web 2.0

The Future of Social business is paved with (good) intentions.

Social Business is an Intention

Cross posting from CMSWire

There is no such thing as a social business. There’s Enterprise 1.0 over there, and Enterprise 2.0 over there, and we’re all somewhere between the two and some part of that is Social. Embarking on the journey from there to there is to form an intention. This intention can be about the way we want to engage customers. It can be an intention of creating a richly connected workforce so as to reap the rewards of agility, resilience, problem solving and innovation that such a workforce is capable of.

It is about realizing that the power of command and control is great, but limited, and we have reached that limit. It is about realizing that the capabilities, ambitions, insights and preferences of people that have been largely ignored in the 20th century will not be ignored in the 21st, in part because technology has redistributed a little power from corporations to consumers and the workforce, and in part because you cannot command and control your way through the pace and complexity of 21st century business and society, and, to quote a beloved fictional character, “the only way out is through” (bonus marks if you leave a comment with his name).

Intentions are different from goals or missions

Jony Ives narrates this lovely little video about why the next iOS will be flat, not bubbly. This is not simply a matter of taste and sophistication. It is a matter of intention.

In the video he says “Design defines so much of our experience. There is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity and clarity and efficiency … its about bringing order to complexity.” What Jony is saying, is that they did not set out to “change” the UI. They set out to bring order to complexity, while honoring simplicity. The difference between goal and intention is subtle but important. Intention is a permanent state of seeking, it is never achieved, but always honored. A goal says – I want a new UI, or I want to solve a problem, or I want something that will make it clear that this iOS is really different an innovative. A goal has an end state. Goals are good, but they are not intentions, and, unlike Social Business, they can be achieved.

Intention says – I do not know what my journey is going to look like, but I have certain qualities and ideals in mind. Intention puts your focus on the outcome, not the method, or really the goal.

Do you play tennis? If you remember learning to play, then you know that if you try to hit the ball – connect the racquet with the ball – you whiff, but if you put a laser focus on the ball and you swing your arm, somehow that ball gets hit. This is the power of intention. It lets the right things happen without examining them overly.
(It’s an act of faith that is reinforced by the delight in seeing the shock in your husband’s eyes as his ball comes back to him with equal power. But I digress. Actually this theme of faith comes back again and again when we’re talking about complexity, emergence and social. That is because we can’t explain it – at least not in rational, reductionist, cause and effect terms. We can only know it. This is an excruciating state of being for biz and science types, but is a leap that must be leapt. This is both why we crave and why we can’t have the ROI calculations we seek. We can only look for correlations between social-ness and top line performance. We can’t find cause and effect. We are epidemiologists, not chemists. ok. really, now I’m done with this. for now.)

Intention means that every step is both unrestricted but well informed by the truths you can find – that good products are better than bad products. That good products are the result of knowing customer needs and applying talent against them. That respecting the voice and convenience of the customer is a good investment. That there is no executive in your organization that is one fraction as smart as the rest of the org combined.

Perhaps my favorite exposition of intention is an old ad about a faucet. Yes, Kohler did a double bluff on the theme on pretentious design aficionados who come to a pretentious architect and say “design a house around this” – evoking the idea that they so admire the tacit design principles in the faucet that they want a house that embodies those same qualities – some of which are nearly impossible to articulate. So they can’t be goals. They are intentions.

Intention is a very long view approached by a series of very short steps.

If your intention is to be a social business, and you have a vague notion – and it can only be vague – that a social business will be more profitable, more resilient, more interesting – over the next 50 years, and that your customers will love you better, and your employees will love you better and magical emergent innovation will fall from the sky, and you will, finally, get Lew Platt’s wish of knowing what we know – or at least being able to benefit from what we know, even if we never actually know it.

If you’re lucky, you were “born social”
We have been through frameworks, processes, and models.We have been through half a dozen years of theories, pontificating, genius and foolishness. We have platitudes, and attitudes, (both entirely skippable. 140 char has its dark side). Many of them have merit and application in certain circumstances. but as a whole they build a holistic and visceral understanding of the intention, if not the defnition of Social Business. We have learned a few tangible-ish things, however.

