What can Socrates teach us about Social Business?

As well as being immortalised as the guy with the beard on ’Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ We all know Socrates is a Greek philosopher but what is less known is that his innovative approaches are still making a mark in today’s digital world.

As I was writing this blog I researched some links and noticed a few other blog posts looking at Socrates and how his thoughts can be applied to Social Media.  For this blog I wanted to focus on  ‘social business’ instead which can also learn something from his methods.

His main technique was not to give the answers to his pleading students and followers but to ask them questions instead. He found that they learnt more this way. Socrates once said, "I know you won't believe me, but the highest form of Human Excellence is to question oneself and others."  In face his methods were so powerful that he was reportedly sentenced to death for ‘corrupting the youth’. Luckily for a lot businesses today Hemlock has gone out of fashion and we as a society, we have embraced his ideas and are implementing them more than ever.

Socrates’s inventive questioning methods can be used today in as a device for building social businesses. Here are 3 ways that it can impact and improve your collaborative business:

Innovation has been described as improving product, service or business model   . Due to the current climate companies are being more proactive with innovation, rather than wait till business starts to tail off many are now thinking how can they do things differently?

 Innovation starts with either a dissatisfaction or a motivation often with a question;   ‘What if…?’ ‘How could we improve our service if we could ….?’  ‘How can we redesign ‘this’ for the 21st century?’  This is a process you can do with both your employees and your customers. User-centred design has been common for a number of years in certain sectors of the business world and increasingly is going mainstream. Don’t wait till things stop working, continuously think how you can make your business better. 

CRM: There is a lot of very good bloggage about brands listening to their customers, finding out what they want, what they are not happy so I am not going to go into a lot of details here about that. It is common knowledge that a good social CRM strategy can uncover  & resolve problems quickly,  find positives, what is working well and what is not working.  However, an even braver but effective way you can work with your customers is by asking the questions up front  ‘How can we do better?’ .'Tell us about your experiences with our company..’  Being open enough to ask for the good, the bad and the ugly, if the proper processes are in place, can really improve the way your business works.

Business strategy - What is less often talked about is how to listen to your employees and create a collaborative business strategy. Building environments both on and off, asking the right questions, can enable your organisation to work more effectively

Just like Socrates, who believes ‘I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.'  Smart CEO’s and Managing  Directors are beginning to realise this and are seeking answers by asking questions to their employees as well as their customers as the knowledge and problem solving capabilities exist in every corner of their company.  Some of the companies that employ collaborative approaches include Ericsson, Cisco and Hewlett Packard.

Hand in hand with all questioning techniques  is active listening. There is little point asking questions if you are not listening. It sounds easy enough but anyone who has had to listen to a toddler for long periods of time knows how exhausting listening properly can be. What you are listening to is what is being said, how it is being said and what is not.  Employed together both questioning and listening can be a powerful twosome that can prolong the life of a company and make the old man with the beard proud. ‘Party on dudes!’

picture by Ian W Scott