Why culture comes first and technology second

Oscar Berg

Community Topic(s):

Keywords: the social web

Current Rating:
(0 ratings)

The shared values, attitudes and behaviors (the culture) of any of the social groups and organizations we belong to strongly influence how we behave as individuals within that group or organization. Consequently, when we are working for an organization, we are greatly influenced by the culture of that organization.

The emergence of social media and the social web (I prefer this phrase to label the second generation of the web to other phrases or terms such as “Web 2.0”) has showed us that the web is a very suitable platform for cultures that encourage social behavior: people communicating, interacting and building relationships with each other. The more we use the web to communicate, interact and build relationships with each other, the more social it becomes. Values such as openness, trust and participation stimulate us to be more social and thus drive the shift to the social web.

Which role do Web 2.0 and social media have to play in this shift? Both terms describe a set of technologies (applications, tools…) that allow us to find each other, connect, interact, communicate, express ourselves, and engage in conversations to exchange perspectives, ideas, opinions, or whatever. These technologies – which I prefer to call social technologies – and the web as platform provide social cultures a place where they can not only live and prosper, but also grow beyond almost any limits thanks to the ability on the web to reach out to virtually anyone anywhere in the world.

Still, culture always comes first and technology second. It is how we use these new capabilities that matters. Social technologies are only social technologies if we use them for socializing with each other. Too often we focus almost entirely on the characteristics, design and features of tools and technologies - as if those things are what make them social. Sure, it helps if they are visually appealing and easy to use. It helps if they are interactive and people-centered. But in the end, what makes them social is who uses them, for what purpose and how.

What is also important to understand is how the combination of the web as platform and social technologies help cultures which foster social behavior to spread. When people use a tool or platform for socializing, that makes it interesting and attractive to use for other people who share similar values, attitudes and behaviors. Since the social web is open, easy to use, “free” and accessible to virtually anyone, cultures that foster social behavior can spread in an almost epidemic manner. The barriers that still exist lie more in our own values, attitudes and behaviors than in the technologies.

So how does the web help social behavior to spread? Well, every time we are using the web to connect, interact and share things with each other, we also demonstrate our values through our actions. On the web, our actions are visible and can reach out to anyone. Thereby we might influence other people who are using the web but who might not share the same kind of values. Eventually they might be influenced enought to adopt the same or similar kind of values and behaviors as we have. In that sense, the web has become a vehicle for transferring values and behaviors to new audiences. It is a platform for culture change. Used wisely, it can also become a platform for bringing about a culture change within an organization. How to do that is another story (blog post).


Rate Post

You need to log in to rate blog posts. Click here to login.

Add a Comment

You need to log in to post messages. Click here to login.


Rich Blank

Decades of history have resulted in corporate cultures that don't promote social behavior. I might argue that while technology may be somewhat secondary, sometimes the "system" actually causes bad behavior or doesn't allow or encourage the right human behavior. Frankly, I think the airline industry is so bad because of their systems --- if the process is not easy or takes too long because the person behind the counter is typing too many letters and codes or doesn't know how to easily do something --- workers may say "why bother" and customers continue to be frustrated. Of course at a macro level, social behavior within a country is often influenced by the "system" of government. So I'm not sure technology and the system is always secondary. Today, workers rely to heavily on email as the main source of communicating, collaborating , and sharing knowledge where information gets lost and workers filter out the noise and ignore the "message". Blackberry's are great ( i have one), but sometimes they simply add to the problem vs. make us more productive....

To your point....if a CEO wants to know why engineers don't act "social" and share knowledge across teams, then it's a probably a cultural issue or incentives aren't aligned accordingly or management isn't encouraging it. Technology alone won't change that and social behavior is not something that can be mandated or dictated by management. Otherwise it's just another thing we "have to do" and is viewed as a task or work. Social behavior is a two way street between workers and management with a heavy emphasis on management ..... who has encourage, promote, and reward good behavior. And the technology if implemented correctly should be there to support the culture, enable socialization, and hopefully easily facilitate the desired behavior.

I simply argue, that you can't always treat the technology and the system as secondary to culture......as the system influences culture as much as culture comes before technology.
Was this helpful? Yes No

John Tropea


What a realistic comment.

We need enterprise-wide networks to make a real impact, not social computing islands.
But still don't know if employee 2.0 and the bottom-up movement is enough to force management 2.0 to happen.

“If they aren’t using the system, then the system doesn’t fit with the way that people share knowledge. And how does the knowledge sharing happen? It happens between people.
We don’t need incentives to share with one another. We need relationships…”
- Jack Vinson http://bit.ly/8AAEMN

"They convert “not using the system” to “not sharing knowledge,” and then they ask their colleagues and consultants how to get people to share more knowledge.”
- Nancy Dixon

Yep, systems and processes can be a pain, lucky email is our survival tool, and social tools are the new survival tool, see my post http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2010/05/29/enterprise-20-harmonising-formal-processes-and-ad-hoc-work/

What is key is to get in-the-flow use first before we dare ask for above-the-flow, which should hopefully happen naturally anyway once people can used to using these new tools for in-the-flow

But also cultural shift to a work in progress culture (this is something that will take time as it's a real flip)...I mean we do it anyway by having meetings, or perhaps emails and phone...but up until now we only publish a finished product.

Tools and use cases need to be facilitated as people are not used to unstructured tools, they have been previously used to tools designed to do a specific thing (transaction vs interactional)

And I agree about structural issues
- reward structures don't help with the idea of sharing and collaboration
See my posts

And there is also the issue of dis-intermediation with middle managers who rely on controlling information flow as a job status thing, middle managers who lean more towards leadership will not have an issue
Was this helpful? Yes No
John Tropea


I really like Gil's post that you pointed to in your other post http://www.gilyehuda.com/2010/01/11/e20-culture-awareness/. A part relevant to your post is that sharing can't be mandated (Dave Snowden often points out this futility, as how would you know anyway if someone has shared, you can't look in their head), and only works when you create conditions for trust as Gil pointed out in the Xerox example. I'd also say that "sharing" is not what to aim for, but rather "engagement"; if you are engaged, sharing happens naturally.
And not just engagement in a reputational and conversational way, but also engagement in a co-creation way. Just like the Xerox example people who used the CoP did so because they felt ownership, they were part of it's inception.

Dave Snowden says "trust is an emergent property of the process of engagement not a precondition...trust is the symptom of interaction over time"

Our strategy or objective may be a "sharing" culture, a shift from competition to collaboration, but our approach is not this direct. ie. we don't create a sharing culture, and we don't create conditions for a culture of trust either, these will both happen if we create conditions for engagement.

One day if we reach a state of enterprise 2.0, I wonder if trust will matter as much, by then people will be used to sharing in the open, and like we do on Twitter now, sharing is a literacy, and you do it regardless of trust...in this future era we need to factor in that helping out others on immediate tasks you are not on will be measured in performance appraisals (this obstacle needs to be overcome as part of a holistic approach).

We all share and help each other at work, but it's a reciprocal thing based on trust. What's good about social computing is that it creates conditions for engagement and trust...but as per my previous comment there are some unfortunate obstacles to get this type of culture enterprise-wide. Sure we have natural sharers in the organisation (people like us), but for it to be the new "literacy" we need a top-down shift in values (not objectives, but lived values) eg. Cisco.

I also have some thoughts here
Was this helpful? Yes No

This post and comment(s) reflect the personal perspectives of community members, and not necessarily those of their employers or of AIIM International