“It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.” - Marshall McLuhan
“I want to change everything related to 20th century organizational purpose and structure. I want to replace the institutions that created the problems we face now. I no longer want to be sad because of the waste of human potential that I see around me.”
The structures that I am referring to are not just organizational structures, but also social, moral and ideological structures. It is important to understand that these structures are systems of processes that affect us through our experience of them.
From the vantage point of my Circle of Impact model, my conclusion is that ideas change, relationships change, but the social and organizational structures that comprise the context in which we think and relate do not change without great forces of disruption.
This is especially so as social and organizational structures disconnect Ideas (Values, Vision, Purpose and Impact) and Relationships from the processes and order of the institution. These structures are highly resistant to change, and only change when people join together around a set of common values, a shared purpose and a clear understanding of what difference their organization should make.
The Structure Lives
I have had a long standing interest in the structure of organizations. Not the structure of the organizational chart; but the living structure, the one that actually functions.
If an organization's structure was a spy, it would be a double agent, both working for and against the people of the organization.
The structure of an organization, whether it is a bricks & mortal business or a social media business, is designed for a purpose. Henry Ford's assembly line that made the Model T was designed for the purpose of mass production. Facebook's platform structure is also designed for a purpose.
A business' purpose and the purpose of its organizational structure are not the same. The former is born out of the values that inform its mission; the latter out of the need for order and efficiency.
Marshall McLuhan said a half century ago that "the medium is the message". At that time, he was speaking about how the form in which a message is delivered is a message in-and-of-itself. The form of communication is as important as the content of the message.
The classic example from McLuhan's era, the 1960s, is the effect of the nightly pictures of the Vietnam War. During the dinner hour each night, we saw pictures of US aircraft dropping napalm incendiary bombs, of piles of dead bodies, of unclothed children running from the fires of bombings, and executions in the streets.
The visual medium of television created an experience, whether accurately or not, which words in a newspaper or magazines, and governmental spokespersons could not. The medium was greater than the message in itself.
Today, the digital revolution is an extension of this same reality. Even in a day when any photo can be Photoshopped, pictures carry a stronger influence than words.
The medium, the structure, the platform is the message, and always has been.
It is important to understand how organizational structures and social media platforms affect us. They are not neutral, but a living context which change in response to our actions.
Consider for a moment the morale in your office today. Is everyone happy and productive? Or are there people who are disgruntled and angry about being there.
Several years ago, in collaboration with a global group of colleagues, an ebook of a conversation about morale in the workplace was published called Managing Morale in a Time of Change. It is worth reading. Without stating it, the conversation points to the impact that organizational structure has on the people who work with it. The structure attempts to dictate identity and behavior. To paraphrase McLuhan's words at the beginning of this post,
"It is the experience of working within a highly integrated corporate structure, not the understanding of its structure, that produces issues of low morale."
The medium of structure is a message to which we must pay attention.This is true regardless of size or organizational form, whether industrial or digital. We are influenced by the structures of the organizations where we engage in life and work. This is also true for all things digital and virtual,especially the form of social media platforms.
Social Media Platforms as Organizational Structures
I began to think about this after listening to Mitch Joel's Twist Image and Joseph Jaffe's Across the Sound shared podcast as they discussed Facebook's future. I left a comment at Mitch's blog. Here's apart of it.
... Facebook is a new thing. But it thinks like an old thing. It thinks bigger is better. It’s the old industrial mindset. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to change course. I’ve felt for some time that FB has about five years of relevance left before it is replaced by multiple platforms that someone figures out how to tie together without creating confusion. This is already happening.
Why? Because people change, and it isn’t that they want more, they want better or different. Facebook is changing their expectations, their behaviors, and their attitudes towards themselves. We already see it in the proliferation of so many different social media platforms.
Here’s where I see the shift.
It used to be that we individuals had to fit into the institutional structures, and Facebook is an institutional structure, to find relevance and identity. The institution was king, and we were simply serfs. Now, that scenario is flipped, and the individual is king, and becoming more so, and Facebook is just an optional tool for our use. For these platforms it is a race to relevance in a fickle marketplace.
It isn’t that these platforms are changing, people are changing by using these tools to express themselves in way that they did not have in previous eras. They / we will gravitate toward those platforms / tools we need right now. I find Facebook is the lowest common denominator social media platform that provides a basic level of interaction, but not much more. I know they are trying to add features, but the mold / brand is set. FB is a slave to their own brand, not we to them.
The medium of social media is changing us. It is a platform for change. And, we, just may be changing faster than the platforms can keep up. Why is this?
What is it about social media that makes it so appealing?
How does it touch us, touch those aspects of our lives that other structures can not?
How can we better utilize these platforms to align the Four Connecting Ideas with our relationships in the organziational structures where we live and work?
These are the questions that I find most compelling.
We'll look at these questions in Part 2 of The Platform of Desire.