Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Social networking – build don’t ban! – Donald Clark – Executive Board Member UFI

Donald Clark’s session blew my mind away. His charismatic and amiable demeanour complimented his informative and candid session which was peppered with light-hearted humour.

Donald demonstrated that Social Networking (SN) is redrawing the boundaries of the web and that it’s not just mere chit-chat with friends, but in organisations can be tamed to yield great benefits in training and development too. He further went into issues surrounding rolling-out SNs in organisations by talking through benefits for employees and the company and legal issues.

Donald cleared misconceptions and called on the executives and policy makers to wake up and not ignore SN, as shunning these will only be at the company’s ultimate detriment. He further added not to be scared of legal issues but ‘Police through policies’. Where else will you find a tool that is not restricted by organisation or distance and enables a sense of community, bonding experiences, and instant expert access at your convenience on your computer.

Donald did confess that “there are still lots of people who faff around on the Internet”, however HR departments need not have knee-jerk reactions and ban the Internet because some people procrastinate daily tasks by virtual loitering. But harness the power for great business gains. Donald went on to give some examples of great uses of the Internet, and creative and innovative ways of uses of the Web.

Kids stuff
Donald conveyed his experience at a dinner party where he had a ‘tiff’ with a friend who revealed that he was to ban his child from the Internet. It turned out that the friend’s son was spending most of his time on Instant Messengers chatting to his friends. Donald tried to explain to him that the lingo franca of the new generation is IM, and that they multi-task (play a game, listen to music, chat with there friends, and do their homework concurrently). He went on to further describe that when he is away abroad and calls home all he gets is ‘grunts’ from his children on the telephone, however to his surprise they have a full-blown conversation on MSN Messenger! Donald now uses this way to communicate with his children when away. With this story Donald was send out a message that adopting the various ways of communication you can get to different people; this can only be good for an organisation.

Most of the resources in an organisation are spent on formal learning as empirical results suggest that most learning occurs informally. So why is Facebook and IM banned which is based around you? When the Time person of the year was for 2006 was you, as you own the Information Age.

Donald then went on to show examples of companies that benefited from using innovative methods in their line of work, but first used the example of Professor Walter Lewin from MIT who finds different ways to demonstrate complex parts to physics. However, along the way has emerged as a international Internet guru, and has a cult following at M.I.T. It all started in the pursuit of making his lectures more enjoyable to students. I thought to myself when hearing about the Professor, can we not adopt various ways to keep our staff energised?

Professor Walter Lewin demonstrates how a pendulum works.

Professor Walter Lewin demonstrates how a pendulum works.

Cadbury Schweppes
Amongst the blue chip companies Cadbury Schweppes was one of the first to adopt blogs and podcasts in recruitment. The amount of national coverage and PR it received was phenomenal; it had a direct effect on raising applications by 40%.

IBM Thinkspace
IBM developed a tool that uses various social networking techniques to provide a virtual space for staff to submit new ideas and improve processes. Using tagging, personal profiles, and collaborative communication the system would see an idea through it’s inception through to its implementation (or rejection). Amongst other things Thinkspace was used for induction purposes where new staff could get a wealth of information from other more established colleagues. After 18 months, it was estimated that the value delivered (cost reduction and quality improvements) by Thinkspace was a whopping $400 million!

Second Life and Gender-related discrimination
Donald gave a great example of how a male could empathise with female discrimination; he said that if someone wants to really learn about Diversity, take gender for instance, try living as a woman in Second Life for 2 days and you’ll really see the issues and discrimination around being a women.

Donald then also finished of his session passing the stage on to another speaker.

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