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”?

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,

tech culture loop

Prediction 2013: Social Business Tech will stop blaming culture for failure

Another CMSWire cross-post.

The prevailing theory is that the main reason your business is not yet “social” is that you aren’t trying hard enough to change your culture. Really? In 2013 the industry will acknowledge that while we’ve made great progress in the last five years, the technology that naturally leads to a well orchestrated, connected, collaborative organization has yet to arrive. Few of us are surfing gaily through hyper-connected organizations, where complexity is a virtue rather than a curse. And while arcane cultural norms aren’t helping, technological innovation has hit a plateau.

In 2013, I predict that the ‘culture’ bluff will be called. Technology will be called to account for its fair share of the challenge. Social Business technology innovation has been significant and welcome, but progress has stalled. We have gone as far as the current model will take us, and we need a new model. Our insight of and support of the many forms of communication and collaboration is lagging, and while this may not be the fault of the technology, it is limiting the technologists. We need to dig deeper.

Simply put: we did all this great thinking and built all this great stuff, and its happening, but not to the extent or depth that we expected. Is it just a matter of time and culture? Or is it time to ask ourselves what more we can do?

If “Social Business” were technologically solved, and now just a cultural problem, then shouldn’t we be seeing more consistent results from early adopters and the early majority? Where’s the data, where is the expertise, where’s the progress? Is it simply that we are so inarticulate and unable to gather data that we can’t detect or express our great success? (this is not an entirely rhetorical question).

A McKinsey Global Institute Report from May 2012  claims that there’s a trillion dollars in business value waiting to be unlocked by social business technology and that more than two thirds of it comes in the form of a 25% increase in “productivity” for knowledge workers. But last summer, Dachis Group found that in nearly 60% of companies with enterprise-wide deployments, a measly 10% to 20% of employees were actively engaged with the tools. Forrester’s numbers are even bleaker. This is a fairly significant adoption gap for a technology that is supposed to be liberating, desirable, easy to use and in demand by its end users.

The difference between a cultural and a paradigm shift? When we no longer have the basic words we need to describe the problem or its solution. When philosophers are suddenly relevant and important again after at least a quarter century off. Simple words like ‘social’, ‘culture’, ‘productivity’, and many others are now hotly debated not just in ivory towers, but in mainstream media like Forbes and the New York Times. If we want to realize the breakthroughs we can see in our imaginations, then in 2013, we need to push the insight, the language to describe it and the technology we use to support them to a far deeper level, and the three will move in concert. You can’t have one without the others.

Five key developments we’ll see in 2013

1. A language and a better feature set for “collaboration”.
We know that there are all sorts of collaboration, all sorts of teams, all sorts of work, and yet we have a very poor vocabulary for the breadth and depth of the issue. A typical knowledge worker is part of many teams, and an increasing number of initiatives and projects on any given day. Keeping track of status, resources, and implications is becoming increasingly difficult.  Observe the hand wringing in the IT-Exec-HR-R&D-Marketing departments as they attempt to address these vague but excruciating challenges and apply equally vague social solutions against them.

A more sophisticated understanding of what it means to to collaborate and to create shared information environments will lead to technology with features that actually begin to address these problems directly.

2. Shifting from enabling “Social” to enabling “Complexity”
“Social Business” is another troublingly vague term with little meaning, except as an inept antonym for ‘hierarchical’. Social is good. We should know and care about each other, we must embrace our humanity to leverage it. But that’s table stakes. All that unicorns and rainbows (of which I am a great fan) is a stepping stone to a greatness we can imagine but can’t yet touch.  We need insight, clarity, awareness, involvement, and connectedness. We want the hard stuff that is a barrier to the interesting stuff to be a lot easier. We want the disconnected dots to resolve into meaning. We want to maximize individual impact and organizational insight. We want to kick ass at scale, and right now its wicked hard.

