I started out to write a simple review of Euan Semple’s wonderful “Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide To The Social Web”. However, I found that I was inspired by so many different aspects of the book that I was in danger of writing a dissertation in response. What follows, therefore, is probably more in the way of a condensed impression of the book rather than a traditional formal review.
If you’ve neither the time nor inclination to read further, here is the abbreviated conclusion: if any part of your working day involves sharing information – or would greatly benefit by sharing information – with colleagues, managers, or customers, then buy this book.
A Wee Disclosure
I’ve met Euan on a couple of occasions and swapped an email with him from time to time. I like him and I like reading what he has to say on his blog. This was the main reason that I bought the book in the first place. I almost felt obliged to buy the book and, as you know, that sort of obligation is never a great basis for getting down to reading something. That the obligation quickly turned to gratitude is quite simply why I am writing this.
Although I’m a big fan of ebooks, sometimes only the physical book in your hand will do. This is especially true for books that you want to refer to over and over and where you are continually flicking back to reread pages in the light of new information. This book is definitely one where the physical object adds to the reading experience.
For a start, the book looks good. It also handles well (like a sports car built for mountain roads) and, by god, it smells really good. You can’t overestimate the importance of a good smell when it comes to a new book. Crack open Euan’s book and inhale deeply. Talk about trust: that’s an aroma that tells you from the first that what you are about to read in those pages will more than adequately reward the time you invest.
So it is hardly surprising that it also reads so well. Not only is it stylistically excellent – making for a smooth ride through complex arguments – but each carefully crafted chapter is a perfect nugget of focused wisdom.
The Politics Of Social
At its core this is a guide to improving the way your business works. What might appear to be a manual for getting to grips with the social web and how it can be used within a business soon assumes the mantle of a manifesto for productive change. Euan is describing a revolution and businesses who don’t participate may very well be the first to go to the wall.
There’s no pussy-footing around at the start of the book: Euan takes you immediately to the heart of the matter when he asserts that the technological changes we’re seeing around the social web are not the cause of any current revolution but are simply the lubricant that is making the social revolution happen faster and more effectively.
(That he follows this by accepting a description of himself as “an organizational anarchist” might make any corporate chiefs determined to keep the book out of the hands of their staff. This is exactly the kind of blinkered view of the new reality that Euan is railing against, of course. It must be said, though, that Euan’s style of railing is as far from rant and thunder as genuine anarchy is from the customary thuggish portrayal we see in the media.)
Structure And Method
The wide array of ideas and themes covered in the book are not dealt with in isolation or from the point of view of someone looking in from the outside. This is not an academic textbook: Euan has experienced the things he describes, firstly in his time introducing tools for the social web into the BBC and, subsequently, working with many large organizations (who, obviously, don’t tweet).
The book is divided into 45 short chapters. This might lead you to believe that the book contains 45 topics. You would be wrong to believe that. Each chapter is actually a mini essay in which an idea is described, tested, expanded, and shown to connect with a host of other themes and ideas. (Hence my comment about the need for a physical version that allows easy flicking backwards and forwards.) Where there is repetition of sorts – because themes and ideas overlap and spark new themes and ideas – it always feels less like duplicate material than reinforcing a message or approaching a valuable point from a different angle.
Just take a look at some of the chapter titles for a taste of the thematic goodness on offer:
- We All Need To Grow Up
- Evolution On Steroids
- Volume Control On Mob Rule
- Conversations Can Only Take Place Between Equals
- The Price Of Pomposity
- The Revolution Is Within
I could go on listing chapter titles. Another 39 times, in fact. (As an aside, I think the chapter titles serve to underline how ill served the book is by its title, which is definitely the weakest part of the whole package. But that’s another discussion.)
And each chapter is suffixed by a box of bullets – ammunition for thinking – that covers the key points to remember from the chapter. You may think that this is overkill when the chapters are, for the most part, only three or four pages long. But as I’ve tried to convey by calling the chapters ‘essays’, the content is not frothy and it is never a mere skim across the surface of an idea. These bullets are welcome – and to be used in anger.
This is a book that makes you want to engage with its ideas on every page. I wanted to leave comments at the end of each chapter as if it were a blog post. Most of all, this is not a book to read once, nod, and replace on your shelf. If you work in or with businesses of almost any size, this book could very well be the difference between transforming your business or seeing it left behind.
It’s also worth pointing out – emphasising, in fact – that this is not a dry tome examining strategies and tools for building internal policies of online best-practice for employees. This is a book of useful advice, war stories from the front line of social interactions, and bemused head-shaking at some of the dim-wittedness of corporations. It is also laced with humour.
I think one of the most powerful chapters in the book comes early – chapter six. The chapter is called “Writing Ourselves into Existence” and lies squarely at the heart of what I believe Euan sees as the most revolutionary aspect of social tools. Most commentators focus on the interactions afforded by these tools and how these can impact the ways individuals and businesses work. In Organizations Don’t Tweet, however, Euan is always careful to highlight the benefits to the individual when participating in the social web. Here is a quotation from the start of the chapter:
There is something about the process of blogging that makes you more self-aware. You become more thoughtful about yourself and your place in the world. In the reactions of others to your writing you get a different perspective, possibly for the first time, on how others see you. While this can be scary at first it can also be liberating. David Weinberger, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto – the classic book explaining the Internet and its impact in society – once described blogging as ‘writing ourselves into existence’. This is very much how it feels.
This point is also made in the last of the summary bullets for the previous chapter (Evolution on Steroids):
Even if no one else learns from what you write in social tools, you do – and this may be the greatest reward.
In writing this, I discovered that there was a lot more I wanted to say in response to the ideas raised by Euan. And I don’t think that a review is the place to say it. I said above that this was not a book to read and shelve. What I mean by that is that the ideas presented here are worthy of true engagement. When a book inspires so many reactions and agreements while reading, it would be churlish to ignore the stimulus to respond. And I fully intend to react to that stimulus in the coming weeks and months.
The best books don’t often purport to be the last word on a subject and a book confronting a topic as fluid and dynamic as the relationship between business and the social web runs an obvious risk of soon being outdated or even irrelevant. Euan manages to subvert this risk by simultaneously embracing the notion of a world in flux and by describing the responses needed by businesses and their people to both shape the future and to stay relevant.
The Other Conclusion
The best recommendation I can give the book is that it has encouraged me to think more deeply about the issues Euan addresses and to look to respond in the best way I know – by writing. In the coming weeks on this blog I will use many of Euan’s ideas as starting points for discussions on the things related to writing that can contribute to making business – and places of business – more inclusive, less exploitative, more successful and, dare I say it, a whole lot more fun to be around.