Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 11, 201111:55 PM

Human Business In The Social Media Age

Can Saving The World At Work Make Sense?

When former Chief Solutions Officer and Leadership Coach at Yahoo!, Tim Sanders, was about to launch his third book, Saving The World At Work (the follow-up to the best-selling business books, Love Is The Killer App and The Likeability Factor), the business world was turned on its head. The official launch date for Saving The World At Work came the day after Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008. The world now looked at businesses in a completely different light, and while Saving The World At Work made a strong case for better corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives (and was eventually named one of the top 30 business books of 2008 by Soundview), the world had forever changed.

It has been an interesting few years (as in a "may you live in interesting times" kind of way).

The financial crisis, mortgage debacle and global economic meltdown (coupled with wars, uprisings, earthquakes, tsunamis and other major planetary crises) have forced many people interested in business to think differently. One of the more interesting changes that have occurred is a movement toward a more "humanization" of business. The idea that businesses are made up of real people and in a hyper-connected world - where we're all just a tweet, Facebook status update or text message connected to one another - perhaps we should leverage the new Social Media and collaborative capabilities of the Internet, mobile and touch devices to not just use business as a means to drive more revenue, but as a means to create a much more personal, human and authentic life for ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Don't panic, we're not talking about Communism 2.0.

This concept of the humanization of business in a technology-driven world is core to Sanders' latest (and fourth) business book, Today We Are Rich (Tyndale House Publishers - March 2011). "There is a huge shift happening in our world and business today," says Sanders on the line from his Los Angeles home. "What drives all of this is a paradigm shift in our collective conscience where we've moved as a society from independence to interdependence. So, it's almost like this huge movement from 'I am brand' to 'the Dalai Lama'... I'm using extremes here," he laughs. "Traditionally business was built on the idea that as an entrepreneur you follow your passion, and as a business person, you create a profit. This was the long standing working model of capitalism, but the shift has occurred and the Internet drives it, current events drives it, and there has been a lot of teachable moments driving it. Now, what people seem to be responsive to is driving towards purpose, developing a passion for purposeful work, achieving significance and letting profits only be the thing that lets us judge the success on 'keep the lights open' and 'make the investors happy' type of metrics. Those traditional metrics have become the means, but it's not the end. I'm seeing this shift and the good news is that it's happening in the field. Dan Pink writes about this in his latest book, Drive. Purpose is the thing that gets people to stay engaged at work and drives the most innovation in organizations. When we come to work we need to be human, we need to engage in the law of reciprocity at work, trust people more to give back on our investments and - at the end of the day - think much further out than ninety days. On top of that, we need to do what our kids do: march to the beat of something bigger than all of us."

Think and grow...

While it's easy to transpose the work of Sanders as this generation's Dale Carnegie or Napoleon Hill, he does not seem to be saying, "Think And Grow Rich," but rather, "Think And Grow." Because of the Internet, we have many more inputs, thoughts, pieces of content and the ability to publish ideas everywhere for free. Many thinkers who never had the business acumen to connect with a literary agent or print publisher are now sharing their thoughts - in text, images, audio and video - with the world because of technology. Who would have believed that all of this technology didn't relegate us to a dark, cold basement where we aimlessly click away on a lone keyboard and build up a hefty Doritos stain on our t-shirts, but to a place where technology is actually bringing people, new ideas and businesses closer to one another?

It's not just Sanders or Pink leading this evolution of business.

The last business books by leading management thinker/doer, Seth Godin, titled Linchpin and Poke The Box also focuses on this topic. Your standard self-improvement business books have become a call-to-arms for people to think of their day-to-day work as their art, and to leverage the many Social Media afforded us to connect and build global ties and opportunities. Chris Brogan (one of the most celebrated Bloggers and co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Trust Agents, along with Julien Smith) has his newly minted business, appropriately called, Human Business Works, which is attempting to put "relationships and people first. Human business cares about the lifespan of the business relationship and not simply transactions. We define human business as sustainable, relationship-minded work."

We spend the majority of our waking days at work. Lehman Brothers be damned... maybe we should put some energy into saving (or at least, connecting) the world at work?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Bonus: My full conversation with Tim Sander will appear this coming Sunday (April 17th, 2011) as episode #249 of Six Pixels of Separation - The Twist Image Podcast. Make sure to look for it on Sunday.

By Mitch Joel