The first is that while some companies are born social, it is very hard to become social – but it does happen over time. We see this in narrative-lead consumer companies, like Nike and Levi’s, and in (some) places where knowledge and collaboration are fundamental (but not Law. Social and seven-minute accounting don’t seem to mesh). The way they get there is by taking a zillion little steps toward something. The something they are moving toward is a little hard to explain. They hire the right people. They make decisions in slightly different ways. They try stuff knowing that whether it works or not, it has taught them something, in some form of David Snowden’s
multiple parallel safe to fail experiments.

Many successful CEOs declare that they believe social is a better way to do business, and they summon the courage to go there and figure it out on their way. Some businesses – like John Stepper’s Deutche Bank – find pockets of value in social technology, that enable certain departments to thrive, without necessarily becoming a social business, at least not yet. IBM has been on its journey longer and larger, and it may have more momentum than many.

How do businesses become social, really? In 2001, Jim Collins wrote in his book “ Good to Great” that good businesses do not make the leap to great all of the sudden. It is not a strategy or a project or an investment or an initiative that does it, but rather an aggregation of steps in the right direction. He makes this analogy, and, in truth it’s the main thing that really stuck with me from the book:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. It’s a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It’s about 100 feet in diameter, 10 feet thick, and it weighs about 25 tons. That flywheel is your company. Your job is to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible, because momentum—mass times velocity—is what will generate superior economic results over time.
Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward. After two or three days of sustained effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work, but at last the flywheel makes a second rotation. You keep pushing steadily. It makes three turns, four turns, five, six. With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point, you can’’t say exactly when—you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.

My point here should be clear – a social business is one that has set a social intention and takes many, many steps, which, when properly aligned and examined, lead inexorably to a “Social Business” that is able to enjoy a more humanistic, sustainable, profitable, innovative, emergent form of business.

On the one hand this is simple aggregation of effort. Every positive step is amplified by the next one.
But on the other, we Another invaluable William Gibson quote – the future is here it’s just not evenly distributed – is WHY this works. To understand this, you must realize that there is not ONE future that is here, but an infinity of them. Each step opens up a new possible future if it works, if it takes, and sets off a chain of events that lead somewhere. Our goal is to make as many “intentional” possible futures as we can. We cannot know in advance which of them will take root and take over, but we can ensure that they are imbued with desirable qualities, that they are taken with the right intentions. A don’t be evil type of intention (that is reexamined often.).

The Best argument yet for Social/2.0 connected business.

Social Business = Intention = Seeking = Networking = Innovation

If you are still casting about for reasons as to why connected companies are more valuable than unconnected companies, you need to watch Ricardo Hausman’s lecture on person-bytes, which he applies to countries, but you will be wise to think of in terms of enterprises. And you will quickly realize that 1.0 leadership is leaving too much opportunity on the table because the number of person-bytes – the breadth and complexity of capability the enterprise can address – accessible by 1.0 Enterprise is far less than what Enterprise 2.0 can leverage.

Let me say that again, because I think its pretty big and you might have missed it. Enterprise 1.0, with command and control, is limited in its capability by the intelligence and capability of the Executive team. The executive team has most of the accessible person bytes in the company – though they can use others in simplistic ways. In 1.0 enterprises, the workforce is there to amplify the capabilities of the executives. Looked at another way, Executives are the constraint. After a certain point, it is the executives that restrain growth and capability because the organization cannot amplify what the executive can’t see.

In Enterprise 2.0 power and capability flows the other way – from the network to the leadership. In Enterprise 2.0, executives (leaders) inquire and align collective intelligence and capability. They can access the collective capabilities, resources and observations of the workforce and beyond. They can build businesses with greater person-byte potential.

Hausmann shows that not only are those products that require more person-bytes more rare and valuable, but they lead to richer adjacent opportunities. Person-bytes aggregate via proximity and connection. You don’t have one kind of expertise – say in manufacturing phones – and then suddenly have a totally different kind of expertise in oil exploration – unless you’ve discovered some link between the too.

Social, networked companies can build more complex – more person-byte – products, and grow expertise and advantage more reliably than those that can’t. Hausmann’s data is based on national economies, but if you look at it the connection will be instantly clear.

The Road to Social Business is Paved with Intentions. Make them good.

