People naturally see across artificial borders

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (1 + 1 = 3)Rawn Shah has (another good) article on his Forbes.com blog, this time on How To Move Away from the Industrial Age Company Model. While he is focused on social business, his comments remind me of things I see in knowledge management and continuous improvement projects.

If Social Business is really transforming the way we do business why are most of the stories and cases out there focused on changes to a single business function like marketing, human resources, or customer service? Shouldn't it act as a change across several of these functions, or for that matter will these functions go away or change so fundamentally that we can no longer tell them apart?

The larger issue that Rawn is talking about here is the model of companies as several interacting components in the traditional value-chain model. Among other things, this model works the same way it has for all of the 20th century: optimize the individual components and you will optimize the whole. Of course, this assumption wasn't exactly true before, and it is becoming less true as the nature of companies change. (You can optimize one part of a chain and end up creating worse performance of the overall system.)

But what does this have to do with social business? It is the nature of social business activities to see more - see more of the business, the people, the customers. If you go this direction, you cannot help but see what is happening with your colleagues and customers outside the formal scope of your role.  The barriers are all artificial - invisible to the people on the ground.  And if you have the natural inclination to participate or you cannot see the "barriers" (because roles and positions aren't pushed in social business), then it is likely that you will want to jump into the mix. Have enough people working in this way, and they will naturally discover interesting work that no one would predict from looking at their official job descriptions. Similar discussions show up in knowledge management circles. Social business opens up this world. Are businesses ready for it?

I see connections to my process consulting work. Opening up a constraint in one location can cause it to move to another location. "Optimizing" an area that supports a key function might actually damage the key function. Examples: 1) Fire the paralegals (because they are an "expense"), forcing the lawyers do pick up the slack. Result: Fewer clients served - less income. 2) Getting a "deal" on raw materials from a new supplier, saving a few pennies. But the supplier is unreliable, forcing downtime and stock-outs. Or the materials aren't as high quality, causing more rework, reducing capacity - less income.

Continuous improvement efforts are systemic views by their very nature. Companies that go "all in" on continuous improvement find that the improvement efforts must look at all parts of the business. If operations improves to the point of being able to supply anything that sales throws at it, then the obvious opportunity is to synchronize sales and operations, so that the whole can grow together. Just as with Rawn's discussion of the impact of social business, organizations need to have the ability to look where ever they need to serve the customer.  And that doesn't fit the standard reductionist (industrial) model.

[Photo: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (1 + 1 = 3)" by Mubina H]

2 Comment(s)

Andre said:

Thank you. very interesting article! I will take this thought in my business.

explorer Author Profile Page said:

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (1 + 1 = 3)
I totally agree with what you say, except for the above equisition. Sometimes 1+1=1, and the piece maybe equal to the whole.

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