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.

QUOTENARRATIVE

Post Rationalized Narratives STINK. Build a better one.

Cross posted from CMSWire

Great brands have narratives. A narrative that explains their aspiration, their approach, and how they go in the world. Sugru is a kind of silicone putty/adhesive. It comes in colors. Its the kind of thing you might find as one of a thousand products on a shelf at Home Depot. But instead, Sugru has a narrative that makes this putty important. It makes you proud to be an owner of putty. IBM’s “Smarter Planet” narrative makes boring, complex technology important. [If it were even better it would make it both important and clear.]

Content marketing isn’t about content, it’s about being deeply valuable and meaningful. It is about standing for something that people care about. In fact, narrative is not a marketing tool. Its a business foundation. Marketing often leads the articulation of narrative, but its essential for the entire team – especially R&D and other people that determine what you sell and how you develop it and sell it. In Zappos’ case its narrative (Happiness) is essential for its core competency – customer service.  In addition to making you meaningful and important to your market, narrative is a framework for thinking about the problem – whatever problem that might be. The team is now thinking about how to make it ever more true.

There is extensive work out there on storytelling and narrative. A few years ago Simon Sinek nailed the importance, if not the method of it with “Start With Why”.  Simon was talking about the fact that people do not care what you do, but rather why you do it. If you’re the last person on the internet not to have seen his TED talk, do yourself an 18 minute favor. Narrative serves to engage your audience, ignite the imaginations of your staff, and act as a gut check on decisionmaking.

So – a story is great if you have one. [n.b. – yes, there’s a diff between story and narrative, but that’s the advanced class] But what to do if you don’t? You can build one. It is very hard and takes certain skills and acts of faith and business that are not everyday stuff. But, narrative, when done well, is the tale that can actually wag the dog. You know your narrative is working when it is easily adopted by your organization. When it is so good its obvious. When anyone can understand it to the point that it feels perfectly natural to tell it in their own words. Your narrative is doing its job when it becomes a core part of the conversation at work – when it becomes an identity. It infuses and defines your culture. It is helping to build the substance of your business. It is organic and viral. If this isn’t happening then you aren’t done yet. If this isn’t happening inside your company, its not going to happen outside with your customers. Great marketing is a side effect of great narrative. Don’t excuse yourself by saying that this is only for consumer goods, twenty-somethings or Apple. Get to work.

If you’re building a narrative, you will be in one of these situations:

1. New, brand new.

If you are starting up, then you are already in the deep soul-searching process of “why”.  Some startups have this fully formed because it was the discovery of their narrative that built the team and drives the founder.  Many have it, but its still vague. The challenge here is to find a mooring. Like Hemmingway, you need to search for the most true thing you can say about your organization, your work or yourselves and find a way to express that to the world. This type of deep truth is almost universally recognizable in the way great art is. Even the unsophisticated know it when they see it.

2. Established, but unarticulated.

You are doing business. You are growing. Perhaps you are doing something brilliant, but its really, really hard to explain. You have only 2 or 3 executives who can make the sale, because no one else can tell the story. And it takes them a face to face with every decision-maker. Its nearly impossible to show that you are different from your competition, even though the difference is vast. You are unarticulated. Your exercise is much like number 1, but you have a mooring – your work and your success. Ask your customers to help you. They probably can’t articulate it either, but they know.

Include them in your narrative attempts and spend time considering their input. Gut check your work with representatives of your entire ecosystem – Sales, Marketing, R&D, customers, analysts and experts, and anyone else who may have a stake. Take their feedback very seriously – but not necessarily literally. Steep in it.

3. The Big Fog

So – you’ve grown. Once you had a clear, but probably unarticulated mission. Now you are rudderless. Decision-making in your organization is painful and often temporary. Everyone is working hard, but little seems to come from it. You are in the fog. Now you have to do all of the above, plus.

You are not starting from scratch. There are things that can’t or shouldn’t be ignored. Which creates two challenges. First – you need to discern between the artifacts that need to go and the ones that need to stay. And second, you must at all costs avoid the temptation to post-rationalize

[There’s a fourth,”the pivot” …Pivot is a hard reexamination. Finding the pivot point, means figuring out what your real substance is and framing it properly. I could go on and on, but i’ve promised myself a short, readable post.]

POST-RATIONALIZED NARRATIVES STINK.

No exceptions.

