Overcoming inertia with love

Over coffee yesterday David Tebbutt was telling me of a social web initiative that had been successful but then gone backwards and he used the word entropy (gradual decline into disorder) to describe the cause. We got into conversation about how often social tools can make progress but then lose traction and I said I wasn’t so sure that it was a decline into disorder that we were talking about. Disorder, or at least emergent order, is in the nature of social tools. I think the problem is more inertia (a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force). Social tools need some sort of external force, some source of energy, to keep them alive and moving. They don’t just continue to grow under their own steam.

A comment from a friend still working at the BBC leads me to believe that talk.gateway, the bulletin board we put in there, is on its last legs. To be honest I am amazed that it is still going given the fact that, as I understand it, little attention has been paid to it since we left. It takes energy to keep things moving and alive otherwise they return to their previous state. It takes care and attention. Someone described me at the time of starting talk.gateway as an animateur, (someone who gets things animated) and I rather liked the description.

I worry when I see businesses investing loads of money in social platforms without considering the energy and commitment required to make their implementation successful. It will take lavish care and attention and dare I say it love. It is no mistake that the last chapter in my book is devoted to this old blog post about love in the workplace as it is the most important, and most often ignored, ingredient in making this stuff happen. If you are going to be successful with social in your business someone has to care. Someone has to invest enough passion and “love” to overcome the considerable forces of inertia that are inevitable, indeed cultivated, in our organisational lives.

5 thoughts on “Overcoming inertia with love

  1. Is this precisely a matter of ‘entropy’ vs ‘inertia’? As I understand it — and I haven’t taken any physics classes in decades, so I may be entirely off kilter — part of the point of entropy is that although a system tends toward maximum disorder, one can generally keep the system in order by devoting more energy to ordering it. That results in a net loss of order, since the energy investment always ends up losing heat (the least organised form of energy – the besetting problem with supposed perpetual motion machines). But your point fits well enough with the general diagnosis of entropic decay (that is, it requires an investment of energy to sustain the vitality of the social media system.

    That being said, applying the laws that govern physical systems to social phenomena typically spurs people to launch accusations of dilettantism and misuse of ‘a little knowledge’, so I stress that this is only a comment, not a carefully formulated argument.


  2. Hi Euan,It is like gardening, you can just spend a load of cash on some pretty plants, bung them in and hope for the best. You’ll have a thicket or a wasteland soon enough, ready for the next load of cash, or they’ll just put decking over the lot and hope it goes away. Social web projects, like gardens, need long term care and some planning, but mainly daily attention to flourish.cheers Gavin


  3. The thing about entropy is that it is the essential structure behind all change. New forms and functions emerge from the energy transformed when old forms and functions die. There is a danger that splendid people end up loving their favoured F&F too much and blindly fight like hell to keep it alive, against the natural order of things. They end up fighting against 15 billion years of cosmic evolution but that’s still OK, because occasionally your life is meant to be there as a warning to others!

    Great posts (new &old) thanks Euan.


  4. Companies spend cash on social media in the same way golfers spend money on new clubs. They think they’re buying success, that if they only had this tool, or this platform, or this wedge, or that driver, they’ll be better off. Of course the only investment that really pays off is properly planned time.


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