The tons of virtual ink that are being used to discuss e-participation, e-democracy, social organizations, enterprise or government 2.0, social media and collaboration seem to assume that everybody is moved by an unstoppable desire to collaborate with others. Vendors, consultants, social media gurus, politicians, communication professionals and amateurs all depict a compelling future where the wisdom of the crowd – be it a project team, a division, a corporation, a cross-section of experts in something, or the population of an entire country – will necessarily replace traditional decision making processes in response to the urge of people of different age, gender, culture, to feel part of something bigger than them.
There is an assumption of selflessness as experts donate their time to communities, developers create free applications for everybody to use, communities replace individuals, and community-building is rewarded more than individual achievements.
But does this really correspond to who we are? Humans have felt the need to socialize since the dawn of times as a way to survive, to thrive, to win over somebody else. Families, communities, towns, cities, states, countries,corporations all respond to the need of individuals to feel protected, to leverage somebody else’s resources to their advantage, and indeed providing some of their in return.
As we try to understand why so many social media endeavors fail in enterprises, we should remind ourselves that our individual purpose will always prevail over a community one.
Whether about getting more money, or having more fun at what we do, or satisfying our curiosity or our ego, social media is nothing else that one of the personal tools at our disposal to fulfill our purpose.
If our purpose happens to coincide with somebody else’s and our collective purpose aligns or contributes to our organization’s purpose, then we will see sustainable communities, which thrive for the benefits of all parties involved.
On the other hand, if the enterprise tries to force its purpose over ours, we will comply at most, but the community efforts is likely to die down pretty soon.