My daughter has a game with about a dozen dice with words on them instead of numbers. You roll them and  make a story out of the awkward set of words that fall. Too many organizations build narratives the same way. They have a series of existing concepts, constraints and phrases – maybe they’ve been in use for years. Maybe they are pets of executives, analysts or customers. The stories my daughter and I come up with are about as cohesive and useful as your post-rationalized narrative. They both stink, but at least my daughter and I get a laugh.

Your narrative has to tell a truth, and truth is not a negotiated list of words whose goal is to thread the needle of your various weird pursuits and constraints.

While you may have rationalized that story and convinced yourself its true, no one else will get it or believe it. You might hook them for a moment, but when you turn around – its gone. They bought your enthusiasm, but not your story. (@krcraft puts it – the pitch, the promise, but not the purpose) [This is often true with personality lead companies where only a few people can make the pitch – its a symptom of poorly or unarticulated narrative. When your customer turns to convince others why they should buy your stuff – turns out they have no words. (cough, cough, Palantir).]

Post-rationalized messaging feels complicated and strange. You know you have it when people have to refer to their notes to remember it. When you have strange sentences that look like they could almost be in English but must be painfully memorized.

The cure isn’t easy. You need to look for a big truth – a truth that is big enough to contain all those important artifacts you are trying to deal with.

You can’t string the old ideas together – you need to create a context in which they all (or not) naturally fit. You aren’t forcing random puzzle pieces together with glue – you are drawing the rest of the picture into which they naturally fit. You are writing a novel, in which (at least some of) your dice-words fit as part of a plot and texture. You need to force your thinking upward and out. For this golden moment at least, you are a poet, a philosopher, an inventor, a maker.

Of course truth-seeking is the endless pursuit that encompasses most of human history excepting war and business. But this is little-t truth, and it will be playing an ever more important role in “Social” Businesses.

Experience has shown me that truth (if not Truth) can be found intentionally rather than fortuitously. You need a framework to help you structure the anatomy of the narrative (I call mine the narrative hierarchy – but that’s another discussion). You must be willing to discard good ideas at a sometimes terrifying rate. You need some close brain-trust relationships. Narrative building is collaborative, but not a consensus process. (yet another discussion) In other words, building great narrative, like innovation, is a result of skill and effort, not luck.

The best is yet to come.

zen-of-new-business

Enterprise 2.0 and the decisions we haven’t yet made

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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)

The Human Enterprise: Progress or perish

Perhaps the most welcome business innovations in century 21 is the realization that the 1990’s CEO pablum, “People are our greatest asset” is actually true, and that this means that business must rebalance its structures and processes to support and enable people rather than to control and contain them in boxes, while they service the processes and infrastructure. A flipped business if you will. A humanized rather than mechanized ideal of the perfectly efficient organization. It has finally been proved – what everyone already knew is true – employees who give a darn [sic] do better work, which makes their lucky employers more successful.

So we are thrilled that work will finally evolve away from what has often been a negative experience, and start becoming place where people thrive – along with the economy and society at large. It all sounds great. But it is an earth-shifting change that leaves many management teams uncertain and uncomfortable and many employees frustrated. A human-centric business questions some of the fundamental tenets of traditional enterprise design and operation, and it will take some time to sort it out. Being human is complex and being a business is complicated and so growing together is sure to be a precarious but altogether magnificent undertaking.

As yet however, many of us are still in a hard place.

Drivers of Disengagement

There are three ways that work becomes a soul-crushing, disengaging job that leads to “its fine like that”, what-kind-of-shortcuts-can-i-take, and the-least-I-can-get-away-with effort.

1. Work that asks people to do stupid stuff.

This can be menial work, in which the person doing the work has no stake or impact on the outcome. Think fast food, factory work, mail delivery, or other work that is heavily routinized and automated. A craft is different, because it involves mastery – these jobs do not. This also happens when the policies or processes of work are flawed in ways that are obvious to employees, but aren’t likely to change as a result.

2. Work that prevents people from doing good stuff

Many knowledge workers suffer in this camp, though often craftsmen (builders, etc) and service providers (nurses, consultants) do too. [My housekeeper quit her company for this reason and started her own, so my house is cleaner.] They have ideas, aspirations, curiosity, commitment to quality, but their management is so focused on maintaining the status quo that it is nearly impossible for these people to do any of the good work that they want to do. [This status-quo fetish is a frequent and sometimes unintended consequence of command and control hierarchies. The antidote is leadership.]

3. Work that takes undeveloped souls and keeps them in the dark

Hire people to do something, and never invite or enable them to develop their skills or to do more than they were hired for, and what you will get is glassy eyed mushrooms. These people disengage because they don’t know anything better. There can be many causes of stagnation, but simply accepting it is a losing strategy.

