Literate Business

There’s something wrong with all of the names we use to describe the use of social web tools in business. They are wrong for various reasons whether Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business or whatever. At risk of adding another inappropriate name to the list I have been thinking that in many ways what we are really talking about is “literate business”. This is probably because I have been reading a lot about writing in preparation for writing my book – the idea of thinking through writing, getting a shitty first draft down and then critiquing it, refining ideas through the process of sharing them, etc..

It occurred to me that what is significant about the tools we are seeing creeping into the business world is not so much that they are social as that they are literary in nature. They require, at whatever level, people to observe the world around them, make sense of it, and convey that sense to others, mostly, through the written word. All three parts of this process are the essence of good literature and they are all relatively unfamiliar in the business world. Most people don’t pay much attention to what is going on around them, they don’t sit and think much about what it means, and they are very unlikely to take the time to sit down and write about it. This is what blogging or tweeting makes easier. It also makes it collective.

It is this possibility of businesses being collectively literate, in a way fundamentally different from the turgid, disconnected, process related documentation that we currently spend so much time, money and effort creating and storing. David Weinberger once said that through blogging we were “writing ourselves into existence” maybe this is what we are seeing happen in the world of work?

8 thoughts on “Literate Business

  1. I think it's a great term, but considering we use various media currently – audio, video, photo, even combining them all, sometimes even combining various functionalities and tools, I tend to think that blogging is not only writing, it;s more about interpreting the world we sense and sharing it with our audiences. Could we still use word "literate" to apply to business in that case?There is also the post-modern element of play between the author, medium and the audience leading to change of all of those elements, which is why – in my opinion – organisations, even individuals, are terrified of blogging.

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  2. I'd agree but there is still an element of "consumption" of media other than the written word that we need to move away from somehow.

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  3. I think "articulate business" captures the essence. But it sounds clumsy so I don't see it ever catching on.

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  4. At a recent conference the term "social business" was criticised on the grounds that business used to be social, but we lost a lot of the sociability with, amongst other things excessive focus on process and automation. Resocialising business seemed a better description of the consequence of effective use of these tools. Literacy can be descriptive of what's necessary to make effective use of the tools. But is this describing the mindset or the ability to press the right buttons, or both, or something else?

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  5. Euan, with collective thoughtfulness, and through blogging could it be we are "writing our _new_ selves into existence"?I agree Literate Business (or Literate Media?) conveys the concept better than Social Media or the blooming 2.0 terminology. Mydea of "thinking through writing": The First Social Media: The Air.

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  6. Thanks for the comment Bernd. Have you read any of the books by Don Murray? He was a writing coach in the US and has some great stuff on the process of writing and the fact that writers don't know what they think until they start writing. Very much like blogging IMHO.

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  7. Nope, no Don Murray for me yet. But I get the sentiment. It feels similar to a good conversation, where you realize, as you are talking, you know more that you imagined just before. I call it live energetic communication. Wonder if it is similar for graphic artists and other creatives…

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