Systems Thinking View of Social Business

Where does social business begin and end? What is inside the organization and what is outside? Who’s in charge of what — and how, when and why? What do we control and what do we endeavor to influence?

All of these questions keep popping up in work I am doing, in Q & A during presentations, and in articles I am seeing posted. Jim Worth (@jimworth) has an excellent post related to this topic in his blog which can be seen here: Is it Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business?

From my perspective, viewing Social Business with a Systems Thinking perspective as advanced by people such as the late Russell Ackoff provides an extremely valuable framework to address these questions. A detailed discussion of Systems Thinking and Social Business could take hours, and perhaps could even be the topic for an entire seminar. With respect for Russ and all the great systems thinkers who have gone before us and who still walk among us, I offer this graphic and brief explanation.

Systems Thinking View of Social Business Copyright Chuck Hall

First, it is essential to understand that every organization functions within an overall containing system — the all encompassing context. The largest containing system for us is society as a whole. What takes place in society is bound to affect the organization. And if the organization is effective, it must affect the world outside of its corporate walls.

The next containing system consists of the engaged public — including people who are customers, prospects, consumers and generators of information about the organization, regulators, commentators, etc. And of course, for the leaders of the organization the most immediate containing system is the organization itself.

Perhaps the most valuable construct in this model is the opportunity to view the organization not just as the people who “live within” the corporate walls, but everyone is who engaged with the organization both inside and outside of the organization. This creates a perspective that requires us to include our customers and prospects — and other “outsiders” — as essential parts of our organization.

A systems thinking perspective would say that you cannot divide the whole into separate chunks and understand, manage or influence them effectively as components without understanding them in relation to each other. Consequently, I believe that “social business” is the most valuable moniker and a social business perspective is the most effective framework to address this topic.

So when discussions of “Is it Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business” arise I am quick to support the Social Business side of the discussion. For “Social” to be effective in Business, we must consider the whole as a system. We must consider all the ways we can increase organizational effectiveness by using Enterprise 2.0, social media, social networking, computer platforms, apps, mobile and stationery devices, training, corporate governance — every resource at our disposal.

I will certainly write and speak further on this topic. I welcome further discussion and collaboration on this topic via comments, email or on twitter.

— Chuck Hall,, @chuckhall

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