Zen and the art of Social Media

In 1994, Forester Research stated that “the Internet is too anarchistic for prime-time business and too complex for the average techno-peasant to master.” In discussions on actKM, Matt Moore has asked whether business is now ready for Social Media – blogs, wikis, RSS, etc.

We have a whole generation of tech-savvy people now entering the workforce that have no memory of a world without PCs and the Internet – and only bad memories of an Internet without broadband access. They live on MySpace and Instant Messenger. If they come into a corporate office today, they will probably feel like their arms have been cut off. (I remember that one of my first workplaces didn’t have STD on the phone system and I had to go through an operator to make long distance calls – it seemed so archaic then!)

Different social media tools may suit different business environments. RSS allows individuals to choose what they read, which may be a big benefit, but corporate communications managers may be somewhat scared by this prospect! (Funny, because they can do that now by deleting emails…). People will adapt to use the tools that suit their needs.

Is there a distinction between “personal” and “professional” use of Social Media? Should we restrict the use of these tools in the workplace to “business use only” – or restrict the use of some media for fear that they will be used (or abused) for “personal” use?

If we do this, we are potentially restricting the ability of our people to be creative and productive. We are also showing mistrust, and knowledge sharing only flourishes in an environment of trust.

It can be unhelpful to try to compartmentalise our life too much. Is this blog personal or professional? Here’s another quote – one that I still find can be quite provocative:

The successful person in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play… they simply pursue their vision of excellence in whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them, they are always doing both.


  1. Nigel –

    Not really sure of a specific origin for this one. When I first saw it, it was simply attributed to a “Zen Buddhist text.”

    A quick search now finds a few references to the author James A Michener, but it is not stated in which book. (This seems a little unlikely to me.) One refers to a Zen Buddhist text “quoted in ‘Head to Head’ by Lester Thurow, Dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management.”

    – Keith.

  2. Keith

    Your quote:”The successful person ….always doing both.”

    Could you let me know who said these enlightened words


  3. Hristo – Thanks (belatedly) for your comment. Totally agree. I also think that the “unofficial” web searching is more than just personal morale and creativity – for knowledge workers, it is also essential to doing your job well – a form of self-education if nothing more.

    Enrico – Thanks for this comment, too. You do raise a good point. Is it healthy to lose the boundary completely? There are issues of work-life balance. Is it good to be monitoring work emails on the BlackBerry when on holiday? There is benefit in taking a complete break sometimes. And yes, if your hobby becomes your job, do you lose too much of the personal?

    Our behaviour in this area potentially impacts how much people trust us. There is an interesting post on this at Anecdote. I am of the opinion that it is the people who are most open about themselves (personally) that are the ones I will be most prepared to trust in business. I have already posted here that it is the managers that take the most interest in their staff that are the most effective.

    Can we live with no boundary at all? There are risks, and there are issues of balance, but I think that most of us find it easy to hide more of the personal than we should.

  4. I read with interest Keith’s inclusion of the professional versus personal lives interface; and the clarity of its boundaries. I am inclined towards Hristo’s definition of creativity as ‘freedom of personal vision.’

    We are faced with two distinct realities: an internal and an external one. The external reality is the one expected of us, by way of our trade or profession, and our internal reality is the one we secretly harbour about: our being, our becoming, hopes, dreams, desires and fantasies. I am reminded of the saying (whose name escapes me): If you love what you do, and you do what you love, then you do not have to work a single day of your life! This axiom sounds delectable because the line blurs, until we cleverly (and sometimes, cluelessly) start a business based on our hobby, and then the two realities begin to clash. Just a thought…

  5. […] While it isn’t specifically on Patrick’s list, I am of the opinion that another characteristic of the Net generation is a willingness to blur the line between personal and professional lives – or a lack of awareness that such a line should exist.  The Net generation ignores boundaries, collaborates indiscriminately, values openness, trusts others and is happy to personalise work relationships. […]

  6. The internet is changing the world we know it. The question is what we want to take from the new world and what we want to leave from the old one. We must adapt in order to survive and part of this is the paradigm shift we face.

    Creativity for me is a freedom of personal vision. In order to be creative you must stray away from the company’s rules – this is why in google is 90% work / 10% something else. This 10% contribute to the employee moral and creativity to have freedom to do what they think should be done.

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