Social + Nothing = Nothing (Part 4)

I like to think of a conversation between two people as a thought-processing thread. I make a suggestion and then you process it and come back with a thought associated with it. Your thought could be a better idea inspired by my initial thought. The more we cogitate and bounce ideas back and forth, the stronger the outcome becomes.

In a conversation, if it’s just the two of us, only you and I get immediate value out of it. But if you and I have our conversation on a social platform, we increase its potential value as more people are exposed to it. They not only see our thought-processing thread but also can contribute to it at any stage, inspiring new threads – in essence, new ideas and new conclusions.

The potential value of a conversation increases exponentially as more and more people join it

What’s interesting to note is how the potential value of a conversation increases exponentially as more and more people join it. If you’re looking to apply social technology to a business process or problem, you may want to consider just how much value this concept can provide. Would your problem be solved more quickly if more people contributed ideas? (By the way, sometimes the answer is no!)

Here’s how to think about the math:

First, let’s assume that when two people come together, each person contributes one idea, for a total of two ideas. Let’s also assume that when a new person is added to the conversation, that person not only contributes one additional idea but also sparks the creation of one more idea in combination with each of the previous ideas.

What this leads to is a chart that looks like this:

  • 2 people = 2 potential ideas (1 x 2)
  • 3 people = 6 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3)
  • 4 people = 24 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4)
  • 5 people = 120 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5)

With five people contributing to a conversation, the volume of potential ideas has already blossomed into a substantial number. If you’re familiar with math, you might recognize this as the factorial sequence – and you’ll know what’s coming next. If we add just five more people, the number of potential ideas explodes:

  • 6 people = 720 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6)
  • 7 people = 5,040 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7)
  • 8 people = 40,320 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8)
  • 9 people = 362,880 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 x 9)
  • 10 people = 3,628,800 potential ideas (1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 x 9 x 10)

By no means is this to say that 10 people will actually contribute three million ideas. Instead, what this implies is that whenever new ideas are proposed, they will come from a much larger pool of thought processes, increasing the chances that you’ll uncover an idea that delivers a better solution.

But adding lots of people to a conversation isn’t enough

This may be the math behind why social networks are so powerful, but just as important is the need to have the conversation in the right context. The conversations you have are only as useful as the context in which you have them.

When you provide people an opportunity to give and receive input, the ideas they trigger will get the most support and respect when the conversation happens exactly where it’s most valuable – within the context of a business problem that needs solving or an opportunity you want to capitalize on.

In my previous blog posts in this series, we’ve been considering this equation:

Social + Nothing = Nothing

Get things right, and you’ll see how you can turn it into this equation:

Social + Business Context = Business Value

You should now have some ideas on how to make social real for your business – in a way that adds value. By the way, if you have a thought-processing thread you’d like to bounce off someone, connect with me on Twitter: @aleaper

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