Groundswell: A book review by Bob Morris

GroundswellGroundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Harvard Business School Press (2008)

Note: I try to re-read at least two books a week that I first read years ago and am glad I do because there is always some material I failed to appreciate previously. The rock-solid ideas in Groundswell (published in 2008) offer a case in point.

How can groundswell thinking help to achieve success in a “flat world”?

What Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff characterize as “the groundswell” is “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other instead of from companies. If you’re in a company, this is a challenge…[This trend] has created s permanent, long-lasting shift in the way the world works. This book exists to help companies deal with the trend, [begin italics] regardless of how the individual technology pieces change [end italics].”More specifically, Li and Bernoff respond to questions such as these:

What unique threats does the groundswell pose?
How to turn it to competitive advantage, “like a jujitsu master”?
What are its component technologies?
What is The Social Technologies Profile and what does it offer?
What is the four-step POST process for creating strategies?
What are the five primary objectives for a groundswell strategy?
How to create customers who are evangelists for you?
How to establish and support relationships between and among your customers?
How can the same trends that empower customers also empower employees?

Throughout their narrative, drawing upon a wealth of data accumulated by Forrester Research as well as their own studies, Li and Bernoff include a number of real-world examples – in the form of mini-case studies — that demonstrate key points. They offer lessons to be learned from Mini USA, the American arm of BMW’s Mini Cooper brand (how to listen through brand monitoring, Pages 89-93), Ernst & Young (how to communicate in social networks, Pages 104-106), Hewlett-Packard (how to communicate with customers through blogging, Pages 108-112), eBags (how to energize with customer ratings and reviews, Pages 134-140), Constant Contact (how to energize by creating a community, Pages 140-145), the Lego Group (how to energize an existing community, Pages 145-147), and BearingPoint (how to use a wiki to reassure clients, Pages 165-168). Granted, not all of these lessons are directly relevant to a reader’s own organization. However, they help to create a context for each key point as well as a frame of reference for what Li and Bernoff describe as a “permanent, long-lasting shift in the way the world works.”

They conclude this brilliant book by offering some advice, not on what to do but on how to be: ever-mindful that the groundswell is about person-to-person activity, a good listener, patient, opportunistic, flexible, collaborative, and humble. Guided and informed by the information and counsel provided by Li and Bernoff, readers will be able to formulate and then execute strategies to achieve a competitive advantage. “You’ll be able to build on your successes, both with customers and within your own company. And then, as the groundswell rises and becomes ubiquitous, you will be ready.”

Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Rob Cross and Andrew Parker’s The Hidden Power of Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations. Also Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management (with Bill Breen) and Ram Charan’s Leaders At All Levels as well as Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution co-authored by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson, Richard Ogle’s Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas, and Global Brain co-authored by Satish Nambisan and Mohanbir Sawhney.

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