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Ringing Bells: Finding Our Way Through New Experiences

Written by: Bill Sherman on Friday, 18 December 2009, 5:18 PM

In New York, Improv Everywhere creates urban-based improvisational events that transform everyday experiences into the unexpected.

They’ve done some amazing theatrical work with freezes in Grand Central Terminal and wedding receptions. Imagines dozens of people walking through the train station and suddenly coming to a halt as living statues. However, let’s look at one of their most recent activities: The Guerilla Handbell Strikeforce.

The video of the event will produce surprise and delight. However, the behind the scenes story is equally worth your time to read. Note how they were able to confound the expectations of the Salvation Army bellringer, the store employee, and even vehicular traffic. This planned event was not as random as a flashmob. It was carefully planned and orchestrated. Yet, from a viewer’s perspective, the event seemed random and spontaneous.

If you watch the video carefully, you’ll see many bystanders stop. They take pictures and smile, but they do not know whether to applaud or toss coins in the red bucket.

We’ve entered a similar world within the world of social media. While most people have embraced netiquette for e-mail, social guidelines for other tools–such as Facebook and Twitter–often produce bewilderment.

* What should you do when your mother/father sends a Facebook friend-request?

* Is it appropriate to tag someone in a photo without their permission? (Some people mix colleagues and friends on their FB)

More importantly, companies have had to wrestle with the concept of social media within the workplace. Just like e-mail, social media isn’t going to vanish within the workplace. You could try to ban all social media, but that’s a near-impossible folly. Recently, I was interviewed for an article in HRMagazine, “Twittering and Facebooking while They Work” by Jennifer Taylor Arnold. Companies need more than just a policy for social media, they need to create segmented training for different learning audiences.

Imagine a company where some Baby Boomers still wrestle with their e-mail accounts while a young team of Millenials post their latest party pictures online. They’re two very different audiences with different needs and questions. You cannot put everyone through one program and expect both comprehension and compliance.

While the company needs one policy, they also need a basic course to explain “what is social media” and “what can/can’t I do with my account at work.” ¬†Importantly, technology has increasingly eroded the barrier between work and life. We can stay connected with friends and colleagues at work, and yet, our smart-phones push work e-mails to us 24/7. A casual Facebook update by an employee can inadvertently reveal crucial information about a company, its business plans, or its product lines.

Our ability to network and communicate has grown faster than our ability to produce social norms. Many of us are “winging it” as we go. We attempt to integrate social behaviors from previous experiences into new and unfamiliar contexts. Sometimes this solution works well, and sometimes it fails spectacularly.

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