At the Stanford Center for Social Innovation, we just concluded a conference with the State Department in preparation for the upcoming Rio 2.0 conference (Rio+2.0: Bridging Connection Technologies and Sustainable Development). The focus of the conference was on the role of technology/connectivity to drive social change. As I was listening to the panels surrounded by global social innovators, the multiple meaning of the word “social” struck me. What does it mean to live in a “social” world in 2012?
On one end the social spectrum, we have the version best expressed in a New York Times op ed written by Thomas Friedman on the revolution occurring in Silicon Valley. Friedman first notes, “Silicon Valley is being transformed by another technology revolution — one that is taking the world from connected to hyperconnected and individuals from empowered to superempowered. It is the biggest leap forward in the IT revolution since the mainframe computer was replaced by desktops and the web. It is going to change everything about how companies and societies operate.”
He then quotes Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com, who has described this phase of the IT revolution with the acronym SOCIAL:
“S, he says, is for speed — everything is now happening faster.
O, he says, stands for open. If you don’t have an open environment inside your company or country, these new tools will blow you wide open.
C is for collaboration because this revolution enables people to organize themselves within companies and societies into loosely coupled teams to take on any kind of challenges — from designing a new product to taking down a government.
I is for individuals, who are able to reach around the globe to start something or collaborate on something farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before — as individuals.
A is for alignment. ‘There has never been a more important time to have all your ships sailing in the same direction. The power of social media is that it is easier than ever to both articulate, and reinforce, the vision and values that create and inspire alignment,’ said Benioff. And
L is for the leadership that does that.”
This is all well and good, but in a world fraught with social and environmental challenges, I argue that we need to go farther. It’s not enough to be “neutral” and willing to “develop technology platforms for good and evil” – and here I’m quoting Gina Bianchini, MBA '01, cofounder and CEO of Mightybell, from the RIO 2.0 panel on “The innovation culture: Four Entrepreneurs' Perspective,” in talking about her views on the Silicon Valley culture. Is this what we want to strive for?
With this mindset and approach to technology we need to move to the other end of the “social” spectrum where the goal is to create a more just, sustainable, and prosperous world. But we also want the benefits of the IT/social revolution expressed by Benioff. The term that best expresses this dual-pronged concept of “social” is Social2. It’s a term Lloyd Nimetz, MBA '08, shared with me years ago, although I don’t know who coined it. With this in mind, I propose a different articulation of the acronym SOCIAL:
S is for society. It’s imperative we put society on equal footing with self-interest. With a current population of 7 billion on its way to 9 billion, how can we not think of the whole?
O is for options. In a world with more than 6,000 languages we need to support people, cultures, and countries in developing and delivering options that work for them.
C is still for collaboration. It’s a critical element for driving social change, and it’s much harder in practice than theory. So we need to double up on this one.
I is for impact. We need to hold ourselves, our organizations, and our communities accountable to achieving real results for real people in real places.
A is for action. Change necessitates action today, not tomorrow. The long windy road to social change always requires a first step. That step, and the next and the next can aggregate in ways that move mountains.
L is for linkages. Today, everything is connected. This points to real opportunities. It also reminds us that each of our actions has consequences for society.
We all live in a world that’s facing huge challenges. Let’s take action, but let’s move from “neutral” to proactively engaged as we address those challenges. Let’s be Social2.