Are we living in the Matrix, or just working in it?
To help make people aware of their situation and, more important, show them a path out of it (provide them the red pill, as it were), Maddie and co-author Jamie Notter wrote a book called Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.
The book's thesis is that the rise of social media is putting unprecedented pressure on the "mechanical" business structures—replete with silos, departments, and hierarchies, and focused on control, efficiency, and machine-like predictability—that we've come to accept as the norm.
Grant and Notter hold that for organizations to adapt and thrive in the new world of human communication afforded by social media, they must shed their mechanistic perspective and become more human.
Social media, Maddie told me, is "powered by human attributes: the desire to be social, to connect with other people; the desire to solve problems; the desire to create and to share what we're doing." By enabling the fulfillment of these very human impulses, the social media have brought about a "paradigm shift in how we communicate as a society."
As a result, people now expect organizations to communicate with them in a more human way: spontaneous, flexible, thoughtful, responsive. Organizations can develop these attributes, according to Maddie, by becoming more open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous.
Thought Into Action
Maddie readily acknowledged that there are many more human attributes than those four, but said she and Notter thought these were "ones that we can specifically translate to a work environment." Their thesis is that if you cultivate these attributes, "you can really flourish in a much more social digital world."
This is an important point. Talking about "humanizing the organization" would be little more than management consultant fluff without some indication of how to actually accomplish it in the real world. For this reason, the principles laid out in Humanize are designed to be applied, experimented with, tested.
And we're not just talking about the marketing department! As Maddie makes clear, this book is not a "social media" book; it is a leadership book. The object of it is not to help you run better campaigns on Facebook or Twitter; the intent is to drive organizational change.
Reform or Revolution?
Change, as we all know, can be gradual or cataclysmic. Talking with Maddie about the magnitude of change that they are calling for in Humanize, I heard about both kinds.
"If you agree that social media is changing the way we work," she said, "and if you agree that social media is powered by certain human elements, that potentially gives you some clarity over how you need to change your organization in order to take advantage of social media, at the basic level, and then hopefully in terms of much more human flourishing and society being better and all these aspirational things that we really want."
These "aspirational things" are expressed very succinctly in "The Future of Work: A Manifesto," which Maddie published earlier this month. Based on the Dilbertian view that, "work sucks," the manifesto distills the teachings of Humanize and describes how they could be applied to make work "suck less," which isn't exactly a revolutionary aspiration, but is certainly a very human one.
Out of the Matrix
Maddie said the manifesto was motivated both by the idea that "work really is a place where you can lose your soul" and by the question "How can you bring your whole human self to work and how can that provide value for work?"
That's a big question and a tall order. Becoming human, as Maddie and Notter point out, is very risky for organizations. But let's face it, it's risky for human beings as well. Being open, trustworthy, collaborative, creative, and courageous is hard work and involves, from time to time, taking big risks.
Still, if we don't risk being human at work and at least trying to humanize it from within, we definitely risk being, as Maddie said, "swallowed up by the mechanical systems."
If the red pill could save you from that fate, wouldn't you swallow it?
If you'd like to hear my entire conversation with Maddie, you may do so above or subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes and never miss an episode!
Maddie Grant, CAE helps associations large and small build capacity for using social media to achieve business results. She is the co-author of two books: Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, and Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. Maddie is also the chief social media strategist at SocialFish LLC.