We are all somewhere between the two – between a 1.0 business over there – and a 2.0 business over there.
If you are looking for practicalities of social business/enterprise 2.0 next, you can read some of the lists and frameworks I’ve written myself here and here.

Just remember this. A framework is an invitation to think, not an excuse not to. Its a way to organize your thoughts. None of us will travel exactly the same path to a new business paradigm, in the same way that none of us have traveled the same path to profitability and success. There is no path, there is only intention. In a world where notions of business, privacy, identity, civil rights, labor, morality, war and peace are all disrupted, let us please make them good intentions.

The best is yet to come.

zen-of-new-business

Enterprise 2.0 and the decisions we haven’t yet made

Image

What will 21st Century organizations aspire to?

I know that my phone and my credit card are spying on me. I am certain that this is not a good thing, and yet I choose not to think about it as I continue to live my ordinary life, occasionally wondering if we’ll all eventually have to turn to the Amish in the post-apocalypse as the last remaining community of people who actually know how to do anything.

But as business and society, we really do need to examine the contents of our pockets and make some decisions. Our technology, if not our instincts, are enabling us to connect and monitor each other, ourselves and the world around us. Business needs are driving us to seek out new models for growth and efficiency, and our humanity is driving us to find more ways to ensure prosperity for individuals and communities – its an awesome thing.

But its going to be complicated. Perhaps I have read too much sci fi, too much 20th century Orwellian angst-lit. We know the next generation of organization (and society) is going to be super connected. We want this to be so. We want this to democratize and meritocritize, we want to leverage the true capabilities and aspirations of the work force. We want organizations to be more “unified’ – but what does kind of “unified” do we want? What will it look like? Is it all rainbows and unicorns?

Back in 2009 David Armano was trying to express his theory of social business, and among other things he had this notion of “Hive Mind”. It was clear that a) David was onto something – but even he was not really sure what, b) that he was a brilliant illustrator, and c) that “Hive Mind” creeped me out. My imagination drew an ugly Borg-like picture. A totalitarian construct. I’m sure that’s not what David meant. So what do we mean?

If we must now reject the “well-oiled machine” metaphor for business, it would be handy to have something to replace it with. Machines, no matter how well-oiled, are  incapable of the agility and complexity business needs to thrive. Further, people are not cogs in machines, and why would we want to be? So the mechanistic model fails both the business and the humanity test. We are individuals and communities of staggering complexity  – how will we use that to achieve what is currently beyond our grasp or imagination? What is the metaphor of the 21st century, humanistic, connected, buzzing (but not seething) organization?

We will choose – with intention or without. If we are building a world of possibilities, we want the better ones to prevail. We will have a hand in what dominantes, and so we have to recognize and prepare our choices. There will be ambiguity. This article on Disney’s idyllic, planned community - asks if its “Cool or Creepy?” This will be increasingly difficult to answer in many contexts.

Organizational design for Century 21 – more than one metaphor.

In the last couple hundred years, business and government have been dominated by hierarchical, command and control structures – though there have been some other models. Family models, some decentralized models (the ‘bad guys’ have taught us some things about decentralized control) – but hierarchies are so ingrained in our society as to be barely questioned.

Now we have “Valve” – a purely self-directed organization (that I still need to understand better). We had the “Occupy” movement and Crisis Commons, Wikipedia, and of course Arab spring – and perhaps one enduring organizational theme of the future will be purely emergent organizations. But other than Valve, none of these has an ongoing, durable organization designed to deliver value in a sustained way – a way that can bring economic prosperity to its members. I do not quite believe yet that the Valve model will dominate, though I hope that model will become better understood and more frequently used.  Leadership and vision will play an enduring role, and leadership that can activate the potential of other people will dominate organizations of the next epoch.

In all likelihood, we will have two or three enduring models, ranging from purely emergent to purely directed,  that will hopefully bring greater diversity to the types of problems we can solve, and the types of people who can make breakthrough contributions.

As new structures slowly emerge, we need to think about 5 things. We need to assign societal values to each and ultimately determine whether we are building Big Brother or a chance at universal self-actualization.

1. Free Will

A command and control hierarchy is ultimately about discipline and submission to authority. Free will is intentionally constrained. Do what you are supposed to do, and do it well (or else). The Borg epitomizes this same end, but through a networked and decentralized model rather than a hierarchical one. I’m thinking its not the direction most of us actually want to enable.

