez Whiz and Donald Trump’s hair.”

He also quoted Simon Kuznets, the inventor of the term GDP saying in 1934:

“The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income”

He talked of crowdsourcing, from Wikipedia to Giff Gaff, and of organisations without bosses or hierarchy like Valve Corporation. He talked ratings and reviews and the effects of that big shift on the high street. He talked about the immediacy of citizen reporting, and the implications of humans being networked. He talked OODA loops as a necessary approach to all of this, and mentioned his Meaning conference which will endeavour to connect and inspire the people who believe in better business, and want to be part of the change.



Mat Morrison, Starcom Media Vest Group

Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant 04 – I hate everything – Mat Morrison from David Terrar

Mat talked about his @mediacsar presence on Twitter, along with his @evilczar alter ego as an example of how you can be different personae on the Internet. He talked of Lego, of information overload, the power of on-line comments, how naive some marketers are around this topic, and how brands now have to act on Twitter. He highlighted that although there might be 80m (or 200m or… ?) active users of Twitter, the median number of followers is actually 30 and so this lens is distorted. He talked about the power of some well known Twitter complaints, and how you might get better service from some companies, such as BT, by complaining on Twitter rather than phoning their help line.



Luis Suarez, IBM

The Patchwork Elephant 05 – social business is open business – Luis Saurez from David Terrar

Luis’s premise is that a social business is (or should be) an open business. He talked about the culture change required to move from the old way of doing things to this new way of collaboration and sharing using social tools. He talked in terms of a 30 year time frame – and he’s right, this is a major change that will happen slowly, but it’s happening. He used his own company, IBM, as an example – they’ve been doing social business internally well before the existence of Facebook. He talked Open Business and mentioned @davidcushman. He explained an Open Business uses its resources to discover people who share its purpose, and then bring them together to realise that purpose. He talked about the hierarchy and the wirearchy coexisting in a networked company. He talked about accountability, and getting rid of layers, and providing incentives for employees to share. He explained how managers need to transform in to leaders, and talked about the need for transparency. His conclusion, with a touch of Mafia style – Open Business is “Just” Business, it’s the only way to go.



Neil Usher, Sky

Neil didn’t use any slides. He talked about being a corporate employee but trying to think about things holistically. Neil talked about what it was really like for employees working for corporates and ‘using’ internal social technologies. One of the reasons he didn’t use slides was because he wanted to feel the vulnerability which many feel when starting to use networks for the first time. He talked about the workessence blog he has been writing for the past 2 years. He told us a little about creating a Yammer network in one company and then using Salesforce Chatter in the next to create internal social networks within the organisations he’s worked for. When he made that switch between companies, he discovered that people at his old company said they’d miss his input on the internal network. He talked about LinkedIn and jokingly wondered what Google+ was for! He talked of the value of asking questions of Twitter to crowd-source expertise and the fact that complete strangers will respond with the answers. He was firm on the fact that these on-line social interactions amplify the subsequent face to face interactions, and vice versa too. And he also managed the compulsory reference to Euan Semple (who, by the way, was one of the speakers back at our 2010 version of this event).




Anne-Marie McEwan, The Smart Work Company

Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant 07 – pushing big boulders uphill – Anne-Marie McEwan from David Terrar

Anne-Marie described herself as a recovering academic, and said she would be talking about pushing Big Boulders Uphill! She was explaining her experiences writing a book, putting together a post graduate course and developing The Smart Work Company, which pulls together social business, the changing world of work and the way the physical workplace is changing too. She described education as liberating, and democratising and how she wants to make a business school education available to anyone who wants it. She talked of things experiential and social. She described the social psychology of organising, of interlinked groups and their relationships. She wondered why we had lost so much openness and gave that as one of the triggers for writing her book, because it means so much to her. She talked of her work based masters course she taught at Kingston University and about getting people to think strategically. She quoted Orlov the Meerkat and wondered:

“What could possibles go wrong?

She’s currently putting together a PGC for Chester University. She admitted it’s been a hard sell to date. When people think of a Post Graduate course they think in terms of a curriculum on “paper”, when actually she wants them to think in terms of what you actually do at work and doing it better. She talked about applying social technologies, about the what and the how, but also the where. She talked about a massive appetite for on-line learning, worried that current MOOCs have not helped as much as they should. She contrasted just putting the old curriculum on video to an approach of connecting to others outside your organisation doing the same thing, to scope a project plan, learn together through discovering good practice and principles, critique and amend to suit your own circumstances. She believes the doers are the experts, but we are the facilitators and feels she’s been given a second chance.



David Terrar, D2C

Social Business – The Patchwork Elephant 08 – thoughts and summary – David Terrar from David Terrar

My job was to summarise the sessions, but add some thoughts of my own, so I quoted Dirk Gently as I also believe in:

“the fundamental connectedness of all things”

It’s important to realise that, in the last 40 years of regular technology disruptions every 5 to 10 years, we’ve never had 3 of them happening simultaneously before. We have the shift to Cloud and web based apps happening at the same time as the explosion in social technologies happening at the same time that we are all walking round with mobile phones and tablets, so that we have the Internet in our hands, any-time anywhere. That’s changing everything. No matter what you do, your business model needs to change. Back in 2011 Salesforce, who have one of the most complete business to social collaboration to social media monitoring offerings available, was promoting the Social Enterprise (when the term was already in use to mean something else), and they even tried to trademark it! By 2012 that idea had failed, they changed their messaging but it evolved to “Business is Social”. The same concept in different words. It’s also important to note that Darwin’s theory of evolution still holds in business and marketing – categories naturally fragment and we have a huge landscape of software choices and point solutions, and so maybe this plethora of choice and the lack of maturity of better known, larger social business offerings is part of the reason why we haven’t made as much progress since 2006 or 2008, as many would have expected viewed from back then. But there is more to it than that. As Luis said, the culture change required is happening, but it will take decades.

I quoted Susan Scrupski who said:”without executive direction, support and sincere engagement, internal efforts are nothing more than an aimless electronic water cooler”

There are smart companies who have heeded those words.


I highlighted major enterprises like Lilly and BASF and Deutsche Bank who all have great case studies of what can be achieved using social technologies, and we need more good case studies like those to get the C Level executives on board. In the Q & A around the summary, Benjamin Ellis from the floor highlighted that it’s only a generation or two before our time that the average worker couldn’t read – we now have a literate, educated workforce, with technology to help. We are beginning to move on from the Taylorist view of flows and mass production efficiency to a very different, flat, networked World with technology in our hands and everywhere we touch. Over time we’ve used terms like Web 2.0, Office 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Social Enterprise and Social Business as well as Collaboration and Knowledge Management. We may not have the language right, but the idea of using these technologies to change the way we work is stronger than ever. The next stage has got to be about putting what we’ve learned so far in to practice, and making that Elephant (in the room) dance.

Finally, I just want to add that the vibe in the room during the afternoon was a bit special, a bit different, and the discussion at the end of each talk was lively and productive. We all enjoyed it, and I’d like to thank our friends at Compare the Cloud once again for their sponsorship to help make it happen.


+ posts

Cloud Industry Forum presents TWF! 2024 state of the cloud report


Related articles

Start Bridging the Cloud Skill Gap Today

In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, cloud computing has...

How Data Fabric Helps Address Multi-Cloud Sprawl

The abundance of data facilitates good decision-making, but too...

CIF Presents TWF – Dean & Sarah-Jane Gratton

In this episode of the 2024 season of our...

The Quantum Leap in Internet Technology

Envision a world where the internet, as we currently...

Translating ancient code for the generative AI era

Having easy access to data is critically important in...

Subscribe to our Newsletter