Those of you who don’t will be hearing a lot more of the US writer,
consultant and all-round expert on the social and economic effects of the
internet. Needless to say, he has a new book out.
Before you stop reading, Shirky doesn’t (over)use geek-speak. He deploys
real-world examples of how organisations use social networks to further their
aims be they profit or politics.
Here comes everybody: the power of organising without organisations is all
about ‘what happens when people are given the tools to do things together,
without needing traditional organisational structures’. And it might just change
the way you think about how you run your business.
By social networks Shirky doesn’t necessarily mean Facebook (if you haven’t
heard of it, ask your grandchildren), Twitter (one for the IT department) or
even blogs (try the nearest loudmouth). Face-to-face contact, in his eyes and in
those of right-thinking people everywhere, remains the most effective social
Shirky uses the example of a business he once worked with that was suffering
from warring internal factions two departments working on other sides of the
world that were failing to cooperate.
Asked by the client what social networking technology could bring the two
parties closer together, Shirky’s answer was simple: ‘Plane tickets and beer’.
Shirky himself admits to once subscribing to the view that technology could
solve everything. He acknowledges that too many commentators predicted the death
of the traditional organisation yet it is no closer to being replaced.
Facebook introduced many of us to social networking but in business terms it
has largely been a diversion. So far (Richard Boggis-Rolfe, the head of
headhunters Odgers, encourages staff in a networking business like his own to
develop networks in person and online).
But the next generation of sites arriving offer the ability to connect with
other people with the same specific interest or need. And that should matter to
The (virtual) social networking orthodoxy will spread, though it will never
replace the compulsion for face-to-face contact, the desire to look someone in
the eye and the need to kick the tyres of a business. And it was great to hear a
technological evangelist say so.
Damian Wild is editor in chief of Accountancy Age and
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