Huh?! What?! – Certainly not my last run down the moguls this past week, that is for certain. I was lucky enough to enjoy some time on the slopes, time with family as well as some time to read from actual books, not even an e-reader. I stayed at a great Bed and Breakfast, in Waitsfield, Vermont (near Sugarbush) with my family (minus one). Somehow, a book on Complex Adaptive Systems ( John H. Miller and Scott E. Page) made it into my overnight bag, and I began to read. Before long there was a particular area which I wanted to dive a bit deeper into, an interesting phenomenon called ; The Standing Ovation Problem (SOP).
Staying true to my electronic hiatus of sorts, I decided to do a bit more research when I got home. The SOP, at a qualitative level, is straightforward, easy to understand and has relevance in modern business. Specifically, the SOP can be used as a real world metaphor of outcomes often generated by the tools and technologies which are used by modern businesses, who are trying to be ‘Social’. A better understanding of the ‘why’ or ‘how’ could help to explain some of the issues encountered by a Social Business, both externally (Marketing, Support, Communities) and internally (Enterprise 2.0 tools). I am not saying I will be able to accomplish all of that here, but it is a start, and I so welcome your opinion.
What exactly is the Standing Ovation Problem?
To help me to understand the problem at a deeper level I found a 2004 research paper, The Standing Ovation Problem, by the same authors. The timing of the research and paper is interesting, as it predates the explosive time line of the Social Networks we know of today. The paper takes a very mathematical approach to the problem. However, a dissection of the problem, approach and theories makes extending the metaphor quite interesting. As the paper states:”The SOP has much to offer as it (1) is easily explained and part of everyone’s common experience; (2) simultaneously emphasizes some of the key themes that arise in social systems, such as learning, heterogeneity, incentives, and networks; and (3) is amenable to research efforts across a variety of fields. These features make it an ideal platform from which to explore the power, promise, and pitfalls of complexity modeling in the social sciences.”
Stated simply, a standing ovation is at the end of a lecture, presentation or performance (stage or athletic) certain members of the audience stand up and clap for a long(er) duration, which leads to other audience members doing the same. While a 10 year old might be able to explain what it is (mine did); why it happens, is another issue altogether. The reason this phenomenon is intriguing in the context of Social Business, is because there is a Social Media equivalent to the phenomenon . Actually, there might be more than one. Via Facebook, Twitter and Buzz, we make public proclamations of likes and dislikes. Whether is a good or bad experience with a company which we make make public or an article or YouTube video which we Retweet. Within an organization, this type of ‘public’ opinion are certainly commonplace, now more than ever.
What are the components, and who are the Actors?
From a systems perspective, Use Case modeling may not work all that well, but I could not pass on giving it a shot. Though trying to ascribe mathematics to SOP, modeling is required: “In modeling the SOP, one must explicitly account for many aspects of social interaction. Here, we shall discuss just three: the spread of information, the timing of events, and the behavior of the agents.” (to simplify, I will treat an agent as a person in the SOP). Is the author talking about SOP, or could it be Twitter, Google Buzz or Facebook? I believe that there are definitely social media equivalents, therefore understanding why these events occur is worthwhile.
I am not a marketer by trade, nor a social scientist, but the picture in my mind of the audience, is very similar to how Twitter is organized, maybe Facebook or Buzz, not sure. In the real world, we are all there to watch something, our interests are close enough that we came to the same event. We may or may not be ‘friends’ with the people in the audience. We might be very much in alignment with some members of the audience, though not sitting next to them. How does this relate to articles we read, videos watched or experiences we have, which are then forwarded or shared?
While I might actually know some of the others in the audience, for the most part I would suggest that I am not heavily influenced by them, with one exception. In a pure social sense, if everyone begins to stand and I do not, then I it might be ‘awkward’. Social Media has its equivalents as well. I might be trying to both impress (a Retweet), influence others AND there is less of an ‘awkwardness’ if I do nothing. This is referred to as simply conformity, however, this is not too interesting, but does occur. There is also an interesting difference between the people at the front of the theater, and those at the back. Those at the front are not influenced by others (they cannot see them), while those at the back can see everyone else. The analogy to Twitter would be people with lots of followers and those with fewer. This simple concept could be a whole post in and of itself.
Get with the flow, audiences exist within the enterprise as well.
The paper has a nice section on mathematical theories. The suggestion is that by using the SOP as a “backdrop” many different agendas can be addressed. These might include information aggregation, conformity and information cascades (I think of information flows). As practitioners, vendors, consultants and influencers expanding horizons and pushing back on businesses who claim “we are unique” just a little, is important to help them grow. A deeper understanding of why people – peers – act or react in certain way when new ideas are presented. As businesses work hard to become social, what are the impacts to other groups and departments as the silos are broken down?
Will you be the first to stand, sending a strong signal, when an idea is presented? Are you at the back of the theater, or the front (Leader or Follower)? The comment about being awkward is interesting as well, as one can be awkward in the beginning, by being the first to ’stand’, while it may be equally awkward at the other end to be the only one sitting. In an enterprise, if you are the first to stand then you are taking a risk, no? If you are the last to stand, then you might be taking a different kind of risk, yes?
Without diving into the mathematics, it is a little tough to do justice to the sections regarding information cascades. My reasoning for even addressing them at all, is that an understanding of the social dynamics within the company/enterprise are important. Within a theater, a person can send a limited number of signals, stand, sit and applause. Within a company, you can send these as well as many others. Even in the public timeline, you are able to send extra signals. Studies show that words such as “Great”, “Read” and “Loved” enhance the Retweeting of something, most often pointing at some form of content.
Where does that leave us, is there a conclusion?
The model and this discussion would certainly need to be extended, but the social aspects of an enterprise cannot be ignored. Words such as ‘transparency’ and ‘open’ mean that more and more people are making their opinions known in a very public way. This will change the culture within an organization. My sharing this blog, and the research behind it is a way of suggesting that the foundational research may already be there, if we look around a bit.
Here are a few of the conclusions reached by the authors. The fun question is how do these relate to a Social Business?
- Most people might be standing, even though they do not necessarily agree with the extra praise offered by a standing ovation;
- There is a greater pressure to conform, which leads less “efficient of information”. Could this be considered group think problems?;
- People in the front may “have a large impact”. Is this the follower count issue? Just because you are in front, are you smarter?
There are lots of interesting places to take this type of conversation. I am inclined to ask some friends very specific topics, but will wait to see if people find this line of thinking interesting. Are there other areas we can all learn from this type of application of research to the ‘Social’ world? I am a firm believer that we all need to reach out and learn from other disciplines. Basic, sound research can be applied so many ways. What do you think. Have I gone astray….?