The human body has two circulatory systems, the veinous and the lymphatic. They are connected, but largely independent.
Leandro Herrero's latest book, Homo Imitans, reminded me that the body corporate also contains two circulatory systems, the hierarchy and the networks. And, while each plays an important role, the networks – rather like the lymphatic system of the body – have incredible power which is underestimated, if not ignored, in most organisations.
This is a mistake, says Dr Herrero, describing the two systems as 'World I' and 'World II'. His book is mostly about World II, with the occasional nod to the enabling and encouraging role of World I in enlightened organisations.
His fundamental thesis (building on his earlier Viral Change book, which I reviewed here) is that people are more inclined to change their behaviour by copying peers that they respect than commands from on high. And, since behaviour is the only thing that counts when it comes to real change inside organisations, this is where (change) management should be focusing its energies. Dr Herrero gives due credit to authors of social networking books which cover a lot of similar ground, but his talent is in directing his thoughts and guidance slap bang into the heart of organisations that want to change but don't know how. It is also, very occasionally, a 'sell' for his Viral ChangeTM practice, should you not want to go it alone.
Influence travels through networks completely independently of the company hierarchy and, in many cases, without the hierarchy even being aware of what's going on. In an organisational example, we saw it when Greg Dyke left the BBC after the stink around the 'sexing up' of the Iraq dossier – the crowds of staff, some in tears, seemed to appear out of nowhere but they were actually galvanised by the internal network.
In a non-corporate example, the recent rioting and looting in England came about largely through social networking and many people caught up in it were simply copying others who appeared to be 'getting away with it'. (The book contains a very useful 40-page annex which describes in detail many examples of social contagion with references to Dr Herrero's source material. It's called The Human Condition: a guide for the perplexed.)
All of which brings us back to the title of the book (Homo Imitans, if you've forgotten). We see what others do and we copy them. If others who respect or like us, see us doing something in a new way that makes sense to them, they copy us. If just three people copy what 'someone like them' is doing, then it's clear that such a social infection will quickly reach epidemic proportions.
The trick espoused by Dr Herrero is to find those key people in organsiations, wherever they are, and persuade them that a new way of behaving is good for them. (Obviously, it has to be good for the organisation, otherwise there's no point in doing it.) Much has been written about finding such 'champions' but less has been written about focusing on their behaviour.
Words alone are not enough. Dr Herrero likes to collect "Don't do that" posters which usually have little effect but can actually encourage whatever it is they're trying to stop. ("ABUSE OF STAFF WILL NOT BE TOLERATED", etc.) People will respond much more readily to what others do than to what they say.
The book is rich in structure and entertaining in style. It hammers home its messages and suggests new practices from a variety of perspectives. Each chapter reinforces what went before but, maybe because I've spent the the last 35 years as an enthusiast of behavioural psychology and the last seven deep in social networking, I felt I'd well and truly got the message before the end. Nevertheless, I notice I've still made margin notes right up to the last page.
I particularly like his encouraging penultimate paragraph:
"Viral ChangeTM … doesn't depend on behavioural sciences, network theory, social sciences, storytelling and leadership studies. Or even us as consultants!"
Leandro Herrero provides a wealth of persuasive examples and evidence which will help you make the case for socially-driven behavioural change in your own organisation.
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