The social web is fueling conversational content on a global scale about everything and anything. The dynamics are new in that the mere scale and velocity of these conversations have never before been experienced and thus both the adaptation and opinions of these dynamics are diverse, to say the least. So what is the value of all these conversations?
When we use the word "conversation" we think in terms of our relational experience with others. Whether those experiences be professionally or personal the common thread of relationships is the method by which we interrelate, a conversational experience that frames our relationships. Our frame of relationship reference is largely based on experience. Experience is what shapes our beliefs, our behavior and our personal and professional reference to expected relationship outcomes, today and in the future. Experience is also the filter by which many of us learn, right or wrong we make conclusions about people and things through what we learned from the past.
Can Conversations Change Future Experiences?
It has been said that learning is the doorway to the future. Without learning we simply repeat past experiences and at the same time we expect different results. Most people want an improved future whether it be personally or professionally. Our personal lives are influenced by the latest fads to improve ourselves, our marriages our families etc. Our professional lives are influenced by the latest corporate fads of improvement labeled by transformational management practices promising better results. Many of these efforts have failed to create sustainable progress in the foundational need of any sustainable change effort, the need for healthy sustaining relations. Where is the proof?
- The divorce rate continues to climb
- Peoples trust in corporations continues to decline
- The average tenure of employees continues to decrease
- Psychotherapy practices, both personal and professional, are growing faster than ever before
- Prescription drugs to deal with emotional problems permeates both the adult and youth populations
- Business scandals, malfeasance and turmoil persist
- Our children are seeking better ways, better relations and are seeking to be heard
What are We Learning from Today's Conversations?
The maladies mentioned are largely the result of a breakdown in the human need to express and be heard. The MySpace Generation has witnessed these maladies and rebuked the lifestyles and old conversations subsequently creating their own beliefs and methods to express and be heard. The social web has provided the means for open, honest, frank conversations in abundance accompanied by the freedom to express in many different ways. Some adults and businesses are learning the same and the combined thread of conversations are creating markets with new definitions and new dynamics that are filling the voids of the past. How and Why?
Doc Searls, author of "The Cluetrain Manifesto" says it best, "These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.
But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about "listening to customers." They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.
While many such people already work for companies today, most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.
However, employees are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets.
Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It's going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in
And Internet technology has also threaded its way deep into the heart of Corporate Empire, where once upon a time, lockstep loyalty to the chairman's latest attempt at insight was no further away than the mimeograph machine. One memo from Mr. Big and everyone believed (or so Mr. Big liked to think).
No more. The same kind of seditious deconstruction that's being practiced on the Web today, just for the hell of it, is also seeping onto the company intranet. How many satires are floating around there, one wonders: of the latest hyperinflated restructuring plan, of the over-sincere cultural-sensitivity training sessions Human Resources made mandatory last week, of all the gibberish that passes for "management" â€" or has passed up until now.
Step back a frame or two. Zoom out. Isn't that weird? Workers and markets are speaking the same language! And they're both speaking it in the same shoot-from-the-hip, unedited, devil-take-the-hindmost style.
This conversation may be irreverent of eternal verities, but it's not all jokes. Whether in the marketplace or at work, people do have genuine, serious concerns. And we have something else as well: knowledge. Not the sort of boring, abstract knowledge that "Knowledge Management" wants to manage. No. The real thing. We have knowledge of what we do and how we do it â€" our craft â€" and it drives our voices; it's what we most like to talk about.
But this whole gamut of conversation, from infinite jest to point-specific expertise: who needs it?
Companies need it. Without it they can't innovate, build consensus, or go to market. Markets need it. Without it they don't know what works and what doesn't; don't know why they should give a damn. Cultures need it. Without play and knowledge in equal measure, they begin to die. People get gloomy, anxious, and depressed. Eventually, the guns come out.
There are two new conversations going on today, both vibrant and exciting; both mediated by Internet technologies but having little to do with technology otherwise. Unfortunately, there's also a metaphorical firewall separating these conversations, and that wall is the traditional, conservative, fearful corporation.
We would add that not only are the corporations fearful but so is the media and more importantly so are the bulk of the adult population who are relying on past experiences. The primary past relational experiences have been void of the art of listening and subsequently comprehending the value of a two way uninhibited conversation. If we knew how to listen what is it we would learn? From the learning what new future could we create?
Maybe we would discover what our youth already knows. Relationships are more important than anything else. But, how can we form relationships if we don't listen? How can we create an improved future if we fear open conversations and try to prevent them in everyway possible? Here is a secret, you can't but others will and are. If your listening what are you hearing?
What say you?