So how do we go from unintentionally soul-crushing to the labor’s Valhalla we seek? (Intentional soul-crushing is another matter altogether.)

Dan Pink showed us that intrinsic motivation is vastly superior to external motivation (do this, get that) to drive effort and outcomes for all but the most mechanical of tasks. Pink’s model shows that people are engaged (intrinsically motivated) when their work has three elements – Mastery – the ability to demonstrate and constantly improve one’s craft, Autonomy – the ability to solve problems and make decisions on their own, and Purpose – the idea that their work matters as part of a greater whole. (Click here If you haven’t seen his classic TED talk.).

Pink focuses on the individual, however, and what we need to understand here is how to make that work for organizations. There are those that claim the drivers of employee engagement are “Relationship with immediate supervisor, Belief in senior leadership, Pride in working for the company.” But normal people will recognize those as markers (KPIs), rather than drivers of engagement.

Drivers of Engagement (the human enterprise)

1. Purpose

If I don’t believe that my company is valuable, then my work is not valuable, and therefore I don’t value it, so I don’t invest in it, I am not engaged. Duh. Purpose, however, is not limited to green and eleemosynary causes (thanks for tolerating my nerdy words. it means charitable). A corporate purpose is an understanding of the change you want to make in the world – whether it is to make people happier, richer, more entertained, more constructive in their work, etc. Purpose must be deeply authentic, and not just a carefully crafted-by-committee Mission Statement. I talked more about why it matters here. In order to scale beyond small business size, purpose must be accompanied by narrative – that expresses that purpose to your customers, your market and your employees. This gives everyone the ability to connect with tell and build his or her own part of the story.

2. Transparency and Impact

You may find yourself with a purpose, and you may mean it, and you may find yourself with a marketing plan that expresses it and a roadmap that builds it (congrats to you) (if you’re saying to yourself, this is not my beautiful purpose, this is not my beautiful roadmap, then read on). But to make it work, to make it great, you need a team of people who have full, mutual awareness of what they are doing and what the leadership is worried about.

If people can’t see the drivers of their work (why) , and the impact of their work (how’d I do?), they can’t be engaged. If R&D doesn’t know what marketing is pushing and marketing doesn’t know about the latest innovation, and the plan to re-architect the customer support program, and the team in Europe’s new experiment and the recent customer loss or win and the 6 major decisions that the executive team is working through, then they are probably not very engaged.

When people don’t know what is going on, they can not consciously affect its outcome. They are not engaged. Transparency is not just about soaking in each others intellectual and emotional effluence (though that has its advantages too), its about knowing what’s going on around you so that you can constantly align, connect, consider and matter.

The flip side of transparency is “impact”. With the right kind of transparency, i can see what is going on, and understand the impact that my best work makes. I can see who and how I help. That matters.

3. Mutual Dependence

When we work together as a team, we help unpack each other’s intellectual boxes, we refine one another’s ideas and discover new ones. We improve each other. We build a continually improving, communal memory, experience, and insight (to riff on a William Gibson quote). Members of such a team take ownership of their responsibilities seriously, but invite and relish in the fact that they can rely on their colleagues to help them work through sticking points and make their best work better.

A collaborative environment helps sustain energy, focus, and purpose. But to get here, you must be aligned, you must have a mutual respect that leads to mutual compassion and curiosity that makes it fun to air challenges, problems and failure and a joy to bash and hash it out together.

If you do not have a “culture” of mutual dependence at work, technology will not change that fact. Generally this is about aligning around common goals, and offering one another respect as a conduit to trust, which enables you to do what teams do best – amplify strengths, and minimize weaknesses. If you’ve ever been a part of that team, you know.

4. Leadership

Some social media-ites believe that in the future, organizations will be purely emergent and collaborative, with no leadership required. I am not of that school – though certainly the nature of leadership will change.

Leadership matters, and there are two things that great leaders do 1) communicate without ceasing (leading to that transparency and inclusion thing) and 2) Listen without ceasing by asking lots of questions. Dear leader, if you aren’t both sharing your vision and listening to your workforce, then there is at least an organization’s worth of people who think you are a fool. This perpetual telling and listening looks like a subtle and dynamic balance between confidence and humility.

There is a third thing, and that is that you must be authentic. The human nose can detect the scent of patronizing palaver in micro-parts per million.

It is important to note that real leadership is recursive. Great leaders are constantly building the value and capability of communicating, owning, questioning and listening in all of their team members. Constantly.

