How to Solve the Problems of Social X

I wrote this post before on deciding what is the problem we are trying to solve with Social X (where X represents media, CRM, Business, etc.).

Today I want to take a few moments to tackle something that is a pet peeve of mine: how to solve the problem you have identified.  There are two schools of thought to solving problems: pragmatical and academic (at least from my perspective, I am sure someone can point me to 1,200 more models — but in my experience in the business world, one of these two is the approach chosen).

Pragmatical, my choice, focuses on what has worked in the past, how it has worked, the lessons learned, best practices gathered and applies all of them to a new problem.  I did not say you attack each new problem the same way — that does not work.  You just take the lessons your learned, deconstruct the new problem, and figure out how to use what worked before in this new problem.

Academic is the one that bothers me (I am being honest here).  Yes, there are excellent pieces of research produced — most of it via observation and scientific methods.  The vast majority of them were great conclusions of specific studies that were done at some time in the past 5-10 years.  In controlled situations.  Looking for a specific answer.  Knowing what the results would or should look like (stop me when you see the flaw in this reasoning).  In other words, if the world was perfect and we could simply produce the best possible scenario for each of these studies – we could replicate them and get the same benefits.  Maybe.

Alas, the world is not perfect.  A study that proved that in 2005 a group of retailers that applied a new theory of managing relationships got a 20% increase in sales is not likely to be applicable today.  Not only has the economic situation changed, the retail industry has changed, the technologies we have available have changed — even the way we understand retail and customers has changed!  How do you expect to have similar results?  Or even close?

Besides, as the Generation C (or the Social Customer if you don’t like Paul Greenberg’s description of the generational shift we are undergoing) changes the way the interact with organization and the balance of power and control changes — don’t you think the previous theories will prove to be wrong under these new settings?

Of course, the cynical in you is asking, other than ranting — why is he going on-and on about academic versus pragmatic?  We are reaching an inflection (sorry – 1.0 term, the 2.0 would be tipping) point in the market and this is the time when knowing what to do becomes critical. Action driven by knowledge of what works is essential to success.  And what works in a new, unproven model is not what worked before.  Simple, ain’t it?

So, where to now? Easy.  Let’s collect the war stories (lesson learned, best practices, choose the word that you like best) from those who are doing something right (even those that did something wrong and learned from it) and begin to build a collective knowledge of what this new thing is and how to solve the problems.  Let’s be very pragmatic about it, if it worked once it is likely to work again in somewhat similar circumstances.  If it did not work the first time — well, it could still work under different circumstances.  As my friends in Montana like to say – if you don’t like the weather now, wait five minutes.  In other words, if it did not work before, wait for a change in market conditions and try again.

Through all this change keep in mind one thing: this is a business transformation  — we are writing the theory that will be proven by academics and then drive business for the next several decades.  At the very least, have fun doing it.

What do you think?  I am wrong in claiming that there is a difference between academics and pragmatism? Are we really transforming the business and searching for new models?  Would love to hear you thoughts…

10 Replies to “How to Solve the Problems of Social X”

  1. Hi Esteban,

    You’re right, and not. The way I see it, and treat it, there is value in pragmatic approaches, as there is in academic research, even if the latter is conducted in controlled environments.

    I do not agree that academic research is looking for the results we already know. Academic research works with clear hypotheses and then conducts research to see whether they are true or not. Most academic research reports I read contain many hypotheses proved wrong and some proved right. Always academic research will address shortcomings in their own research. All this allows you to form an objective opinion, which cannot be said of most pragmatic research that is available.

    Having said that. I do see that academic research is following ideas and practices of the pragmatic world. More and more academics are connected to the pragmatic world and in close interaction. This influences their research for sure. And that is a good thing. Because we cannot only rely on biased research conducted by pragmatic research agencies that need to sell a simple message.

    Furthermore, if you take a good dive in academic literature (which is easily accessible these days through e.g. ) you will see that there is lots of research emerging on topics we discuss in the pragmatic world every day. research on things that we make assumptions on, and research conducted with “real life” data, which is coming available in rapid pace.

    To conclude: yes, there is a difference, and yes the world is changing. It is a myth that academic research is not connected to the real world. I suggest you balance both worlds to get good support for the theories and assumptions you have, or not. And I think it is even a good idea to make an effort to connect to the academic world and shape their hypotheses, so that we can have some solid proof, quickly.

    As far as your call for war stories, I’m fully with you. There are some good ones out there already (like there is very relevant academic research), but we need more!


    .-= Wim Rampen´s last blog ..The Only Thing your Social CRM Strategy Can NOT Do Without =-.


