Rob Preston’s recent column “Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business” rings true to my own experiences over the years, but I’d like to dive a bit deeper.

Who does social sound soft to? Why is that? And how do you get past skepticism into useful action?

Social sounds soft to a certain segment of businesspeople, not to all businesspeople. That’s an important distinction.

For better or worse, that slice of the business crowd that doesn’t (yet) “get” the value of social business is a barrier that needs to be addressed. It’s not about “more collaboration” or “more social” or “more innovation”–that’s far too soft for most people to wrap their heads around. What does more or better of any of those concepts actually do for companies?

In many ways, the conversations seem to have stalled out in Enterprise 2.0 circles. Lots of noise, but not much forward motion, or at least no consistent motion across the board. Here’s a sampling of what I heard at last month’s Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston:

“Our executive management just doesn’t get it.”

“It’s not about the tools. It’s about culture.”

“It’s not about culture. It’s about adoption.”

“It’s not about features. It’s about the environment.”

“We already bought SharePoint. Can’t we just ‘do social’ with that?”

“Activity streams are the wave of the future.”

“The ROI of email never had to be quantified. Why should we have to give social business an ROI?”

The language used to talk about what Enterprise 2.0 is and what it can do for you (or your team, your company, your customers, your partners) is going to need to change as we move from talking in general terms–at the beginning of a new market or genesis of a new idea–to very specific impacts and reasons.

Maturity Required

Just as there’s no magic bullet solution for Enterprise 2.0 (period), there’s plenty of room for different approaches, and reasons for using them.

The early innovators in any market are by default going to be the ones most open to interpreting how the latest tool/concept can fit into their world. In VIEW terminology (an assessment of problem-solving and decision-making style), these are the Explorers–those not afraid to map out new territory by running around and making it up as they go along. This is a rare mindset, and if this is where you live (as I do), it’s extremely important to keep in mind that most people are absolutely not Explorers.

As the rest of the market catches up, more and more “evidence” needs to be provided for those who need an explicit connection between a solution and a problem. These tend to be Developers (in VIEW language), who take much shorter steps and want plans, maps, and methodologies laid out in front of them.

Between Explorers and Developers is the big hump of the bell curve, with people who are sometimes one extreme or the other and need guidance to connect to the extremes. The early innovators/evangelists see solutions and can connect them to problems that are otherwise hidden to others. The laggards–or mainstream–frequently don’t see the problems, buried under the surface of something larger and more obvious. And they see the solutions as too vague and soft because those solutions are coming from a “new paradigm” that seems like too much of a leap from their comfortable, sometimes obsolete, way of doing things.

As I tweeted (in frustration) from the Enterprise 2.0 conference keynote audience: “Folks, we don’t have to change the entire world–make progress and make noise about it!”

We can’t get there from here unless we realize that people and organizations are coming from different perspectives. There’s no single way to go about making change happen, which may be frustrating but is simply reality.

Be The Bridge

So if you’re feeling frustrated that your boss, your executives, your peers aren’t “getting it,” it’s not them; it’s you. That is, bridging the gap is up to YOU. Listen to their concerns and what they’re saying NO! to.

Buried in every argument is some path to a mini-yes, and your mission is to build a bridge of mini-yeses from where they are now (business as usual) to putting Enterprise 2.0 into full swing. Before you know it, you will have built the bridge into the future and can laugh about the way things used to be.

Or you can just wallow in despair.

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