[A fascinating counter-indicator here is the Valve thing. The billion dollar company with no formal hierarchy whatsoever. This merits study. There’s learning to be done to ensure that our egalitarian aspirations go more Jeffersonian than Orwell-Golding-esque.]

Related Topics – Gamification and Wall Street

5. Gamification as driver?

Gamification is a topic that has become tightly wrapped around the engagement axel. Gamification has two faces. The first is manipulative, the second is about forming positive habits. Most customers I talk to actually want the first, though I don’t think they quite realize it. This is disturbing faux-engagement, and is, I think, primarily a side effect of metrics abuse. Getting people to juice their numbers via manipulative performance metrics is not engagement. Just like company picnics aren’t a bad thing, but also don’t in and of themselves improve morale – same with badges and leaderboards. They don’t necessarily hurt (though they can), but they never address root cause.

The forming good habits thing is different – it uses gamification theory to say – hey – I know how people work, i know how habits are formed so I’m going to use that insight to help transition people to new habits. The new habits may be ones we think will build a more transparent, richly communicating, mission-aligned collaborative environment – like adopting collaboration software. Or maybe they are about digging through training material. They can support engagement, but they can’t create it where there isn’t any.

Gamification is not engagement, its habituation, and generally will promote small, mechanical types of interactions (check ins, etc) but is in no way a substitute for more substantive types of engagement. If you want to game the cash register, that might work. If you want to game your R&D, marketing, business development, or any other kind of “knowledge” work, you may want to rephrase the answer in the form of a question.

There is third, deeper meaning of gamification that transforms complex problems into multi “player” solution spaces . This is darned interesting, but is not what your average CIO is asking for, and can’t be acquired as a checkbox feature of social intranet software.

6. Shareholders take note

Though hard evidence was a long time coming, the basic argument goes like this. When employees give a hoot, they do better work, which leads to better outcomes across all measures. This chart from the 2012 Towers-Watson report is but one of several eye-popping bits of evidence to emerge last year. It shows that businesses with high levels of engagement have 3x the operating margin of those with low engagement. THREE TIMES THE OPERATING MARGIN. Three. What do you think happens to companies with a third of the operating margin of their competitors?

Bruce Temkin has also developed some relevant research. He backed into the topic as part of his methodical work on Customer Experience, because he could not help but notice the profound effect engagement has on customer satisfaction. He has a good model that is driver, not marker focused, and connects some of the dots between Engagement, Revenue and Customer Experience.

In fact, the benefits that accrue to the organization are so great that CV Harquail wonders if it isn’t the greatest management scam of the decade.

The Big Fat Marker

If you are looking for a marker (KPI), rather than a driver, its this. Engagement IS the marker. If you are looking for a leading indicator of performance, if you are looking for a leading indicator of how well your board and your management team are performing, how delighted your customers will be, and your shareholders thereafter, look at engagement. Perhaps it should become the new 10K reporting requirement right next to cost of goods. (Can you imagine the metrics abuse that would ensue?)

Engagement is the outcome of earning the respect of your employees, and encouraging and enabling them to do work that matters together. Increasingly, your employees are your business. Not your natural resources, your massive infrastructure, your intellectual property, your distribution channels or your processes. Its your employees. Respect them, include them, don’t patronize them. Earn their engagement and win.

If we succeed at humanizing the workplace, we will reinvent work as a place for personal fulfillment, a radical new engine for the economy, and a more sustainable society. For at least this generation and perhaps 5 or 100 more, our combined (but not homogenized) human capabilities and aspirations will be the most powerful force on earth.

The best is yet to come. Or, fulfilling a promise to @krcraft, #GSD!

denial cycle

Collaboration isn’t working.

What we have ourselves here is a chasm.

(this article originally appeared in CMSWire)

Collaboration isn’t breaking out all over.

Dear Colleagues:

Can you feel it? Its the subtle loosening of gravity’s pull as we pause at the peak of the hype apex before we thunder down into the trough of disillusionment (with apologies to Gartner). Social collaboration isn’t working very well, but must we  go gently into that good night?

Some of the reasons we’re hitting the near edge of this “chasm” we’ve known and predicted from the beginning. This is a paradigm shift as fundamental as any the modern workforce or capitalism has ever seen. More significant than the PC, the internet and the IT department combined. More significant than globalization. Its about retreating from command and control practices designed to make the ENGINE of capitalism (and government and war) purr, to a collaborative one which activates the full capabilities of the participants and networks them in a way that amplifies and accelerates action.