Zen translates to “direct understanding”. People have spent thousands of lifetimes understanding what that means, but at a novice level, it means un-intermediated learning. That there is a direct relationship between all things, and that you do not need the wisdom of others to guide you to see it. There is no official holy book of Zen. But there have always been those farther along the path, and they have often served as guides for others. This may be a new model of leadership. The wise guide still pursuing their path, willing to help others.

The new networked organizational collective, or “Connective”, in its ideal form, will give each person “direct understanding” of the ecosystem. In fact, as we discuss complexity, and emergence, it may be that “direct understanding” is really what all this design thinking and system thinking is really striving for.

But free will is limited. Often by our understanding of our own culture and paradigms. This recent, brilliant rant by James Altucher is hard to ignore. It describes the illusion of free will created by a society whose patterns leaves only an impression of choice. He’s not the only one to share this view. Some sound bitter and angry and, frankly, nuts. But others are increasingly difficult to ignore. Our society – for all its greatness – has ingrained patterns of behavior and decisionmaking and for better or for worse, its not easy to see beyond its assumptions. But things are happening and what worked before may not work forever, and we have some collective thinking to do.

Technology that democratizes expression, learning and even production can give more people more free will and opportunity to self-actualize than ever before. This appears to be our human aspiration and destiny. But this combined technological determinism and “solutionism” will take us places we haven’t imagined yet. Caveat emptor. We should not go blithely forward without at least attempting to understand what we want society to become. Somewhere between 1984 and The Matrix are some truths we need to explore.

2. Connected Decisionmaking – power, sense and consensus

Decision making is increasingly complex as sense-making is increasingly complex. We have the opportunity to understand so much more now than we ever did, but our ability has yet to catch up. The challenges of big data (did any of you miss this classic chart of murder rate vs. internet explorer market share? Big Data gone goofy.) and collective organizations – where expertise, authority and awareness can be widely distributed – are holding us back. To some extent, this is addressed by our increasing ability to re-act rather than anticipate. This is learning, doing, failing fast – but still and all, action requires decisions. Some organizations will always need more explicit decision making than others (think governments and armies for instance) at least for some decisions.

Gordon Ross wrote a great piece on the nature of power in Networks. He warns that we will eventually need to move past our warm and fuzzy view of organizations and power as purely shared, and realize that while power is not strictly zero-sum, power and equality and egalitarianism are not easily and purely balanced. Some will be more powerful than others. THat means that we need to better understand the nature of power, and be thoughtful and more deliberate in how and when we allot, distribute give up and attain it.

3. We are Cyborg

Since humanity first picked up tools, we have been enhancing our biological capabilities with man-made constructs – eyeglasses for example (which I now need). Google glass is just another step in a long path here. My favorite, too-often quoted Gibson description of the internet – “our continually improving, communal, prosthetic memory” describes the internet, but also suggests that it will be a lot more intimate than it is now.

We are augmenting ourselves in biological, sensorial and cognitive ways- and its  a great thing. I have a couple extra parts in my knee that were not original equipment. My first job out of college was writing code to test an artificial ear (which is now in use, I’m proud to say). We will soon have visual analogs of cochlear implants that let the blind see.

Google Glass, even the iphone and this latest “personal environment monitor” are giving us constructed ESP and other capabilities. And I don’t think any of us will resist it. Why would we? We absolutely want our doctors to have Watson, as I want new eyeglasses to read with.

Two or three generations from now people will wonder how we made do without these things in the way we wonder how people managed without central heating and telephones. Our grandchildren will consider us medieval. They will create PBS reality shows of people trying to survive with bare eyes and no broadband in their human operated cars.

But ESP and complete connectivity lead us to another wickedly complex topic:

4. Privacy

Here’s my question. Need we begin to consider what life and fairness means in a post-private society? Will our connectedness and our rapidly increasing dependence on digital technology for all of lifes transactions inevitably lead to a society with no reasonable expectation of privacy? At last fall’s TEDxMidatlantic, Alessandro Aquisti gave a tidy demonstration  of the fact that our privacy is an illusion and that our identities and personal information are available to those who want them. Will this return us to small town values where everyone knows everyone else’s business? Would that be a good thing?  Will this be humanizing or dehumanizing? What of our “rights”? What of our security or independence?

