Prinzessinnengärten: A great metaphor for Social Business

One of the greater challenges of Social Business is convincing people of its use. You can talk about engagement or even happiness, but these are hard to grasp concepts.., and maybe even harder to measure (although not impossible).

prinzessinnengarten social business metaphorNo, what you need is a good metaphor to show people what can happen if you put social in your business. The Prinzessinnengärten in Berlin is such a metaphor. It shows the power of an idea backed by action and cooperation.

Nomadic Gardening

The idea is not that complex, as most ideas are. Create a green epicentre in an otherwise concrete void. And make it a social hub for the neighbourhood to congregate.

From the Prinzessinnengärten website:

Imagine a future where every available space in big cities is used to let new green spaces bloom. Green spaces that local residents create themselves and use to produce fresh and healthy food. The result would be increased biological diversity, less CO2 and a better micro-climate. The spaces would promote a sense of community and the exchange of a wide variety of competencies and forms of knowledge, and would help people lead more sustainable lives.

Having low environmental impact helps with acceptance and eventual permissions from a council.


Finding a place in Berlin might not be that difficult, I don’t know, I’ve never been to Berlin. But, Moritzplatz has been a concrete wasteland for decades. There’s an underground station and a busy roundabout. A perfect place to create a green haven.

To work they went.

With fans, friends, activists and neighbours they cleared away rubbish and cleaned up the place. Making room for their mini-utopia. Without digging up the concrete they put down mobile planters of various sizes to grow, well, anything they want.

The Metaphor

Prinzessinnengärten is a social hub (like your Digital Village), it’s a place where the neighbourhood can come together to discuss the goings on, or just have a some small talk.

The creation of Prinzessinnengärten was also a joined effort, there had to be principal support, money had to be made available and permission had to be obtained. Without this, you do not even have to try, your efforts won’t get far. You could just start and go at it, but changes are you run out of money, or you get stopped by officials for not having proper permits.

The growing of food (fruits and vegetables) takes quite a bit of knowledge. Sure, plants know how to grow, but to get a good and healthy harvest takes considerable effort (I know this for sure). This knowledge has to be learned and then shared with all participants. Not unlike your knowledge base or wiki, which is available and editable by all employees.

Your Business

Chances are that throughout your company social hubs already exist. This can be around the water cooler, clubs set up by employees, employees bound by a project or product and of course departments, even a floor can be a social hub.

If you would be able to connect these hubs, or to retain there shared wisdom. To support these efforts via company policies. To turn all this cooperation and sharing into something more valuable, more sustainable. To have your employees talk and work together on problems which exist on their floor, department or project.., problems within your company.

Wouldn’t that be worth looking into? I think it is.

A decision is nothing without action: Céline Schillinger

One of the “things” about Social Business is a (more) open and flatter organisation. This leads to another “thing”; equality. There are laws against discrimination, but that doesn’t automatically mean there is equality.., especially gender equality.

Celine SchillingerCéline Schillinger noticed one day that something was not quite right with her work environment. She noticed that the people who managed and who got promoted were “all the same, all white, all scientists or accountants, all suits and all.., men”.

Her (correct) conclusion was that she had no future in the company, and because of their mono-culture, the company didn’t have a very bright future either.

Companies need to be much more flexible and diverse to cope with modern society.

Old School

Now, as far as I know, there wasn’t really a plan to keep women out of management, although, of course, plenty of decisions have to be made to create a culture like this.

These stem from a (very) old school of thought.., and if nothing or nobody challenges this. Well.., nothing changes.

And in days-of-old this would not have been a problem, but in the Age of Social, it is a non-sustainable situation.

Céline noticed this and stepped up to do something about it.

A Call to Arms

Well, it might not have been that extreme, but it sure had a rebellious effect throughout the company. A movement was born.

Now, I’m not going to recite the entire video, I suggest you watch it, no, I urge you to watch it (you find it at the bottom of the post).

However, I do want to stress the point that any thought or philosophy is nothing without action. You can ponder and meditate on a problem, have meetings and discussions and finally come up with a solution. If this solution is not followed up by action, it’s not really a decision.., it’s just words.

Social Business screams for action.

Another Social Adventure

In the true nature of Social, Céline kicked of a new adventure for many within her company, and not just women, but men too.

With just a single email she set change in motion. A change maybe hoped for (the motivation behind her email was clear), but what happened was not expected. The email was send to the CEO, but shared with 3 female colleagues and they reacted. The email is what they needed to take action. It went viral throughout the company with magnificent consequences.