Its about changing from a daily grind of covering our individual and collective hinies to one where we are joined in the intellectual. emotional and emergent pursuit of “better”.  Of mission and service.

Ok – so that’s pretty hard, we have established but few ground rules, and it looks like we’ll wander another 10 or 20 years or so in the desert till its really as true as we’d like to to be, but it does seem inevitable, and so it is. But we could speed it along with more rigorous research and learning. We need to stop trying to ferret out bits of good news and start ferreting out learning. In other words, we need to take our own advice about facing both good and bad news with equanimity and an authentic learning orientation.

But there’s another angle to this and its really, really bothering me. Adoption. All the 68,000 vendors in the space (including my employer, OpenText) have settled on streams and digital workspaces as the definition of social collaboration technology -with some allowance for variance in quality, focus and features. And now we’re all lecturing on about adoption.

There are several things that are bothering me about that.

First. The language we’re hearing about adoption is eerily similar to the language we heard about every other enterprise IT paradigm that social collaboration is supposedly saving us from. “People don’t get it, we need change management and training and…..” And maybe that’s all true. But I know that I have scoffed at those foolish 1990’s KM people who stuck to their guns and soldiered on in spite of the fact that what they were doing clearly wasn’t working – though the value proposition was real, vital and clear. I have said the same thing about other IT systems of yore.

Can we now smugly believe that we are somehow more enlightened than others because we “get it”? If we’re so awesome, why isn’t this working? Why doesn’t everyone “get it” and why are we having such a hard time with adoption? I know, I know, human behavior, culture and all that. But we adopted cell phones as fast as they could make em. Just sayin’. Some of the change management stuff is real, true and urgent, and some of it is just denial. We do not want to believe that maybe we aren’t right. But we aren’t.

Third. So we’ve been pushing this techno philosophy pretty hard for three or five years, and as a Gartner analyst recently observed in a meeting, its no longer a new industry. And what have we learned? We have a bunch of people like me, many better than me,  lecturing on what should be and could be, but where’s the “what is”? I want a more rigorous body of learning out of the last five years. We deserve it and we need it to continue to be leaders in the reinvention of work. I know that there is an Amazon’s worth of books and papers out there, but its not enough. Yet. We have some clear wins. The majority of fortune 1000 businesses are using some form of social media to communicate internally as well as externally. Pockets of success are found within many companies and a few organizations are entirely transformed. Perhaps more new organizations are being formed after the new model rather than the old.

In the face of a mountain of evidence that something isn’t working as well as we hoped, is “try harder” a good strategy? Are we asking the hard questions of ourselves that could help us tell the difference? Like – why do people like email so darn much in spite of the fact that its killing them and makes their life more difficult in both the long and the short term. Are we wrong to ignore it? To insist that “email is dead, use this instead”?

Why do teams fail to act the way we think they will? Are we oversimplifying the notion of team? What about organizations? Where is the deeper insight on the relationship between teams and organizations? Why isn’t a sophisticated vocabulary breaking out? Why do we not yet have 100 words for different kinds of collaboration and teams, as expert in it as we think Eskimos are about snow? What is the difference between an intranet, a community and a team? I don’t want a tweetchat full of clever answers, i want clarity – and so do you.

So – yes, the paradigm shift will take a generation to turn over. But we have not yet come close to our full measure of duty as techno-innovators to drive it. I would like to toss out some themes where I think we have important questions to ask, things to learn. Maybe these are on the right track, maybe not, maybe its the wrong question entirely. But we need to start asking questions and stop searching – exclusively – for crumbs of corroborating evidence and data, and start looking at the entire body of information.

In other words, we need to step back from building business cases – though they are still important and valid – and put more emphasis on building our knowledge.

Themes and Variations
These are some of the themes where I want to see harder questions asked. What are your questions?

1. The organization
First – the organization, the intranet and collaborative teams are NOT the same thing. The relationship amongst and between these things need serious scrutiny. We’re beginning to see serious and rigorous study of public social networks in use for marketing, crisis management, etc – but that’s a bit easier – its all happening out in public, so we can see it and analyze it, thanks to the Twitter API. Its a bit harder to go into private enterprise systems and have a look (with some obvious and disturbing exceptions).

2. Connecting the dots
Second – streams are nice. I adore twitter. I adore our internal corporate tools that are similar to it. And here we’ve seen great adoption. We’ve turned our org into a giant chat room -an extension of Instant messenger or chat for all. Nice. there’s benefit in that. Ambient awareness has huge benefits and is one of the key elements in making remote work work. But that’s not a ‘wirearchy’, it does not make work visible in an actionable way, it does not cement team bonds, it connects only a modest set of dots, it is, in short, inadequate to change how we work, though its a nice addition. We need to build the semantic, statistical, psycho-social and otherwise tools that goose the gods of serendipity?