Our wall-chatter-pulse-forum-community-wiki-profile, hasn’t made it that much easier projects, 249 explorations and 173 open issues that we and our colleagues are dealing with. [Am i the only one who had a call last week that was following up on a prior conversation that I had no memory of?] We don’t even know how many balls are in the air or why and which could possibly be relevant to the other. Are we better at that now that we’re networked? Sure, but not better enough. We don’t yet have an envrionment that helps us build a shared understanding of issues.

3. Social objects will grow to include teams, projects, and processes
Yes, Virginia. projects are inherently social. Some social business vendors have begun to figure this out, (37Signals was among the earliest) but there is much left wanting in todays solutions. Currently project management usually means project managers wielding gantt charts, and status meetings. This torture, when competently executed, helps to keep projects on track but the level of effort involved is very significant and rarely scales well.

Our current social collaboration capabilities hint at delivering this, but it still requires a rare level of discipline and commitment to really deliver. And we don’t have many anecdotes of this working at scale. Situational awareness – at an individual, team and organizational level. Where’s that blog? In 2013, this will be a prime focus (I hope).

4. Measures of employee engagement will pivot toward measuring cognitive and emotional attachment to core business objectives
A fresh appreciation for Employee Engagement has proven that it has a catalytic impact on revenue, longevity, profitability, and innovation – and yet it is still very poorly understood. Given how important engagement is we are very clumsy with how we understand and handle it, and most efforts are superficial to the point of patronizing. In 2012 we saw important studies that documented the importance of engagement, and in 2013, we’ll see people begin to actually understand what it means. Not contentment, not leaderboards, but something closer to percentage of time spent thinking about work substance, and percentage of capabilities applied. Bruce Temkin just released an interesting model for engagement based on Five I’s: Inform, Inspire, Instruct, Involve, Incent. (It is instructive that Mr Temkin’s admirable work is backing into the study of employee engagement as an outcome of his work on customer experience. Take heed.) Together with Dan Pink’s rediscovery of the science of motivation, this is a step in the right direction. And if all it does is to move Gamification into its proper role in adoption and engagement strategies, we’ll all be grateful.

Engagement is an outcome – an indicator of health – not a technology or objective, but next year’s technology will help us to promote and diagnose the substantive issues that lead to engagement and involvement. We will begin to observe and discuss how well it is maintained as the organizational network branches out from the C-Suite.

5. A rigorous understanding of how information flows
Semantic analysis, Big Data techniques and better tracking in general will help us to develop better insight into the who, what, when, where and why of information flow. In other words, how much of the right stuff is getting to the right place in the right context and the right time? Can we depend on it and when? Can we juice the system? Can we game it? How?

We’ll end the year with a better catalog of the different types of information flows from the formal to the informal, from the active to the passive, from intentional to accidental, mundane to urgent. What is now obscure research will emerge to help us understand what it takes to connect dots, and recognize black swans. ‘Serendipity’ will mature from a miracle we hope will drop from ‘social’ heaven, into an art, even, perhaps, a science.

Tech will stop hiding behind culture’s skirts.
In 2013, we will stop trying to prove that streams, microblogs and communities equate to a Social Workplace or Social Business. We will use the last five years of social technologies to help us discover the next five years of business technology. The business paradigm must shift. Massive cultural changes must advance. But technology is not nearly ready to rest on its laurels. In 2013 Technology will peek out from behind Aunty Culture’s skirts and lead. Next year will bring disruptive leaps of insight into knowledge work and collective intelligence that will eventually usher in the most innovative period in business since the industrial revolution.

The best is yet to come.

If Social Business Is the Answer, What is the Question?

This article was originally published in 2 parts at CMSWire.

What are the fundamentals of Social Business? Tough question.  Maybe even the wrong question. Maybe the question is “What is different now, and why does it matter?” In fact, I’m still trying to figure out the question, (straining not to use the “42” analogy) and would be most interested in your opinion here. So, while I’m still not sure what the ultimate question is, here are 7 themes that are critically important to understand in order to understand. Interestingly, I’ve seen startling disagreement as to which are the most profound or mundane. [I will be pursing several of these over the next year. If you’re interested in joining me in exploring, researching or writing more on these, let me know.]

The first three themes I cover here refer to the mechanics and driving forces behind social. The next four (published in part two) speak to their implications for business.