What will that mean at work? Will our actions be perpetually scrutinized? We of the “knowledge worker” class may feel we are free from the nightmares of keystroke analysis and time scrutiny of “management”, but will our next decade increase everyone’s work-freedom or diminish our own? Will we spread enlightenment or contract it?

5. Choose. Now.

These questions may not seem like core “Enterprise 2.0” questions, but I assure you they are. We are building new business constructs and free will, privacy, decisionmaking and even a reexamined notion of what it means to be human will be profoundly affected and will profoundly affect those new businesses. We cannot know that Visa knows if we will divorce, possibly years before we do, and not decide whether or not that is ok. Will having fully quantified selves, customers and teams means that we rush past the humanity we were trying to unleash? We must face what we’ve put in our pockets.

We cannot predict the future, but we can choose its flavor by making fundamental declarations, and basing the rest of our decisions on those simple, powerful truths.

Do we believe that competent, well qualified people will do the right thing given the opportunity? Do we believe that we can help people see and pursue opportunity and capability where they haven’t in the past? Do we need to reframe the right to privacy debate? Do we believe that societies and organizations thrive based on cooperation or social darwinism? How do we skew toward one and not the other? Do we believe that control is the same thing as power? Do we believe that work people believe in is of value to both shareholders and society? Do we believe in ourselves?

We hold these truths to be self evident. In the United States we have found that it is the embrace and examination of the values set forth by our founding fathers that have endured our few short centuries. Will we and in what way will we need to reimagine the values – business and otherwise – of the next few centuries.

(The best is yet to come)

Slide3

Find Your (corporate) Greatness

 Nike again showed its marketing (but not just marketing) genius with this ad developed for the 2012 Olympic games. This ad takes the “if you have a body you are an athlete” tag line and takes it even higher. They remind us that greatness is not the stuff of legends, but within reach of every single one of us. They reinforce this message in a series of ads, one showing a chubby boy, against a dramatic sky, doing his best, finding his greatness. You can’t possibly watch these ads without feeling something.

Now Nike happens to make sporting equipment and clothing that are high quality, trend-setting and pricey-but-within-middle-class-reach. If every person in the world were an athlete, then they get to sell more of their products. So it’s a selfish aim, right? Strictly shareholder value, right?

Purpose and Narrative

This just one example of how a corporate purpose can be both very, very profitable, while also creating value and prosperity for its customers. A great corporate purpose or mission statement expresses the value the company is committed to creating for its customers. It creates a magnetic alignment within the company and the market around that value. People within the organization are now rowing in the same direction, orienting their creativity and energy toward a common goal – without sacrificing their intelligence, skills or capabilities for the sake of consistency. Markets (‘people’) get excited and want to be affiliated with the brand. They seek out the products, and are delighted when the products deliver on the mission. They’ll often even be loyal enough to get past some flaws and stick with the brand as it tries to achieve its mission or purpose (i would always use the word “purpose” but I’m concerned about unintended religious overtones, so I’ve been fussing and fiddling with “mission” and “purpose” and would appreciate your thoughts on which is better, or if there is another term that would be more descriptive).

What Nike is also demonstrating, very beautifully, is that they do not just have a purpose (which their website declares to be “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*. (*If you have a body you are an athlete)”), but they have a powerful narrative to go along with it.

Not just purpose, narrative

In fact, purpose and narrative are strongly linked, but not the same thing. We can cite examples of companies that have powerful narratives, but less clear purpose, and those that have powerful purpose, but unclear narratives. Those in the former category are rare – it is tough to have a strong narrative without a clear purpose. Those that do, are generally companies where the purpose once existed and has been lost, or those that have hired great agencies that build narratives independently from the real company. This is where marketing got its evil, manipulative reputation. But people are more savvy now, and truly good narratives, like truly good ads, aren’t common.

There’s quite a bit of great stuff out there on why purpose matters. It matters to your team – tied with leadership as the key catalyst to employee engagement – now widely considered the key to accelerated corporate performance. It matters to the market – when competition is so fierce and the field so saturated, it turns out to be purpose that people gravitate toward. They want to buy you, not your widget.