3. Collaboration
Several years ago, I came up with a definition of collaboration that focused on three key ideas: creation, connection and compounding. I also observed that great teams shared four basic traits – they had a shared sense of mission, they respected one another, they trusted one another and they were committed to achieving excellence. We’ve since learned that very effective teams have great communications – and – very importantly – members are more or less equal in the amount they contribute – no divas, no wallflowers. But we’re only seeing whispers of real actionable insight into how to contrive (or “cast”) these magically great teams. Leadership, yes, balance and matching of people – yeah, we sorta kinda know we have to do that, but few of us know how.

How is most collaboration achieved? What is the type, volume and velocity of information that needs to be exchanged? Is this the same of variable by team? By task? By …. what? How can teams connect to the whole and vice versa?

We’ve learned some other things too. What is the number one source of employee disengagement? Opacity of the organization. We have no idea what is going on, therefore we know we aren’t contributing meaningfully, and can’t contribute meaningfully, so we’re sullen. Turns out sullen employees (otherwise known as the disengaged) don’t churn out the best work. How are we fixing that? Ten years ago we tried dashboards based on BI – that didn’t really help, and was too metric-sy and therefore, more likely than not, punitive so it didn’t work. Streams? Not the way we currently use them.

4. Teams and Organizations
We’ve done some good work here. Shared workspaces and profiles have helped many organizations know themselves better, work more efficiently, and collaborate more seamlessly. But adoption here has been very hard for many, and even where adoption is high, we are still not meeting our ultimate goal of seamless, common operating pictures – shared knowledge, group insight.  

I want to know more about where the actual work gets done. We believe it mostly happens in  teams. There are several types of teams, and I think we need to start paying careful attention to the differences between them.

Why do we have different kinds of teams? What makes them different? How can we use technology to help them? How do teams and the organization as a whole relate to each other. What work is going on in the organization and who is involved? What is the pace? What are the outcomes? When we say visible work – are we thinking about it the wrong way? Maybe we should focus on making the patterns of activity visible more than simply the typing of individuals. How many teams are in your organization right now? How many are project teams? How many are committees, how many are swarms responding to urgent miscellaneous stuff? How many teams are people on? At what rate do they form and finish? Is it a stable number? Are some people on more teams than others? Is that good or bad? I have no idea. But that’s unacceptable. We need to start knowing these things.

Here’s one hypothesis to begin the discussion. There are (at least) 5 different kinds of teams.

1. Structural. these are the teams that we can see on the org chart. Marketing, HR, R&D, etc. In larger orgs, these break down even further – hierarchically.
2. Cross functional – these are the teams that collect people from across the organization for various purposes. In my world, these are often product teams.
3. Project – these are people that have come together for a very specific and time bound purpose and deliverable.
4. Interests and Communities of Practice – these are groups that support one another emotionally, socially or professionally, and you’ll see many of them within an organization.
5. Swarms – these are the long lists of people, many of whom you’ve never met, who are on the cc line of that last reply-all-urgent email trail you were on. You feel this pain like I do, right?

5. Really Visible Work
There are many ways that these teams are different, but the most obvious is how they form. Think about it – I’ll spare you (and my editors) the 1000 words I could write here on it for another time. Maybe you’ll write them for me. There are other important differences too. Quick – give me three ways we could help these different types of teams be more effective. But wait! Why do we have these different types of teams and what do they tell us about the organization? Would visibility into what teams are where and when and why help us? In what way? would we be more engaged once and for all if we could see all this? Is this what we should be talking about when we say “visible work”?

Next?
The paradigm doesn’t need to complete its shift for us to be squeezing more value out of it now. We do not need to wait until the majority of CEOs agree with “us” (whoever us is). We can start now, if we ask the right questions. If we continue to ask questions, rather than construct success. Today is the day to stop “proving” we’re right, and start thinking about what’s next. Our successes are real, and there, and let them be reported. But, the immutable law of physics still applies. People will adopt a tool when its easier to use than not to.

This is a great time to do it. We’ve had some important successes. Social Collaboration is an accepted part of mainstream business.  We’ve settled in a bit and we have an important opportunity to step back and formulate some really hard questions. We have greenfield ahead of us. But we have a lot of good honest work to do to the bridge the chasm, and I for one am vibrating with things I want to do next. You?

