Worlds collide – Constructed reality according to Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer’s symbolic interactionism

shutterstock_112730734Why is it sometimes hard and sometimes easy to get people/employees adopting or even accepting social software, tools, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business transformations? Why are there resistance and support for tools, processes or applications in our ambition to drive change for good and clear benefit? Maybe these problems and questions are created by us because we are looking and acting from a certain point of view. We might be prisoners within our own reality. Our own world exists because we are sharing same experiences, set of words and meanings. But have these special sets the same meaning or value for other people or the people within the social entity of a company. A company by its own is a cultural and social construct. Within this construct employees – humans – act as social subjects. The question is: Are we capable to share our reality with the reality of the employees?

Let people do it

Okay this topic will be some kind of a theory exploration. I got the idea for this from the last via Google Plus – A very good and intense discussion regarding the topic of adoption and change within Social Business and Enterprise 2.0 transformation processes. At a certain point the participants talked about how to approach employees with the social software and the whole set of the transformation process. One single utterance caught my attention.

In rough words: If you provide the tool/process/application people will use it and get used to it.

This argument was underlined with the trust in people’s curiosity and their realization for value and benefit of these tools/processes/applications. The argument relies on the common sense of employees – a very good approach.

But, and here is the point where my experience and the experience of many others collide with this utterance. If you just put it there in place and wait until people realize the value and benefit of Enterprise 2.0 applications you will end up with ghost towns and scorched earth.

shutterstock_135053897Technology curiosity

The argument was further supported by the example of the adoption and acceptance of the telephone within the business and work aspect. People get use to the phone within their private lives and adopting the benefits of it at the workplace. The argument goes on and claims that the same process of transformation and adoption will happen in regards to Enterprise 2.0 tools, applications and software.

Again a counter argument appeared within me. The telephone was introduced at a time where technology and technological advancement was not as common as today. The telephone was a revolution within a time where tech was on a very low density level.

Today the tech and the processes of Enterprise 2.0 appearing in a world where technology and advancement of technology reached a very high density level. We have a huge variety of solutions and tools we can and have to choose from. We are overwhelmed by technology. We are suffering from the so called filter failure. Too much technology within our world and within our reality.

Constructed reality

So at all the argument was not valid for me.But why? I am an advocate for trust in people, the common sense and the self-awareness of the human being. I love the idea of the human as an explorative and creative individual. And right here my mind began to connect some dots from my time at the university, from my time handling and experiencing different sociological theories. I was thinking about George Herbert Mead and his successor Herbert Blumer. Mead layed the basement for Blumers social theory of symbolic interaction and the symbolic interactionism. These three premises providing the foundation for the theory:

“Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things.”

“The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society.”

“These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters.”

With these assumptions the theory goes on and say at a boiling point:

Reality exists because we share sets of words, values, meanings and ongoing processes. Within our groups and societies these sets are nearly the same. So the reality is constructed from the overlapping spheres of individual and cultural realities.

shutterstock_130780646The constructed reality of company

At this point my exploration will get into contact with the symbolic interactionism. I assume that companies have their own realities. We know that companies have culture. Therefore the have certain sets of values and even words and meanings. These sets differ from our sets – not so much but they are different. People, employees have learnt and lived with these sets over a certain period of time. They are used to the sets. These sets have approached and being approved during interaction with each other within the society COMPANY.  So the company has a reality of its own. The people within this company living, at the point they are part of the company, with these sets and using it with in their interaction, work and creating processes. And here world collides. Even if we try to fit certain value sets, translate words or describe their meanings it would not fit the reality of the company, not for 100 percent. We have a gap between realities. This might sound abstract but it might give a reason for the lack of adoption and acceptance and for the different levels of support and denial of Enterprise 2.0 tools, processes and applications.

Only a scratch of surface

This exploration should only be a primer for further thinking and creativity. Maybe we should dive deeper into the topic of the symbolic interactionism. Maybe we should consider different approaches to change and communication. Maybe we doing certain things right, right now: We integrate huge variety of experts within our transformation teams and we get used to their value sets, word and meanings. But we should be more aware about the different realities that exist within a company and in the interaction of the company with other realities. We might also consider to integrate another sociological approach and theory: The systems theory by Niklas Luhmann.

At this point I would like to close the circle of this exploration by supporting some key elements of the above mentioned discussion. Within every change process and transformation we must rely on three human factors:

  • Trust
  • Common sense
  • Curiosity

They should be part in any initiative. They are success factors for the whole transformation approach toward a Social Business and an Enterprise 2.0 initiative and process.

Go on and tell me if you see the connection toward symbolic interactionism and the construction of reality.  I would very much appreciate your point of view and your approach to this exploration.

Picture sources: Shutterstock

About the author

Sebastian Thielke

Sebastian Thielke

Sebastian Thielke ist Junior Consultant bei der Eck Consulting Group und entwickelt strategische Konzepte für Social Media sowie Social Business und Enterprise 2.0. Seinen B.A. in Kommunikationswissenschaften und Anglistik schloss er erfolgreich an der Universität Greifswald ab. In Zusammenarbeit mit OZEANEUM Stralsund GmbH schrieb er seine Abschlussarbeit zum Thema Enterprise 2.0 und internes Microblogging. Bei der Engel & Zimmermann AG schloss er seine Ausbildung zum Junior PR Berater ab. Die umfassende strategische Integration von Social Media und Social Software sowie die Schulung von Unternehmensmitarbeitern stehen im Fokus seiner Arbeit. Er ist Wegbereiter und Wandelbegleiter im Transformationsprozess von Unternehmen zu einem Social Business.