We can look at the purpose/narrative progression as a 2×2 matrix, and can show examples of each. Take a quick look – where are you? How would a clearer purpose change your company? How would a clearer narrative change your company? How would it change the world?

Not just narrative, purpose

In the enviable top right quadrant, we have the Leaders. You know who these companies are. They are the Nikes, the Apples, the IBMs (IBM is especially interesting as a company who in the last five years or so went from a bottom-left “Lost” to a top-right “Leader”.)
In the top-left, we have the “Marketers” I know several tech companies (that I won’t publicly name) in this quadrant, but I’d also add most junk food companies, several automobile manufacturers, clothing lines, many consumer goods manufacturers, service providers and retailers (Gap).

In the lower left, we have the lost. The lost are primarily hustling to make quarterly numbers. That is their only decision-making criterion. Their marketing is not very effective, their sales cycles are long and unpredictable, their employee engagement is low, their product quality is suffering, and they are generally unpleasant to do business with. Many of these companies once had a clear purpose, if not narrative, at one point, but somehow lost it along the way.  A couple of airlines come to mind, some technology and energy companies. Many are small companies that grew large.

In the lower-right, we have a small, fascinating set of companies. These are companies that have an intrinsic purpose that they are delivering on, but can’t quite articulate. Many highly innovative companies  – especially tech companies – live here. Think about twitter early on – or Reddit – they had some fanatical loyalists, but ask any of them why it was so great, and you got a lot of stuttering. One could say that the entire “social” marketplace still lives here to a large extent. There is one local tech company that I am a big fan of – they have an incredibly powerful approach technology and they are making a lot of money – but only two or three guys in the whole company can sell the product, because they are the only ones who can convey the tacit value of the company and what differentiates them from their competition. Their fans adore them, but they can’t quite cross the chasm because they lack a narrative that connects with a broader market. They recruit their team very, very carefully, and indoctrinate them with a longbreading list and a very strong culture – all good, but very tricky. They see themselves as a small band of brothers (with a few sisters thrown in) who are, in many ways, superior to all they see.

They aren’t necessarily wrong. Such companies tend to have charismatic personalities leading the way, standing in for mission. We are not quite certain as to whether Apple’s mission is clear enough to withstand succession from its charismatic founder to its COO. Check out this recent Apple ad campaign (thanks, Siobhan). I’ll let you judge the merits. An ad, of course, is not a mission, but Apple recently had to reveal its generous marketing budget, (really, we already knew they were spending serious money, didn’t we?) and an expensive ad is generally a company’s best shot at expressing its narrative.

10 Extraordinary things.

This is a list of links to talks, videos, slides, infographics and blog posts that have raised the bar for marketing, or fundamentally impacted my thinking. These are precious to me, and I hope that something here will move you as it did me.

1. This is the most beautiful, and most important talk I’ve seen on business and marketing this year. Michelle Holiday on Life and Business.

2. Mark Fidelman is very smart and has superb visual design skills. Here he channels his frustration at a bad airline experience, and his social business savvy into a nicely presented and critical bit of research showing that employee satisfaction is a major predictor of customer satisfaction.

3. An economist describes why we can’t build a toaster and why that’s a good thing. New concept: Person Bytes as measure of national capability.

4. One of my more popular blog posts was translated into French! My Enlightenment 2.0 article in French. It was a big deal for me. The original English can be read here.

5. You have seen or read a parade of things that claim to tell you how to be more creative. This is the only one I’ve ever seen that resonated with me as truthful. Creative discipline.

6. In the face of unspeakable misery, an ingenious solution, and an advertisement. Will I start drinking carbonated beverages?

7. Nike gave us a most incredible example of what social media and mobile can do for people – and marketing.

8. David Brooks, The New Humanism. Honestly, I haven’t read enough of Brooks’ work to even take a stand on his politics, though I understand that they may not resonate with my own. Nevertheless, this piece is outstanding for its beauty, insight and sumptuous new vocabulary words.

9. Chrysler completely reset the bar for advertising at the Super Bowl. While everyone else was hocking day-glo colored chips with fart humor, Chrysler elegantly tapped the angst, spirit and aspiration, of one of the hardest hit parts of the American economy . Stunning.