The Movement

wisp:women in Sanofi PasteurAs with many good revolutions, a movement was born. WiSP: WoMen in Sanofi Pasteur

Both men and women have joined the network which currently holds over 2,400 members. It’s already worldwide and is now expanding beyond the corporate network.

I want to end this post with the same quote Céline ends her talk with. I believe it embodies Social Business in a very special way. The quote is from a WiSP member:

How WiSP changed my life.

I’ve realised how much women share specific ways to behave, such as perfectionism, modesty, which prevents us from pushing ourselves forward, a lack of self confidence. I’ve read interesting articles which helped me develop new skills. I’ve discovered inspiring TED videos, Twitter, and very interesting information that is useful in my professional and personal life. I’ve come to meet many great people from other parts of the group that I wouldn’t have met in my daily life. I’ve made new connections and learned from others. It helped me overcome my fears and act.

So, my advice is; develop your skills and network, embrace social media, and above all.., trust yourself.

The video below was shot at EuroComm 2013.

“Why? Social Business” – My E-book

UPDATE: The 5 day give-away of my E-book has ended. I can say it’s been a tremendous success. So much so that I don’t want to disappoint you, so if you still want a free copy, you can sign up (and get 60 Pieces of Blogging Advice too), or just get your Kindle copy for only a couple of bucks.


When I realised that the various jobs I held over the past had some major social business elements in them, I started to take the term serious and started digging into it more and more.

Eventually leading me to write Why? Social Business, a 33 page E-book explaining why a business should get on this train. I wanted to make the “why” crystal clear for me and anybody who’d read the book.

why? social business ebookMy first real moment where I could name “Social Business” was when I saw an interview with Mark Fidelman, done by Dino Dogan. Mark had written a book; “Socialized!: How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social (Social Century)“, and the way he described it fitted perfectly with what I had in my when it came to social and business. At least in part.

Add to that (mandatory reading): “What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences” by Brian Solis and “Social Business By Design: Transformative Social Media Strategies for the Connected Company” by Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim and the image becomes crystal clear.

What I learned was that Social Business is so much more than just implementing a tool, a piece of software or adopting a social media platform. In fact, technology (and social media) is only the enabler. It’s people who are the driving force behind a Social Business.

The philosophy of a company needs to change, the mindset. For some companies their whole way of thinking and day-to-day routine must change. These are some significant realisations.

It’s still business mind you. There still has to be a ROI, the changes still have to be lead to results. I would not go as far as saying it’s a project. A project, by definition has an end. Social Business doesn’t “end”. It’s something you do. Sure, the implementation of a specific tool, or the change of a workflow are still projects.

It the long run, social business will become business as usual.

Why? Social Business

Why Social Business E-book
Why? Social Business

Back to the book and this post. I asked Mark Fidelman to write the foreword of my E-book. Mainly, because it was he who opened my eyes and I wanted to thank him for that.

“Use this book as a jumping-off point to spark your company’s dialogue about social business. Bring it to the higher-ups, and show them why they need to adapt… or else risk extinction.”

– Mark Fidelman

The premise of the book was to help those who are wondering what the heck we’re all talking about. The buzz around SocBiz is tangible, however, I still have the feeling that few know what it entails. I can imagine many mid- and top-level managers would love some answers, a rough guide if you will.

This is not a ‘for dummies’ book and it’s not a complete field manual for transforming your business. I too have learned form others.

I wrote about Geoff Livingston’s personal exodus, and however this is not a novel, nor in print, nor a quadrillion pages thick.., it was still a tour de force. It forced to write down all my wandering thoughts into a coherent (and readable) format.


For the next 5 days I’m offering my first E-book for free to my readers. In fact, if you know anybody who might benefit from this book, let them know, so they can get a copy too, then go ahead. Don’t forget to claim this wonderful find for yourself. Your friends will think you’re just awesome!!

I am proud of my work (can I say that.., sure I can). I’m very content. I didn’t write it to become rich, I am a pragmatic realist (yes, that helps with Social Business too). But, I do want to share my achievement with the world, with my readers and friends.


So.., there it is.

All I ask in return is let other people know about it and if you wish, leave a comment or a rating on Amazon.

Also, feel free to leave a comment, I’d love some feedback.

The books

Below are the books I use, which are my reference (these are affiliate links, if you don’t want that, click on the links at the beginning of the post).

I added “Why? Social Business” because, let’s face, it looks mighty cool.