Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is a reasonable number of contacts in your social network (2)?

This is the second post based on a keynote I presented at the 10th annual RiiM conference in Paris on the beginning of April 2015.

The previous post looked from an anthropological perspective for clues how to find the right balance between the quantity of contacts and the quality of relations. In the age of Social Selling, imbalances can lead to wasted efforts and mitigated results.

The neuroscience perspective
A monkey or ape belongs to a social network if it maintains grooming relations with other members of a clan. The main reason for maintaining grooming relations is however not to keep it each other’s fur clean. The action of grooming releases endorphins which are a “feel good” hormones. For humans verbal exchanges can have the same effect.

A researcher in California has discovered in one experiment that human interactions via electronic “social networks” release oxytocin, also known as “cuddle hormone” thus causing “good feelings”. Interactions in cyberspace can thus have similar effects as interaction in physical social networks. Physical proximity and the unity of the moment for the exchange seem thus not to be a prerequisite to produce the “good feeling”  From this perspective, human interactions in physical and electronic social networks can be of similar quality

In another study, a correlation was found between the use of electronic “social networks” and the concentration of gray matter in three areas of the human brain. These three areas are though different from the areas being active when having interactions with physical social networks. With their findings, the researchers are though faced with a chicken and egg problem. Does the concentration of gray matter enable the use of electronic “social networks” or causes the size of the electronic “social network” an increase of the gray matter in these areas. As mentioned in the in the last post, we therefore cannot yet answer the question whether the cognitive limits determining the  size of physical social networks can be overcome with electronic “social networks”.

Why does this matter?
Skeptics might jump on the discovery that the use of electronic social media releases the “cuddling hormone” and will see the danger that the use of electronic “social networks” can cause addiction and can thus negatively impact work productivity.  We touch here also on a generation issue.

For Millennials, who grew up with those electronic tools, the danger might be considered as particularly high. A recent article on the HBR Blog however, suggests a positive interpretation of the oxytocin effect. We might have to take into consideration that the oxytocin effect makes Millennials, through their use of electronic platform, to natural team workers.  Millennials, at the stage of their brain development, seem also to have a higher tolerance and a higher integration capacity of multiple streams of information. The tools (smart phones, tablets etc.) that Baby Boomers might see as elements of distraction, are considered enablers for collaborating and innovating in real-time by Millennials.   
As a lecturer in a Master program for Strategic Sales Management at a German business school, I remember a recent anecdote to this effect. One evening, around 10 p.m., one of the groups, discovered, that they were missing a photo of an essential flip chart we had developed in class a few weeks earlier. As this hindered their progress on a work assignment, they used WhatsApp for an enquiry with their other class mates geographically dispersed over Germany. They were able to find the missing photo within less than 10 minutes and also proudly told this to me (a Baby Boomer).

What are the consequences for sales managers?
Millennials are getting things done differently than Baby Boomers. Teams composed exclusively of Millennials should therefore be held accountable for the outcome of their activities. How to get to the outcomes should though be their free choice.

The successful interaction between Millennials and Baby Boomers being it in customer-seller or in work relations poses some coaching challenges:
  •  Millennials are more willing to share information and to collaborate. In interaction with Baby Boomers, they are very sensitive about the reciprocity of sharing. If they feel their willingness to share is abused, collaboration will become difficult. Young sellers have confide to me that they often feel that older colleagues tend to abuse their willingness e.g. to share customer contacts. They also feel that older colleagues hide information from them.
  • Millennials tend to use electronic “social networks” at a higher intensity. As long as we do not have scientific evidence that human brains can adapt to larger electronic “social networks”, intensive users of social networks and Millennials in particular, need to be monitored for distraction effects which can hamper work productivity. Should negative impacts on productivity occur, we should keep the Dunbar number as a guideline for the amount of people with whom they interact frequently in electronic “social networks”.
  • Millennials need guidance for productive interactions with Baby Boomers.  In my experience with my students, I found that they are more receptive to systemic approaches focused on the underlying mechanics of human interactions than on simple recipes how things should be done. They are interested in the “Why” and doubt whether just imitating “How” Baby Boomers do, or have done it, is still an effective approach in the rapidly changing world.  

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