Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Stimulating the desire to share

So I've been taking notes for a few weeks on why it is some people are really attracted to share some things, others are attracted to share very little. What is it that stimulates one person clicko n the "share" button on You-Tube or any other social networking site? What prompts someone to forward a useful article? SO the notes I've been taking are around my own behaviour and desire to share. I am wondering how much of this is generalisable to other people and contexts.

  1. Relationship building: sometimes I share something because I am aware it is part of continuing a relationship with someone. This can range form the more formal paper I've read that I hope someone else will also find useful, though to something more random like a video clip on You-tube that I thought someone in the family might find amusing. My sharing isn't something planned - it just sort of happens and when I see something I will trigger a "share". This made me think whether "relationship building" is something we consider or design with in mind when developing change programs.
  2. Unknown sharing: this is a bit like the blindspot in the Johari window. I realised that I am on many social and business networking sites. It is possible for me to share a message, say on Twitter, and then this is retweeted (forwarded on to others). I have no idea who the people are, though Twitter is useful as it is possible to track the sharing - not so with email. Sometimes the only way I know something has been shared is when I get an email form someone I have never heard of yet they are commenting on something I said. This is a very powerful dynamic at work and I wonder how much this is taken into account when developing communication strategies? I've learnt how random this process is. Got to be in there and involved to have any sense of how the internet can generate both velocity (speed) as well as scaling up of a message.
  3. Problem shared is a problem halved: I have found sharing problems and looking for support and answers from others is an important strategy for me. I use LinkedIn to pose questions and also reach out to colleagues. This means I have to describe my problem - this process of sharing usually means I end up part solving the problem as I do the definition! So I wonder whether in our change efforts we spend too much time requiring solutions to be articulated when one strategy may be to help people both find words to their problem as well as find someone to whom they can reach out.
  4. Random sharing: ever found yourself telling your life story to someone sitting next to you on the bus and who you only met 30 seconds ago when you sat down?! Well, not quite as extreme, though I have found myself sharing all sorts of things with people which don't fall into relationship building (except perhaps very short term) or as precisely as problem solving. There is something opportunistic here. So I wonder whether we can help more of these opportunistic meeting happen in the workplace?
  5. Good idea promotion: yes, I did do some promotion activities, sharing good practices I have seen elsewhere and which may be useful to the person or team I was working with at the time. However, this was only a very small percentage of my "sharing" time. Standing on a stage and telling stories also counts a bit of good practice sharing, though again this was a small part of my sharing activity. So I wonder whether we are over cooking the need to share good ideas?
So what I discovered by my own behaviour is I have not consciously set out the share good practice and good ideas. It is a lot more random than that. Also, my desire to share is really quite complex. OK, I am only a sample size of one - if you have stories about your own desire to share then please write a comment below.

I will be doing some thinking before designing the next communication and "spread" intervention I am involved in.

More on the fallacy of the tipping point

Last time I wrote about the fallacy of the tipping point I received a host of comments asking me to defend my thoughts a bit more. I ended up in a number of email conversations, some of which have persisted over the last few months.

The debate is essentially a Gladwell (as "son-of-Rogers") versus Watts debate if you want the protagonists' version. I see it more about Taylorist approach versus the networked world. Gladwell, like Rogers, has pursued very eloquently the theory that messages spread through a hierarchical type of system. It is based on a number of key influencers who spread the word. This is what he calls the "Law of the Few" which posits there are a few specifically influential people who spread the word. While there is some social system consideration in this approach it is essentially, to me, one of control and organisations. Maybe this is why so many leaders and organisations have fallen in love with the theory of the tipping point - it gives them a handle on which to explain their process driven communication plans.

I have felt for a long time that Gladwell/Rogers is way out of date when it comes to communication. Much of the arguments Gladwell use come from the 1990's - and can you remember how you used to communicate on both a small and large scale back then? Much of Roger's research was done pre-internet.

So, on the other hand, we have Duncan Watts who is approaching the debate from a networking perspective. His work demonstrates we are as likely to get information form a fairly random contact as we are from a "key influencer". The Watts approach to creating a viral experience for a message is harnessing the power of ordinary people's networks and strategies. Sure, there may be some influentials who spread the word, however, what Watts is making us think about is this may not be the only reason message spread. Gladwell's theories and examples are presented as a hub and spoke model - whereas Watts uses a more networked model which to me seems to more accurately reflect my world and experience. The difficulty of course is that it is not as easy to design a message spreading program is we believe the spread is more random than controlled.

One example both have used is the famous 6 degrees of separation one. Each has taken his own perspective. Gladwell repeats Milgram's results. Watts tested the theory using email and found that only 5% of the messages spread through what might be called Influentials - the rest was down to ordinary and perhaps less connected people.

If I had to invest in a spread strategy I would be looking to create learning communities, to be harnessing existing online connections, finding ways to get the messages into the email systems, developing content that worked on an online format etc. I used to be sold on the Rogers then Gladwell format but my own action research has led me to lean more to Watts.