We see that many traditional organizations are betting that Social Technology is the key agency for making the shift to being a network. Their hope is that if all the employees are socially connected that somehow everything will be different.
But, so far, there is no sign that all this investment in social technology has made any difference at all. There is no change in the top down controlling culture. There is no change in the silos and there is no change in the customer relationship.
Above all there is no change in the core business proposition.
Merely connecting people in the old context does not work.
What is missing? I think what is missing is any sense of what the journey really is. What is the starting point? Where is the goal? How do we get there? What is missing are the maps and the navigational tools.
This story is about the power of Network Mapping.
I offer you the story of the transfomation of a public TV station in St Louis, KETC, to the Nine Network.
Of course while the maps are central, the real primary driver to this kind of transformation is leadership and situational context.
So let's go back to 2006 and the beginning of our story. For the context is important too. The core business model of the station and the economic viability of its market were fading.
In 2006, KETC, Channel Nine, was one of the most viewed PBS stations in the system. But the station was in trouble. The traditional model of "Give us money because only here can you see good quality content" was losing its power. The core economic value of the station was losing its currency. So was the St Louis itself. Once one of the great cities in the US, St Louis was the mid west version of the rust belt. The city was losing its economic power.
Simply working the old model harder would not work. There had to be a new business model that did not rely on broadcast TV and something also had to be done to turn the economic corner in St Louis itself.
In this context, the board looked for the person who had the experience and the courage to do something really new.
They found the right candidate. A man who could do the novel but whose age and experience also meant that he generated trust as well. Jack was in his late fifties and had vast prior experience in TV and radio. He was also a known innovator. He was also a native son of St Louis. He would be coming home to his last job. This would be his legacy.
No CEO can do this kind of work without support from below. Unkown to him then, this person was waiting for just this opportunity. Amy Shaw was the Community Manager at the station. She was buried in middle management in a role that was seen as nice to have in most stations. "Engagement" was a go nowhere position then. But what this meant was that Amy knew everybody in St Louis and she knew how to get things done without relying on power.
The work of transformation began with the Jack asking the right question.
In 2006, KETC was "Important" for St Louis. How could he make the station "Vital" for the city?
For "Important" was not going to be good enough for the station to survive and to thrive. What was the station equipped to do that would make it "Vital" and so attract the support of ALL of St Louis both rich and poor?
To answer the question, he had to "See" St Louis with fresh eyes. We used the brilliant work of Valdis Krebs to visualize the situation. We used Krebs' Mapping Tools to Locate the core problem and the core opportunity. Here is the actual set of slides we used in 2006 to develop the strategy.
Krebs lived in Cleveland. A city much like St Louis that had once been great but was in decline as industry is everywhere.
Krebs showed us the goal on the right. A critical feature of the success of Silicon Valley is how connected it is. It is alive! Krebs then shows us Cleveland on the left. The city had fractured. Trust and connection had been lost.
Jack saw that St Louis had suffered the same fate.
There were great communities still in St Louis. There were great institutions. But they had become disconnected. In decades of the downturn, trust and cohesion had been lost.
If they were connected up again in the right way, St Louis might become vital again. The agency that helped to make these connections would itself become VITAL.
But who could be this trust agent? Jack saw that KETC could be just that. It was already owned by the community. It was connected not only to the wealthy but also to the middle class and to the poor. To whites and to the African American Commnity.
If any organization could be the Trust Agent, it could be KETC.
From this one insight came the new idea behind the station. It was to use the trust that the station had gained over a generation of service and take on the role of a "CONNECTOR".
KETC was going to the a Connector that would reconnect St Louis to itself and then reconnect St Louis to the world outside.
Jack knew where he had to go. But now the problem was how to get there. How was he to change how everyone worked and also how everyone related to each other?
In 2006, KETC was a typical PBS station and it was a typical organization. It showed national programs from the network locally. It also made a few local magazine shows that talked about St Louis. It was organized traditionally. The CEO made all the calls. Each department was a silo. Inter departmental issues were decided by the CEO. It was operationally slow. It also knew next to nothing about the web or about social media.
Krebs showed us a process that could enable us to do this. This process is all based on a fundemental character of a natural system. They are all fractal. So the very small is a model of the very large. What this means in practice is that if you try out something very small that fits the network model, you have practised the eventual goal. If you then set up a series of projects that build on each fractal, over time the new becomes your new normal and you end up at your goal.