1.    Humans, institutions and revolutions.

This is the foundation of the “social business” concept and everything else derives from this. Hierarchies and command and control institutions were society’s brilliant invention to scale and focus human activity toward a goal. This model has roots that pre-date the pyramids. It solves challenges of coordinated communication and will.  (I describe this is slightly greater detail here)

But now two things are happening. First, we don’t depend on hierarchy for communications. Top-down has, in fact, its become a bottleneck rather than an asset in the comms department. Second, the world is moving too fast and competition is too fierce for rigid command structures populated by people who could hardly care less to remain successful.

As a result, people are finding their own voice, their own insight, purpose and ambition – and many businesses are too. In little ways, such as the new social intranet at work, and of course the much, much bigger ways that democracy and freedom are being reexamined, tested and pursued throughout the world. The new organization’s role is to make that a good thing by aligning all that energy and capability with a worthy purpose and a networked leadership structure that learns and enables at the pace of human capability.

Social business is not anarchic, however. Decisions still need to be made and coordination is still critically important. So while the organization as a whole moves from a mechanistic to a humanistic ideal, leadership too, is paradigm-shifting from a patriarchal, omniscient ideal, to something else that still requires a name. “Servant-Leader” has been offered up, but I’m not yet convinced. In spite of new leadership’s namelessness, we do know a few things. Modern leadership asks questions. Modern leadership recognizes that the organization as a whole knows more than he or she as an individual. Modern leadership nurtures and orchestrates the organization around a common purpose, with the confidence to constantly move forward and the humility to look for every opportunity to do better. The modern leader doesn’t hoard power, they cultivate its flow through and accrual to the organization as a whole.

2.    The opposite of social business is fear. No, I am not exaggerating.

The problems of traditional command and control structures are legion, but the most debilitating can also be the most subtle. The 20th century ideal of the organization is the well-oiled machine – one where every part and process is defined and every cog shiny and efficient. Each person within it is expected to stay in their designated box and be perfect. That is, they should never make a mistake. And in this unpredictable, ambiguous and complicated world, predicting the future, and acting perfectly is rather difficult and ‘mistake’ is often just another term for “results”. So a primary motivator at work is being right and not making mistakes. Which leads to two profound problems. The first is that people only do what they know works. That’s an innovation buster right there. The other is that when problems arise, people are incented to HIDE them, both consciously and unconsciously. So all news is good news all the time. Learning and excellence are eliminated by definition. This would be a largely unintended consequence of a system designed to create stability, reliability and scale. Oopsie.

The fear of being wrong, looking foolish, or being rejected drives far too much of human behavior, and the vast majority of business behavior, and it has long been used as the primary motivator of work. If you are afraid of being wrong, you are not likely to ask the questions that hint at uncertainty. You are not likely to listen and look out for disconfirming information. As a result, we walk into failure with arms open and eyes shut. This is normal business. It is wasteful, it is absurd, and it is very unpleasant for its anxious participants.

Incentives are really just the other side of the coin  – the carrot and stick model is a fear based model. The antidote to this is first found in small teams – duoships, even ( When a few people get together, motivated by a common cause and an intrinsic desire for autonomy, mastery and purpose, fear starts to recede and possibility opens up.

Such a team is incredibly powerful. They can probe the world, their doubts, their aspirations without fear, and with the support of other capable people. Their talents are amplified, their weaknesses diminished. If you have ever participated in such a team (and I hope you have), you understand this. When we have a shared goal, mutual respect and trust, we can deeply engage with our work by leveraging newly critical skills that David Brooks lays out with poetic beauty:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Who wouldn’t want to be described thus?

3. Collaboration is the only way forward

That is to say, that humans working as pairs groups, teams, organizations and communities are where real value is created. The genius (or lack thereof) in an individual’s mind is an ever smaller (though still and always transcendentally important) part of the progress equation. Even Steve needed a team. This is why the advanced communication skills suggested by David Brooks matter so much. Collaboration has always existed, and we’ve always benefited from it, but now we are absolutely beholden to it. There are many reasons for this, but I think the most compelling explanation for this has two dimensions. The first is the above-mentioned renaissance of self-actualization, and the second is the exponentially-increasing complexity of the work that we do.

