Historically,  access to the right organizations gave you access to power in the form of  jobs, scarce resources, social prestige, security or money. That’s the impetus behind the fictional Mark Zuckerburg’s desire to join an exclusive social club at Harvard in the recent release, The Social Network.  Although this doesn’t appear to be a factual statement, it makes for a great subplot and dramatic juxtaposition to the power that can be achieved simply by understanding and using digital tools like  social networking.

Mark never makes it into a club, but….it turns out he didn’t really need their help after all. He instead aligned himself with something much more powerful…a whole new way to communicate and organize information.

“America in the 20th century was called a “society of organizations.” Formal hierarchies with clear reporting relationships gave people their position and their power. In the 21st century, America is rapidly becoming a society of networks, even within organizations. Maintenance of organizations as structures is less important than assembling resources to get results, even if the assemblage itself is loose and perishable.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review.

While many still perceive social networking as a form of entertainment, the mavericks, who will rule the future, are the individuals who use these tools to build stronger companies, pull in scarce resources and build solid but dispersed networks for organizational progress. Allegorically,  think of a cattle rustler in the American West where the individual with the fastest lasso wins. What matters is the ability to harness the rich data at your fingertips. Restricting your staff from using social networking while at work, is analogous to throwing their telephone out the window or taking away their pen or computer.

The holy grail for the future is to get them the training they need to harness the tsunami of information and resources headed their way. If your team doesn’t understand how to use tools like  LinkedIn, Google Docs, Facebook, Basecamp and Delicious for conducting research, collaboration, storing and retrieving information or building business relationships you’re already behind the curve.