10. Happy Rambles – sends me an email at 8pm each night. So just before bedtime, I have the chance to ask myself, my kids, my dinner guests – what are you grateful for today? Thank you, Happy Rambles, for the habit of gratitude and the pleasure of reviewing our year through this filter.

The amazing speaker series – Part One – Simon Sinek

This speaker series has been amazing. Not just for the people who’ve spoken, or even the remarkable gatherings of people who’ve come, or the generosity and insight of the dozen or so bloggers who’ve written about it. This speaker series was amazing because it has taught me more, and introduced me to more people than any other thing I’ve done in my professional life. I’ll write another post properly sharing the lessons and the blog posts, but here I want to focus on the great talks we’ve seen so far:

Simon Sinek was first in Manhattan. We chose Simon to kick off because his message was so acutely aligned with what we were trying to embody and pass on – that purpose matters – to you, your team, your market, your partners, your investors. His talk was also interesting because he took the brave step of stepping away from his standard talk, and opened up about a wide range of topics. Here’s an excerpt. Enjoy his light-hearted but kinda serious link between good business and world peace, and the fact that while Microsoft worries about Apple, Apple probably spends very little time worrying about Microsoft:

Next: I’ll talk aout Michael Edson’s thoughtful view of our recent past, and our immediate present. .

And there’s still time to RSVP to the last event in this phase of the series: Andrew McAfee talks about his new book, Race Against the Machine. Boston, Nov 1: Sign up to attend this free breakfast seminar in person or the live video stream.

Race against the Machine: Will your computer replace you?

Today, Andrew McAfee published a new book with Erik Brynjolfsson. I reviewed it on amazon, and have copied that review below. It is a decidedly fresh perspective on the new business era, and you will not walk away from this book unchanged. In it, he explores the relationship between ever productive technologies, the erosion of personal income, the rise of business profits and the global standard of living. He hints that we may need to reconsider the nature of work, human identity, and the role of technology as economic engine or giant damper.

This is an electronic only book published this way, in McAfee’s words, “because there just wasn’t time.”

Fortuitously, Andrew is our fourth Purpose-Driven Business Speaker. The event is a breakfast next Tuesday, November 1. Breakfast at 8, talk at 8:30. Back on the economy at 10. Please join us – at this free event sponsored by OpenText. it will be a very new and thrilling discussion. I guarantee it. The hashtag, should you choose to use it is #purposebiz.

Oh and the book? at 60 e-pages and $4, its a great bargain, both intellectually, and financially.

My amazon review:

In this short, fast, very well researched collaboration between the economist and the “new society and business” professor, McAfee and Brynjolfsson look into the not too distant past and future and map the trajectory of how technology is impacting and replacing human labor. They remind us of how relieved we were when automated checkout stands didn’t destroy the economy, but point to the fact that driver-less cars are no longer science fiction and the time from impossible to possible was well under a decade. They explore the complex relationship between technology, prosperity, economic growth, human identity and global wealth. The story is clearly told, drawing equally from economic and technology theorists and statistics.

As a society, our savings accounts alone reveal that we don’t exactly thrive on addressing inevitable futures. Global warming, peak oil, etc are tough for us, not just because they are complex issues, but because as a culture we prefer to look away. Reading this sharp work will both have you nodding your head in agreement tha the U.S. is tragically under-investing in education and infrastructure, while at the same time reviewing all of the post-singularity distopic literature you’ve ever read about technology controlled societies, looking for some hint that humanity will win.
There is no doubt that this scant 60 page book will ignite a huge reaction, and leave a lasting mark on the conversation. What happens when the portents of Orwell, Clark, and Asimov begin to materialize? What are we really made of?

Four Wicked Themes for Radical Thinking


What is clear is that change is afoot –  not little “c” change but BIG “C” CHANGE. We are being challenged with new ideas and to see the world differently and to change how we respond and get along in that world. Its not bad change – its thrilling change – if you’re thinking about it the same way I am…

1. Wicked problems

Theme: There are some problems which are so complex and multifaceted, that they can’t be understood by a single individual or even a single discipline. They can’t be broken down into smaller parts because they are so entangled. And the problem morphs as we tuck and prod at it. They require multi-disciplinary teams to work and act as a whole. But this in itself can add to the complexity.(think product strategy, infrastructure or nearly any social or political issue).

