Social Networks: An Alt-Org Chart

Dan Chenok recently emailed me and John Bordeaux a New York Times story and asked us for our opinions. The articles was “From a Facebook Founder Comes a Way to Streamline Work Flow,” and the quote that moved Dan to ask for our input was this:

Dustin Moskovitz [a Facebook Co-Founder] thinks this is a bad idea that won’t fly. “The first time I looked at Yammer, I thought I was on Facebook,” he said. “Work is not a social network, with serendipitous communications and photo collections. Work is about managing tasks, and responding to things quickly.”

The ever-pithy Dr. Bordeaux summed up his perspective thusly: “Work is about managing tasks and responding to things quickly?” Really? You’ve described my first job, answering the phone and taking orders at Capri Pizza in Oceanside, NY.” I could not agree more strongly.

What I’ve learned, both in the public and private sector, directly contradicts Mr. Moskovitz in two ways:

1. Everyone is an entrepreneur. That is to say: beyond a certain level (say, entry-level), work is as much about finding and creating work as about doing it. In fact, it’s the first step–the finding/creating–that makes all the other work possible. In fact, in the same newspaper, Tom Friedman wrote “Average Is Over,” in which he says: “In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to.”

2. Social networks are like personal Org Charts. Proof of this, in fact, is how I came to write this blog. Dan is not in my chain-of-command. And I met John because he and I were writing on the same topics in GovLoop. Further, people may change positions within a company (or an agency), but they don’t lose their social connections when that happens. In fact, their institutional knowledge only deepens when that happens, and the way that knowledge is captured and shared is through a social–not business–network.

While Facebook itself may not be the best way to construct a social network for business, simply removing the social aspect from our work, or reducing work to “management” and “quick response” completely misunderstands what work is in the early 21st century.

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Robert M. Watts

The Moskovitz premise would negate the benefits that internal social networking can produce in horizontal sharing across a large organization. Gadi’s second point about providing the ability to capture knowledge when people move frequently is especially important at the State Department, where Foreign Service Officers rotate every 1-3 years. The functions discussed by Mr. Moskovitz and Gadi are both important, and we have worked to provide a suite of tools that range from those that can be used for management and quick response, to professional networking and knowledge repositories such as our Diplopedia wiki. We’re even looking at the photo sharing issue, to tap into the possibilites of having a global cadre of reporting officers carrying BlackBerries with cameras.