So the process that you will see below, using Krebs' diagrams, is what we found to be the key to understanding the tactics of making the shift from a traditional organization to a network. We start with a tiny internal project that costs no money but that puts the key staff into the new framework. On a small scale, they learn by experience, like riding a bike, how the new works and what it feels like.
They learn by doing.
We then learn what we did wrong and make changes. And then we do it again but now with a larger project. We keep repeating this until the internal team now can do this naturally. We then start at the beginning again and add new partners. We take the fractal out of the internal to the outside. When this is normal, we take the model out to the national system.
This was the process. This is now what we did.
We looked for a small project. The project would be a tiny fractal of all the change that we knew we had to have.
We found it in supporting Ken Burns' documentary - The War - We set up a small committee chaired by Amy Shaw that brought every department into the same room. We also added some very young interns who had all used social media and blogging. (The full story is here).
This team had to work across the silos and up and down the hierarchy. It was fun to watch the interns instruct the old film veterans in the skills of blogging and the use of the Flip camera. It was an eye opener that Jack refused to settle disputes and forced them back into the room. It was great to see Amy blossom in her role as facilitator.
We set out to ask St Louis to tell us their stories of the War and we created a site where we posted them and we created a physical space - like the Antiques Road Show - where we could collect them face to face. We wrapped the documentary with St Louis stories. We brought our audience INTO the story.
Along the way, KETC learned a few important lessons. How to use the web, use social media, how to use new editing tools, how to work accross silos and how to work without the CEO having to do it all. St Louis also saw KETC in a new light. They saw the station putting the public onto Public TV.
We had learned enough to go to Krebs' next stage.
In late 2006 the Mortgage Crisis had hit St Louis hard. What we noticed was that it was all but impossible to find help that people could trust. Knowing what we had learned in The War, we asked ourselves, what if we could connect most of the helping agencies and set up a trusted resource that would help all St Louisans in this terrible time. Might this approach be seen as VITAL?
This is what the station did.
KETC was the Weaver that made the connections to the support agencies and helped weave them into a network. And as KETC wove, the nodes started to talk to each other in a new way. As we did this, people in St Louis started to see the station with new eyes. Most whom KETC helped were not our traditional viewers. As we did this, those with influence in St Louis also saw this new side to the station and wanted to help too. Most importantly for KETC, those in power in PBS and CPB backed the experiment. For they had the intuition that this role might be the right role for all of public media.
All the while, the culture was changing in the station. It was now becoming normal to work across the silos. It was becoming normal to use the web and new video editing tools. Social media was now normal. It was normal for an intern to be the lead on a project where she had the expertise. It was normal for people to have solid working relationships up and down the ladder of power. It was normal for the CEO to ask a junior person for advice.
None of this was driven by any social platform. What did take place was that all the key staff moved into one common bull pen. Everyone was face to face in their daily lives.
It was the work and it was the success of the work and how the work was felt in the city that helped staff accept the new. There is nothing like being stopped in the supermarket and having someone hug you for what you are doing to reinforce that this change is good. There is nothing like having a man walk in off the street and give Jack his medals as a token of his gratitude.
With this local success, the leadership of public TV asked KETC if they could take this Mortgage project nationwide. Over 26 cities with TV and Radio took part. And the same things started to happen there too both nationally and locally. The new work changed the people.
The Fractal effect works!
By this time at KETC, the new had become the normal. No one was going to go back to work in the old way. Emergance had taken place. Emergence is like when a small child connects enough words and can make all the right sounds and then one day just starts talking in sentences.
Since then KETC and many stations have taken this idea as the Trusted Local Community Connector as the core of the work to make Public TV vital.
Nine have even set up a school to help people learn how to make videos. Really helping the community to have its own voice. Nine also incubated the Beacon - a network of Journalists who now work at St Louis Public Radio. And talking of St Louis Public Radio, traditionally public TV and Radio do not get in well. But in St Louis both stations now work next door to each other and share a "Commons" between them - a public space for shows and exhibits. (More here)
KETC has transcended just being a TV station. The transformation had taken less than 3 years.
Here in an article run by The Current - the trade Newspaper - is how KETC was seen by its peers by 2009.
Of course Downton Abbey is still important. But that is nice. It is this role as the Trusted Facilitator that can help communities tackle very complex problems that is where the public support is coming from. This role is making Public Media vital.
But without the ability to "See" the work, I do not think that any of this could have been imagined or done. For if you cannot "see" where you are or where you need to go, or how to get there, you must surely be lost.
And here we owe Valdis Krebs our thanks.