Implication: We need to  focus on bringing these multi-disciplinary teams together and enable them create a common operating picture so that rather than expending most of their time and talent at managing their communication and arguing over the problem, they can begin to think together toward possible approaches and solutions.

Further reading: A surprisingly good summary on wikipedia and a superb whitepaper here.

2. The pace of change

Theme: John Seely Brown is exquisitely articulate on this subject. He notes that the pace of change is now such that we can never again expect to have a status quo to maintain, that its not just constant evolution, but frequent revolution – a pattern of constant, punctuated equilibrium.

The first time I saw this theme was in the (kinda rough) 2007 book “Now is gone“. We see it again with the “Fail Fast” meme. The idea here is that We will no longer solve problems so much as surf them.

In general there is the theme that the socio-economic, cultural and geographical make up of the world is changing faster and faster, and that coupled with the exponential pace of technological change, we will be increasingly unable to predict the future or plan for certain events. We will become adept at recognizing trends and adapting solutions quickly to meet the new requirements.

Implication: No matter what we do, it will need to change and evolve, so learning becomes imperative and action becomes a core part of the learning cycle. In fact learn, act, learn, act is now the only meaningful process for either learning or acting. We are not used to this. we think that big problems require big plans. This will be less and less feasible going forward. We will get very good and very comfortable acting in the absence of complete knowledge and understanding and learning, course correcting as we go.

Further Reading: John Seely Brown’s discussion of the Pace of Change. A nice illustration of societies progress here, and this popular and “Shift Happens”, a popular and mesmerizing  video.

4. The extaordinary value of teams.

Theme: We have always known that some teams were better than others, and that a great team was greater than the sum of its parts. This last week, the journal Science published an article demonstrating that teams have a measurable “collective intelligence” and that that CI was not highly correlated to the IQs of the people on the team – but was correlated to the social sensitivity of the participants (a trait often found most strongly in women). A few months prior to that, Andrew MacAfee published an article about some very surprising discoveries in the field of computer chess. The discovery is that amateur players, with basic computers and a good process for problem solving could reliably beat world champions working with super computers. This is a stunning result. It means that Team + Process beats genius and raw power. Holy cow!

Implication: we’re going to be spending a lot of time learning how to build and participate in teams, and on the enabling technologies.  Emotional Intelligence and teamwork will no longer be  nice biz book buzz words, but a vital career skill.

Futher Reading: The Science article is posted here on the Anita Woolley (principal author’s) page. Here’s MacAfee’s article. And Nancy Dixon’s article on leveraging collective intelligence.

5. Extreme Learning

Theme: John Seely Brown (he’s my most recent find, and he’s prolific and tells a great story) says that he’s interested in a “new culture of learning for a world in constant flux”. There have always been examples of extreme learning, but its importance is growing as the complexity of the world and the pace of change accelerates. The nature of how we learn is evolving. Its evolving  in several ways:

- from being something that a teacher “gives” to students to one where a teacher or other leader is facilitating learning among the group. Group learning and action – that of teams is intensely at the heart of progress.

- from being passive to active – doing is the new learning. The advent of new media has put the means of production and distribution into the hands of nearly anyone – we are all “Makers“. This is why we need to get over the idea of “fail fast” and embrace experimentation as learning. Doing is learning.

An amazing result that was posted a few months ago involved another wickedly hard problem – that of protein folding. Proteins are the building blocks of most living things and most medicine works on interacting with them in some way. The interactions are based on the structure of the protein – which is amazingly complex and hard to figure out. Protein folding is a wicked problem. We’ve applied super computers and Biochemists to it, but some nuts made it a massively parallel game – lay people playing with these structures. It turns out that these game players working together at it are better than the supercomputers and bio-geniuses. Learning is doing – with others – joint action.

Implication: The implication here is that if you are not connected with a group of people who are working through the problem with you, and enabling joint thinking and joint action, then you are at a significant disadvantage.

Further Reading: MacAfee’s report on the Fabulous Folding Problem. John Seely Brown’s stellar talk on “A New Culture of Learning“.

What are your wicked themes? Please  add to my list of references on these topics, if you can. If you have good ones, I’ll create a public wiki for everyone to benefit from going forward.