Business is social, business as purpose

A Tweet-stream from social-media guru Oscar Berg caught my eye this morning, because it’s highly relevant to the architecture of the enterprise:

successful social business design requires insight that business has always been social // the difference now from then in business design is that we now can overcome communication barriers more easily = much greater reach // business has always been a mix of transformations, transactions, relations and conversations // Today its harder to create competitive advantage in transformations & transactions => relations & conversations are more important // Correction: relations and conversations become more important for creating competitive advantage

A very good summary of the structure of business: “transformations, transactions, relations and conversations”. It’s also a summary that, unusually, acknowledges the element of change over time – hence ‘transformation’. But there’s still one key element missing: a business is a social enterprise, as Oscar indicates, yet to quote the FEAF / IEEE-1471 definition:

[An enterprise is] an organisation or cross-functional entity supporting a defined business scope or mission … [It] includes interdependent resources – people, organisations, technology – who must coordinate their functions and share information in support of a common mission or set of related missions.

The “common mission or set of related missions” provide the purpose for the transformations, transactions, relations and conversations: without that, the business literally has no purpose. And that shared-purpose in turn defines value – what is valued (and, for that matter, what is not valued) in each of those transactions and conversations and suchlike. Each enterprise is different, and is anchored in different values: hence concepts such as ‘competitive advantage’ are relevant only for enterprises that compete with each other, and may make no sense at all in others (such as government) that usually don’t.

As I’ve explored in several earlier posts, such as ‘The structure of enterprise architecture‘ (June this year) and ‘The relationship economy, and more‘ (way back in February 2007), what we’re actually dealing with here is a ‘tetradian’, a set of four distinct dimensions that, together, circumscribe the architecture of the enterprise:

  • physical ‘things’
  • virtual information and imagined space
  • relations between people – the anchors for the ‘attention economy’ and ‘trust economy’
  • aspirations for individual and shared purpose – the definition of the enterprise itself

These will often form composites: Oscar’s ‘transactions’ here may be physical, virtual, relational etc; ‘conversations’ are a composite of virtual information and relations between people; and so on, and so on. The architecture of the enterprise must support every required combination of these themes: hence business is social and business is purpose.

So, to bring all this back to social media, in essence a social context is its purpose: the purpose is its raison d’etre. Or, to put it the other way round, without a clear purpose to provide a common anchor it’s not social, it’s just a cacophony of separate selves. (Otherwise known as narcissism to the nth degree – as is all too evident throughout the so-called ‘social web’…)

It’s not ‘social’ unless there’s a shared purpose. Which means that, as Oscar put it in a subsequent tweet, “shared purpose is the foundation”: shared-purpose – and not ‘Enterprise 2.0’ tools – needs to be the starting-point for any social-media project.

What shared-purpose underpins your social-media project? – a question worth exploring, perhaps?


Minutes after I posted this, I spotted a relevant Tweet from Richard Veryard:

How much shared purpose? Many orgs are uneasy coalitions of groups with overlapping but not always identical purposes.

He’s right – that final question above needs some extension:

  • What shared-purpose or purposes underpin your social project?
  • What individual or collective purpose does each person or group bring to the overall enterprise?
  • What synergies and/or conflicts exist between those distinct purposes?
  • What impacts do this synergies or conflicts create within the enterprise shared-purpose?

The key point, though, is that we do need to consider shared-purpose as a central theme in social-media and ‘Enterprise 2.0’.

2 Comments on “Business is social, business as purpose

  1. Tom, thanks for expanding on my tweet. People often have an all-or-nothing attitude to shared values and purpose – they assume that sharing means total sharing, and so it’s the end of the world (or the end of the trust-relationship) when relatively minor but previously unacknowledged differences emerge.

    There is an important difference between affiliation (where you work with people because you regard them as “family” and “friends”, assuming they have the same values and beliefs as yourself) and alliance (where you agree to work with people on the basis of a sufficient but not total commonality of values and beliefs).

  2. Richard, thanks indeed for the comment. You’re right about ‘all-or-nothing’ and the ‘end of the world’ problem: we only have to look at the historical schisms in the Church or the Communist Party, for instance, for all too many examples of that.

    A really useful distinction between ‘affiliation’ and ‘alliance’, too: will have to explore that in more depth.

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