More on ROI of social software …

I’ve just started reading a book called Animate Earth by Stephan Harding – he gave a fantastic presentation at a course I recently attended at Schumacher College. I’ve only read a couple of chapters outlining how, following the collapse of the Catholic Church in the UK, a new science emerged based on reductionist theory – objectifying everything around them to the status of machine component – really a desperate attempt to control nature in the face of collapsing religious certainty.

What’s really striking to me is how much reductionist thinking there is in business today and how this mindset flies in the face of everything that social media is about. Reductionism is the driving force behind the: if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count mentality of misguided leadership in business, politics and society today which is driving quality, innovation and creativity out of our systems and institutions. It is the mindset that demands ROI for everything up front.

The business reductionist thinks that you should be able to take a single social media tool (say a blog) out of its context and measure its value as a standalone machine component … and when they find there is no value, they dismiss blogging as a waste of time … after all, the whole can be no more than the sum of its parts. They also fail to realise that the view you get only reflects the way in which you are looking at something.

The value of social media is unpredictable and emergent which makes it impossible to spell out up front. The value of social media components are in their relationships and their context – both of these are organic and emergent.

Measurement should be confined to things like end-to-end processes. You should be able to freely experiment with the process components and measure the overall impact of that experimentation on the entire end-to-end process. Forcing people to write business cases before every experimentation is pointless and counter-productive.

Every company in existence has aspirations to be ‘innovative’ … at its core, innovation is about trying new stuff. If you don’t let people try new stuff, don’t pretend to be innovative! In a social media world, the whole is almost always greater than the sum of its parts – that’s the beauty …

I’m sure I’ve said some of this before … but I don’t think it can be said enough!


  1. Reductionist have been arround for a long time. Evidence is in Taylorism, just not explicite in philosophy. It’s just a phase of the business cycle where mentality changes from the excitement of innovation to creaming as much into the shareholders pocket as possible.

    This kind of management behavious will be come more apparent as the recession bits.

  2. Interesting take and I agree with you. My IT managers says: it’s about the good idea first, then we’ll look at the business case.
    On the other hand, Jon Mell has been writing on this topic and doing some interesting ROI calculations that we can use anyway. Did you see them?

  3. Funily enough I commented on a post on Jon’s site this morning … I wasn’t subscribed to his feed which was a massive oversight … I am now and will explore further!

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