Tuesday, 10 July 2012

In Good Company; how social capital makes organizations work by Cohen & Pusak

In Good Company; how social capital makes organizations work by Cohen & Prusak 
Harvard Business School Press, 2001
Purchased from Amazon

 I had to stop and check out the publishing date of this book. Heavens, it is ten years old, yet seems as fresh as the this morning's dawn. What impressed me was its ability to focus on the social without getting lost in the technology aspects of social. That was my heads up to this book being written before the advent of the "bright and shiny" social networking (as in on-line) era.

The authors focus on the concept of social capital. Their definition of this is "Social capital consists of the stock of active connections among people; the trust, mutual understanding, and shared values and behaviours that bind the members of human networks and communities and make cooperative action possible". The chapter on trust made more sense to me than most of the consultancy-type frameworks that proliferate. They explain how it is the key to social capital and how it is a demonstrable social system behaviour. Networks and communities are a fashionable topic and have been since the onset of debate about communities of practice. These authors focus on the role of social groups, the basics of communities and networks, as well as the value of the networks. I wonder how much we know about our organizational networks and whether we have stopped to value them? I loved the chapter on space and time to connect. In these impatient days of quick fixes, rapid cycles of change, the flurries of new ideas on how to do something, we can all do with a refocus on what it is that is the glue in the system. This glue is of course the social capital. Social capital is a by product of many processes and structures, and most importantly needs attention to time and space. When last did you calculate the return on investment of your lunch half hour away from your desk sitting at a table with some colleagues.

The trouble with this book is I agreed with everything and in the same instant felt the impossibility of it all. Nevertheless there are some thought provoking issues to consider. For example there is no point in exhorting storytelling as a method of engaging staff in change unless we personally experience story telling, walk the talk, take the time to tell stories and more importantly to listen to other people's stories.

The chapter on social talk and storytelling is a must for any leader who is evoking this as a method for change. If you're not convinced so far then the chapter on the challenge of volatility is crucial. Here we learn how social capital can transcend and transform, against all circumstances. In case you think they missed the boat by not considering the technology opportunities the chapter on the challenge of virtuality says it all, without getting lost in the technical details. This is another book that has languished on my bookshelf. Something triggered me to buy it all those years ago. Having read it I felt affirmed and inspired. I'm going to reflect and work on my social capital. And you?

PS there are some great books written by Laurence Prusak - check out his website. There are also videos by him on storytelling and knowledge management.

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