Blue Eyed Sun

Blue Eyed Sun - gorgeous greetings cards

What is ORS Network Thinking?

What Is ORS?

My ORS journey began in 2009 when I started experimenting with social media and bought several books on the subject, one of which was by an entrepreneur called Penny Power (called Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me). Penny and her husband Thomas Power founded one of the first social networks for businesses in 1998. Called, it built a sizable number of users in the UK and was a forerunner to LinkedIn, which was recently purchased by Microsoft for $28 billion.

Penny’s book led me to the video below of Thomas talking about a concept called ORS or network thinking and the shift that organisations and businesses have to make to achieve success online using social media. ORS appealed to me and I thought that Thomas was onto something recognising the shift from institutional thinking to network thinking online.

I also think that ORS thinking is natural for so many people in the card and gift industries, particularly for newcomers and millennials.  If you don’t fit into these categories it’s worth paying attention because it’s these new ways of thinking that are disrupting business models around the world.

After meeting Thomas at the Sage Summit in New Orleans for the first time last year we have become friends and he was gracious enough to accept my invitation to speak at the Giftware Association’s Members Day, at which I recently became Vice-Chairman of the GA. I introduced ORS to the GA two to three years ago and we are currently using it as part of our strategy to modernise the organisation.

What is ORS?

The shift from institutional thinking to network thinking is marked by the shift from Closed, Selective, Controlling thinking (CSC) to Open, Random, Supportive thinking (ORS).

Sitting at board level, Thomas noticed that organisations operated in a closed, selective and controlling way where directors are responsible for corporate governance and to their shareholders. In institutions you have to operate behind closed doors to protect the organisation, you have to be selective about what you absorb and how you communicate and you have to be controlling of everything. This is driven by the demands of public policy, shareholders, staff and the law. It’s institutional thinking or CSC.

This is very different from how we operate inside of networks where we need to be open, random and supportive (ORS). You have to be open and accept everything that comes at you, you have to be random and accept the disorder that things come at you and you have to be supportive of everyone around you. That’s networking thinking or ORS.

Thomas believes that we are transitioning from institutional thinking to network thinking this century. Having undertaken this journey himself he reckons it takes around ten years to adjust. He’s even devised a tool where you can assess your digital personality type to see how easy or difficult it might be for you to make this change. You can try it for free at:

Why ORS?

As social beings we all know the benefits of having a good network of friends and acquaintances. Interestingly, studies have shown the benefits to be more powerful in the secondary network than those closest to us. That new job offer or business opportunity is more likely to come from a friend of a friend than one of your buddies for example.

In the 1990’s British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. Dunbar’s Number proposes that on average most of us can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships with our current brain size (the number lies in a range from 100 to 250). This is the average number of people we know on and keep social contact with. It doesn’t include those we have ceased a social relationship with or that we know but lack a persistent social relationship with. The bigger our long term memory size the higher the number is likely to be. Assuming Dunbar’s number to be correct and assuming that we appear once in our close friends’ networks then the average maximum number for most of our secondary networks is 22,350 (150x149).

With social media and other forms of communication this number can be much higher. In a nutshell you can maintain more active relationships than before and from there more secondary relationships and opportunities open up. In order to do this successfully we have to build trust. To do this quickly and effectively we have to be open, random and supportive.

The Fear of ORS

Thomas trains board level executives in how to use social media effectively and, as he himself knows from experience, it’s not an easy journey to make. Even though I regularly practice being random and supportive for me it is a continuing challenge to be more open.

That’s because being more open can make us feel more vulnerable.  Being vulnerable is often perceived as weakness (particularly in the board room). Yet it is our vulnerability that is our strength. Through it people can see us for who we really are and begin to trust us. As TED speaker Brené Brown says:

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage...  The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you it’s courage. In me it’s weakness.”

The fear we have of being ORS is that people will confirm the terrible idea which we may have about ourselves that we are somehow not worthy of connecting with. In its darkest manifestation it’s a fear that we are not really loved or loveable.

The one thing that keeps us from connecting with one another is our fear that we are not worthy. It seems easier to protect ourselves by being closed, selective and controlling.

ORS is really about looking within and challenging this fear. We must be courageous enough to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart. We must recognise that we are imperfect and let go of our illusions (or delusions if you prefer) of control.

If you consider your feelings for a moment,we cannot live a full life keeping by treating them in a closed, selective and controlling way. You cannot numb these feelings. If you try to numb pain you numb joy.  If vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity and love then you can only really spread this through an ORS approach and it’s practically impossible to do so by being CSC.

The Change

We see ORS more and more online these days. The CEO that admits to the failings of their business publically and sets out how they will change to try and prevent these things occurring again is the one we trust over those that try and cover or hide their mistakes. There are business leaders that support new start-ups and the TV personalities that talk openly to random fans directly on Twitter.

The truth is, in the new world of social media we are already naked and bare before the world whether we like it or not. Even if you personally aren’t online there are people online talking about you or wanting to engage with you (Just take a look on TripAdvisor). We can no longer hide, even if we want to. We have to be courageous and unafraid. We have to step up online and have courage.

The companies that aren’t afraid to make mistakes, ask for feedback, listen to us (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant our questions) are the ones that are thriving and growing. These are the businesses we all want to buy from. These are the companies that millennials are drawn to.

It’s important to qualify that not everything has to be online or open. We don’t necessarily post all of our trade secrets, accounts or patents online (although this has been happening in some industries – think of open source projects like Linux and Wikipedia).

For my own part, writing this monthly column in Progressive Greetings magazine and this blog where I explore my failures and challenges publically has been a big part of my ongoing ORS journey. I've also started a YouTube channel called The Greeting Card Project which explores the nature of sending cards and supports our industry.

The journey towards continues...

9 Tips for Social Selling using Social Media

Learn the importance of being authentic online

How to get started with Digital Marketing