First let me apologize for the random status updates and pictures that have appeared in the main content column of the blog here. I’ve been testing out my new Ping.fm account and I’m still working out the kinks.
Second, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been head’s down at work eating, drinking and breathing our social software implementation. It hasn’t left me much time or energy to come for air and put my thoughts down. I will say this: it is going extremely well. I’m lucky enough to be doing what I’m passionate about. As an added bonus, I’m surrounded by extremely smart & talented individuals who share the same passion. Our small little company has received high praise for the homework we’ve done in terms of understanding our problem space. Because of the work we’ve put into our effort we are better equipped to select the right tool for the job and, more importantly, address the required culture shift. As someone at work told me today, ‘Dave, you’re changing the world.’ It’s not just me, it’s the entire team.
So, as I am promoting , socializing and espousing the benefits of social media on a daily basis, I’m always looking to put new twists on how being more social at work is a good thing and show the doubters yet another reason we need these capabilities. To that end, I’m constantly adding links to this blog that provide examples of business cases & ROI. Lately, I have been studying the psychology behind being social and understanding WHY we spend so much time engaging in ‘social’ activities (on-line and off).
To that end, I recently came across a new facet in looking at the benefits of being social . Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan is at least a confounding read for fans of the the normal distribution (in fact, Chapter 15 is titled, The Bell Curve, That Great Intellectual Fraud). The premise of the book is that little, predictable events don’t matter that much; history is shaped by BIG events that are unforeseen. Think WWII or 9/11 (another way to think of a Black Swan is to imagine the life of a Thanksgiving turkey).
In one of his earlier chapters, Taleb sets out to describe how Black Swans exist in different types of occupations and that they’re not just ‘events.’ A scientist or researcher is basically living out the life of a Black Swan event, he is a Black Swan hunter, if you will. He may spend years and years going into a lab and getting no significant results. It’s the same thing, day after day, month after month, year after year. His friends mock him, there is no financial reward, he only goes on because of hope. But then, one day, he cures cancer. Bam – Black Swan.
Taleb then goes on to describe the benefit such a Black-Swan hunter may receive due to being part of a group (the quoted passage below). In many ways, what he is describing in this passage is the process of innovation and how it can be helped by social elements. I think it has sometihng to say about what I’m trying to do at work:
It may be a banality that we need others for many things, but we need them far more than we realize, particularly for dignity and respect. Indeed, we have very few historical records of people who have achieved anything extraordinary without such peer validation – but we have the freedom to choose our peers. If we look at the history of ideas, we see schools of thought occasionally forming, producing unusual work unpopular outside the school. You hear about the Stoics, the Academic Skeptics, the Cynics, the Pyrrhonian Skeptics, the Essenes, the Surrealists, the Dadaists, the anarchists, the hippies, the fundamentalists. A school allows someone with unusual ideas with the remote possibility of a payoff to find company and create a microcosm insulated from others. The members of the group can be ostracized together – which is better than being ostracized alone. If you engage in Black Swan-dependent activity, it is better to be part of a group.