The best is yet to come.

Sincerely yours,

Screen shot 2013-01-28 at 11.51.04 AM

“Social Business” is only half of Enterprise 2.0

 

Another cross posting from CMSWire.

So there are these two things going on. The first you’ve definitely heard of – its the great reawakening of the white-collar and consumer world as their value and participation and voice are released from the anonymity of the command and control corporate model thanks to nifty new social technologies. The second is about the exponentially increasing complexity of the world. Everything that touches anything sets off another thing and so on. Social is accelerating complexity and vice versa. The very best of us and even our technology are daunted by the challenge of understanding issues and taking action in such an environment. This is why the future has become ever more unpredictable, and planning ever-more – optimistic.  [There’s a third – and that’s that all this reawakening stuff has nudged us to look hard at some things that had been left unexamined for too long, like leadership, collaboration, and certain exploitative forms of capitalism, but that’s a different discussion]

These two forces are putting intense pressures on business. In his classic work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn describes a period of “crisis” that precedes a scientific revolution. The crisis is a period where a field of math or science becomes dramatically more complicated, while yielding diminishing, incremental returns. If John Seely-Brown and John Hagel are right, and the average Return on Assets has dropped by 75% since 1965, then we may be seeing an analogous crisis in business that leaves us ripe for business revolution (they call it the Big Shift). Calling it “social” business is missing half of the point. Business isn’t going “social” because it wants to hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

Business is changing to a new model – Enterprise 2.0 – both because people are demanding it AND because a centralized command and control model that uses process and efficiencies of scale to achieve superhuman feats has limits to what it can do. But a new model of applying networks of sensors and capabilities (people) onto complex problems, to achieve uniquely human feats, can solve problems that hierarchies cannot.  [note – i’m officially, if temporarily, moving back to Enterprise 2.0., until such time as someone finally coins a term that is less misleading than “Social”.]

1 Some problems are too hard to solve the old fashioned way.
As a math student (computer science was in the math department back then) I learned that we can classify problems by how hard they are to solve. We measure how much effort a solution takes based on the level of efficiency of the clever little algorithms we use to solve them. In general, these solutions use logic to make hard problems into simpler ones. There is a class of problem, however,  that cannot be solved efficiently because though we understand the problem, we can’t find a clever way to make it look simpler. The technical term for these is NP-Complete. They are very hard.

There is another class of very hard problem – one we see in economics, society and business. These are known as“wicked” problems. Wicked problems have so many factors twisted up together that you can’t really hope to untangle them. Think economics, or the weather. Or product strategy or organizational design. There is no particular right or wrong answers, but there are better and worse outcomes.

Our instincts tell us, based on 400 years of Newtonian rationalism, that if only we work hard enough, with enough intelligence and discipline, we will see the component parts and the relationships between everything and the formula and methodology will be revealed. Everything can be understood by examining its component parts. Nothing is beyond examination or building with swiss-clockworks perfection. Our notion of business and process design (among many other things) depend on this idea, but it is – if not exactly wrong – limited.

The reason strategy is hard, the reason R&D is hard, the reason marketing, support, sales, innovation, operations and design are hard is because they are multifaceted challenges that involve many unpredictable, often external forces that change at an accelerating pace. When you wade into the morass, you are making it even more complex.There is no definitive right or wrong answer, there is only better and worse.

These types of problems are often referred to as “wicked”. Wicked problems defy systematic, top-down solutions. Our Command and Control organizations have done many things well, but we are now entering an era dominated by the kind of problem they don’t do well.

2 But that doesn’t mean we can’t solve them.
We’ve learned some things about solving very hard problems. In the late 1980’s we learned that Genetic Algorithms can solve NP-Complete problems very fast. A subset of these problems were in the field of graph theory. The kinds of problems that deal with optimizing pathways. That could be shipping routes, airline routes, or even communications routing.

As an undergraduate I read about Genetic Algorithms in Scientific American. [I carried a photocopy around in my backpack for my entire senior year, showing it to every professor and other people, who mostly thought I’d started speaking in tongues] What was at that time mind-blowingly cool about these is that you could get a solution to a “very hard” problem, super fast, without knowing anything about the problem itself. No clever algorithm required. I’ll say it again, because its hard to believe. You can optimize these systems and solutions without finding a trick or invention that depend on some new insight or understanding of the problem. You can solve extremely hard problems with no knowledge.

