[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
—Former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as quoted in Wikipedia
The first time I was exposed to the idea of things we know we know, things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know, I’d never heard of Donald Rumsfeld. I believe I read it in some papers by Michael Polanyi, and anyway it was in the early 1980s, long before Rumsfeld had his moments of quotation glory.
Maybe it doesn’t matter who said it first, maybe it does. But that’s not the point of this post.
The point of this post is simple. Don’t write things off just because you don’t understand how value is to be derived from them.
Take Photoshop. A tool to touch photographs up, to amend and alter them. Useful but perhaps not seen as world-changing. Apparently most useful to narcissists and to those bent on airbrushing their way to amending history, usually the preserve of politicians.
Take social networks. A tool to connect people and allow them to share social objects and comment on them, to support and augment relationships, to communicate. Apparently most useful to people who want to poke people, throw things at others, run farms. All virtually and for the most past virtuously.
Take cognitive surplus. Apparently a luxury, available only to the out-of-work and the ne’er-do-well, people who have nothing better to do than fight over the treatment of subjects in wikipedia.
Photoshop. Social networks. Cognitive surplus. Three things that still have a number of doubters, that still have a number of people questioning whether these things have any redeeming value, people who believe life would carry on perfectly fine if these things hadn’t been invented.
And then you have something truly tragic like the earthquake in Japan.
Tragic for the loss of life and limb. Tragic for the loss of lifestyle and livelihood.
And tragic for the loss of precious memories, the loss of thousands of photographs damaged by earthquake and flood.
Except suddenly, there is an ability to take these three apparently useless things and bring them together. Project Tohoku Photo Rescue http://hands.org/2011/08/19/project-tohoku-photo-program/
People painstakingly giving of their time and their skill, using photoshopping techniques to restore water-damaged photographs.
People painstakingly giving of their time and their skill to help restore memories.
Memories. Try calling them useless. Try convincing yourself that what they’re doing is a waste of time.
And once you’ve failed to convince yourself, go vote for the project on the link provided. They deserve your vote at the very least, if not your admiration and your support.
This is curation at its best in a social context, the application of human passion to a digital tool-rich environment.
And this is what the social enterprise has in wait for us. When the power of connected people is unleashed into environments we can’t see to solve problems we can’t foresee using tools that are emergent.
Sound too futuristic for you? Remember the William Gibson adage about the future. It’s here, just unevenly distributed.
Google, Amazon and Salesforce were building businesses on the cloud while most companies were still debating service-oriented architectures and WAP.
The social enterprise is here; yet we have this weird situation where companies have Facebook strategies to market their products and services, perhaps even try their hand at actually engaging with customers in social networks, while continuing to ban access to social networks from the workplace.
The social enterprise is a radical departure from the past, and we are only in the early stages of discovering the immense value that is being generated by this phenomenon.
As with most radical departures from the past, there’s a continuum when it comes to adoption. Some early adopters. Some fast followers. Some late adopters. And some defunct companies.
The social enterprise is a true game changer. Which means the number of defunct companies will probably be surprisingly high. Which is why Clayton Christenson’s Innovator’s Dilemma will probably need reprinting. [and which, incidentally, is the reason I’m so happy to have joined Salesforce, formally measured as the world’s #1 company when it comes to innovation, by Forbes recently].
As the Tohoku Photo Rescue program shows, human ingenuity knows no bounds. Give people the right tools to work together, they can change the world. And given the choice, people tend to concentrate on things that matter. Which is why the social enterprise is such a powerful proposition.
[note: Part 5 will concentrate on tools, something I’d intended to do in part 4. Patience. Please.]