    1. Thanks Wim,

      I am not advocating a perfect system, but one that has worked when “shooting from the hip”. Rapidly evolving markets demand rapid action, which is based on what worked yesterday — not on what worked last season. Even at the most basic level, our pre-historit ancestors learned about hunting in winter while hunting in winter, could not apply summer lessons to it. By next winter, they could reuse that knowledge, but it was useless unless applied in proper context.

      While I don’t discard theories and academics, I chose not to use them as a solution. There is value in building knowledge from what you have done in the past, and it can help to build the battle plan — but as Sun Tzu said – no plan survives contact with the enemy. Plan, yes — but learn from battlefield lessons on how to make it work.

      Advocating that a theoretical approach is the answer is almost as wrong-headed as saying that only best practices will work. There is room for both, I agree, but when in battle it really does not pay to remember what was learned in the classroom, adaptation is the key. And adaptation is aided by best practices, and pragmatics, when based on theory. Alas, I can assure you that when in the battlefield, more than one theory has been abandoned in the line of fire — when in trouble, instinct trumps learned behavior.

      Anyways, not willing to take on a philosophical debate, just saying that my experience and history has proven that in rapidly evolving situations best practices are proven to work better than theoretical models. As much as I joke about my position as an ivory tower dweller, I am keen to get down from it and observe what works in the real world, then adapt my positions from it.

      Thanks for a thoughtful post, and one that made me think.


  2. Esteban,

    First – your friends in Montana need to come to Vermont, where it went from 60 and sunny to now 2 inches of fresh snow on the lawn!

    I agree with Wim, there is a need for both. I think that in some areas research is beneficial, but maybe not at the leading edge of the adoption curve. In other words, so much is changing so fast that it is quite possible that the type of research required is just not there.

    There is another type of approach which is circulating – maybe even too prevalent, you referenced the article yesterday on Twitter, the Wired article Do You Speak Statistics, by Clive Thompson. Here is the issue: “Granted, thinking statistically is tricky. We like to construct simple cause-and-effect stories to explain the world as we experience it.” The problem is that a lot of people are influencing others by their experience and being vocal.

    All I am suggesting is that we need balance and word of caution. I like lessons learned (hate the term best practices), but we need to make sure that the vocal ones, the ones sharing those lessons learned are thinking beyond ‘it happened to me therefore it is a huge problem’. When that starts to happen, people look to statistics and think academics.

    Happy April Snow!



    1. Mitch,

      Thanks for the comment. Agree with the fast moving environments concept, and as I said to Wim, equate it to a battlefield. I also welcome your word of caution and embrace it. The antidote to “snake oil salesmen” is to use caution and call things for what they are.

      I never advocate a perfect model, just one that I have seen to work in a rapidly moving market. I welcome theory to form a base for my knowledge, but would never take a theory to practice as the only solution. Lessons learned are what drives my actions, for what worked yesterday in a similar instance to mine will more likely work today – as opposed to what worked in a tightly controlled environment some years back.

      You are not the first one to hate best practices, nor the last one, but we use the term to refer to working practices (at least I do) on their way to become theory to be studied and adopted. Lessons learned talk to a more dynamic model where what we learned is applied but still debatable as as “best practice” or not.

      Alas, not about definitions — but about what works and is used.

      Thanks for the great comment.


  3. Esteban –

    Interesting debate. I agree with Mitch and Wim that there are benefits to both aprroaches/viewpoints/imput (academia vs pragmatic), and I agree with you that, imho, there are differences.

    At the end of the day though, I agree with you, that the adoption of Social X is more dependent upon the pragmatic side – the successes and failures – the war stories from businesses actually attempting to solve the problems.

    FYI: I second the nomination that the world would be better off if people understood statistics – both its advantages and limitations.


    1. Scott,

      I had a feeling you’d agree with C Thompson’s position (as do I) that knowledge of statistics is paramount.

      There is one point that I may not have expressed correctly in my position above and I see reflected in your comments (which I much appreciate and agree with). There is room for both POV in any chosen solution, but a dynamic changing environment demands quick action based on results, not a desire to adapt the situation to a established model. This is what is critical to me.

      Most academic studies were conducted in tightly controlled environments and proven to work. Alas, Loyalty exists and Satisfaction is easily manipulated, both proven via research. And we should use that to guide decisions — but when faced with a dilemma while implementing, take what was proven to work yesterday over what was proven to work in a different environment. Pragmatics wins over Academics, but does not replace it.

      This is the key point I was trying to make and I hope it comes through.

      Thanks for the great comment — go stats!


    1. Yes,

      and the statement was that we are writing the theories with best practices, lessons learned, war stories, etc. and THEN academics will take them, dissect them, prove them (right or wrong) and write about them so the late adopters and laggards can use them.

      All things being equal, I wasted only 3 years of my life in economics — then went to finish CIS in one year just to get out of there (it helped i had done most of the work already in Argentina and simply had to take the classes and take the tests to easily pass them).

      Thanks for the read!


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