3 Bars and Boids – complex adaptive systems solve “impossible” problems

In the mid 90’s I was actually paid to build simulations of complex systems (think SimCity for business) for customers like FedEx, AT&T and certain government agencies. This meant I was messing with “Boids” and the “Bar Problem” and living in Monterey, California – it was a peak experience.

The  Bar Problem is an eye-opener in terms of how you can solve impossible problems with no insight, knowledge or intelligence. It bucks every intellectual instinct you probably have, which is what makes it so interesting. It addresses the question of whether you can solve “impossible” problems of this kind: there’s a bar in Santa Fe (not at all coincidentally the location of the Santa Fe institute that pioneered this work). The bar is a great place to be iif 60% of the population – but no more than 60% of the population shows up on a given night. Otherwise it is either dull or overcrowded. If no one has any information about what the others are doing when they make their decision, how do you get the right number of people in the bar?

Here’s one way. Create a “population” (a set of agents). Everyone follows a random rule. Like “if I liked the outcome 5 days ago, go to the bar”. Or “if today’s date is a multiple of my birthday, stay home”. If the rule doesn’t work more than a few days in a row, change to a new rule. And an answer emerges like an old Polaroid photo. The system finds the answer. If you have any programming skills, this is very easy to simulate (even I have done it, but its a secret – i never want to write code again. It annoys the computer and myself equally).

These kinds of systems are called “complex adaptive systems.” A Complex Adaptive System has a large numbers of components (agents), that interact and adapt or learn.

So – we learn that we can solve (some) impossible problems like – supply and demand, traffic flows, and other insanely hard things – easily.

4. Teams and Crowds – collaboration also solves impossible problems
More recently, we’ve shown that teams and crowds can solve impossible problems. Andrew McAfee has pointed to some stunning proof of this. Like chess. In the old days (1980), a chess Grand Master could blow away any computer at the game. By the mid 90’s, it was the other way around. But more recently, we’ve discovered that a competent team (not masters, but decent players), a process, and a computer assist can consistently blow away the super computer. Or that a random and loosely affiliated group of people can solve the protein-folding problem – a completely “impossible” problem better than any other known method. Protein-folding is hard because a protein is a long string of amino acids. In a body, the long string folds up on itself based on the chemical and electrical properties of its thousands of amino acids. The biological effect of a protein are determined almost entirely by its folded up shape. But its impossible to predict how it will fold, and therefore, what it will do or how it will play with others. In other words, how medicine will or will not affect it.

What I’m getting at here is that when you start to network people, you are building what we call a complex adaptive system – that’s what Boids, Genetic Algorithms and the Bar Problem are about. Complex adaptive systems can solve “impossible” problems.

6. So – when we’re talking about Social Business
You’ve been promised Collective intelligence – but there’s even more. Agents are stupid. People are not (mostly). So – Social Business means we can access collective intelligence – no one is as smart as everyone. At least we’re trying for that. But also, socially connected businesses are complex adaptive systems – able to solve impossible problems – not head on – but through action.

This idea has been implied in several places, but I want to make sure its crystal clear. People are agents. Organizations are complex adaptive systems. Social technologies and philosophies amplify the interaction and connectivity of its agents (people).Of course, the pathetically simple agents described above, can’t hold a candle to the magnificence of a human network. But we need to build our ability to think of human networks as a kind of a complexity calculator. In 2013 we will begin to learn how to wield this “wicked” weapon against complexity.

Emergent outcomes  – the ones promised by social collaboration, social marketing and social in general – are not just a hope and a prayer, but real. Trusting in them is not foolish but wise. Our human networks, thoughtfully connected, with some smart methodologies will help us to apply complexity to complexity and make progress against now-intractable problems.

Enterprise 2.0 is not about social per se, it is about thinking very differently about what is hard. About what is impossible. About what IS possible. About your role in it, and about how a human chorus of intellect can help. Enterprise 2.0 will measure outcomes dispassionately (with equipoise) as a way to ask questions without assigning blame. It will focus on learning as innovation, and disentangle accountability, blame and outcomes. It will depend on the connected circulation of insight and information of a network, often knowledge-less solutions, and the deepest respect for what people can and will bring to the table, given the chance.

Our goal then in this next handful of years is to better understand the relationship between organizations, complex adaptive systems, complexity, and impossible problems. We have hints and clues, some research, instinct, experience and trial and error. Its a hard problem, but its not impossible. We need to break open opaque ideas like “collaboration” and “team” and “serendipity” and get to know them intimately. We need to redefine our ability to sense and create connections and conclusions from luck to faith to something we actually do understand.

The best is yet to come.