Communication, Social Networks, and Railroads

Why I am fascinated by management thinker, writer, and railroad engineer Daniel McCallum.

One of the most popular posts on my blog is Social Networking in the Workplace. Last time I checked, type those words into Google and my post is fourteenth. Not bad, I suppose. It’s a topic that I think about quite a bit.

It once again crossed my mind while reading Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. I was fascinated by the story of management thinker, writer, and railroad engineer Daniel McCallum. In his book, Shirky writes:

What we’re dealing with now is not the problem of information overload, because we’re always dealing (and always have been dealing) with information overload…Thinking about information overload isn’t accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure is.

Wow. Order is one thing but institutional barriers to communication–designed to not make “principals” look bad–are something else altogether.

The Transformative Power of Social Media

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like every organization is equally, let’s say, “communication-challenged.” I’ve seen some do a very good job at getting the word out and sharing knowledge. However, most of us have worked at companies that could have done a better job of keeping everyone informed, or at least key players at key times. And it’s for this very reason that social networks and social media are game changers on many levels, a point that Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff recently drives home in The Facebook Imperative Cannot Be Stopped.

Old habits die hard, as they say. Many of the more hierarchical organizations with which I have worked are the least likely to embrace social networks as communication tools.

A Few Questions

Is this because these tools threaten the traditional power structure at these organizations?

If middle management types merely convey information from higher-ups to their subordinates, then is it a surprise that they’re not exactly all giddy about social networks?

What do you think?

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