Economist Ricardo Hausmann describes this in terms of “Person Bytes”, which may be one of the most important business concepts to be articulated last year. . Hausmann details the phenomenon that as individuals we’re now capable of much less than our ancestors – few of us can build our own house, provide our own food, clothing, etc –  though as a society we can build much more. Toasters, for example, and computers, which are far too complex for any individual to construct entirely from scratch.

I’ve written several posts on collaboration, and there’s no reason to repeat myself here. Complexity is most effectively faced by groups with high collective intelligence. Research shows that a team’s high collective intelligence does not reflect the genius IQs of it’s members, but the excellent attunement and equipoise amongst them. Creativity, in the business realm, will turn out to be a balance between profound individual and group effort, and the possibility-opportunity expansion of multi-disciplinary, multi-perspective, “edge” exploration.

Reaping more than a trivial percentage of your team’s potential requires the kind of deep engagement that can only be derived from collaborative effort. If you’re working in any kind of complex, knowledge based industry, you are here or you are almost gone.

4.    The big ‘Why’ for business

I have recently heard people argue that the only reason for a business to participate in public social networks is to generate leads and revenue. That any “relationship” formed with any kind of businessperson in social networks is by nature manipulative and false. When it was a work colleague of mine saying this, I thought ah – this person needs a bit of re-education. When it was a friend on twitter, I nearly wept. So here is my response.

People invented business for a reason. I don’t want to spend all my time growing, harvesting and milling flour and baking bread. So I pay you to do it for me. I don’t know how to make a car, so I pay you for that too. In other words, people need business and vice versa. This is a symbiotic relation ship that became grossly distorted in the 20th century but is recovering in the 21st.

Business exists to create value efficiently enough that people can pay a fair price for the product while generating enough profit to enhance the prosperity of the people who constitute the business. That is the intention of capitalism.
One unintended consequence of the industrial era, however was that almost all the power of creation, economics and communication ended up with business. Consumers (that is, “people”) could like it or lump it. Marketing – the relationship between the business and the client – became about cold and crass manipulation of people for the purpose of maximizing shareholder value. Shareholders? Where do they fit into this balance? Ah. Well they do play an important role in society and business, but that role has had some unintended consequences as well. I don’t really want to go into it here, but Umair Haque does an eloquent job of it, and there is a cohort of other economists and philosophers who have similar views.

Back to the why. We need to restore this balance. Marketing, sales and business is not about (shouldn’t be about) manipulation or extortion. It is (and shall be) about being valuable. Social media is one of the ways this relationship is coming back into balance. The democratization of communication and the means of production are restoring individuals’ voice, (though they seem now to be most effective at bringing down bad restaurants, not so much on airlines) and enabling businesses to remember that they are, in fact, of, by and for actual people. Social business is the businesses way of participating and remaining relevant in a newly re-democratized world.

The proper social relationship between business and people is one of mutual ongoing value – it is not only “transactional “ (yes, @decodingdress, I’m talking to you). And to you too @jess3/@eloqua.

If you are a business who disagrees with me on this you don’t need raise your hand. We already know.

5.    Patterns, not metrics.

If you have spent any time in the “social business” world, you have been asked the metrics question. Metrics, in short, are trouble. [see this thought-shifting lecture by John Seddon ] On the one hand, few business institutions cause more negative, unintended consequences than metrics. People act to fulfill metrics because they replace meaningful goals. On the other hand, metrics can be very useful tools for learning. Use them wisely.

The key brain buster of social business, however, and social networks in general, is that these are emergent systems, and usually complex, emergent systems, and for the most part, understanding these has not been part the standard American curriculum or career path, so they are a foreign concept to most people.

For the uninitiated, I’m going to take a risky crack at a two-sentence definition of a complex adaptive system. First, it consists of many independent agents (like people or honeybees, or people and honeybees). Second, each agent can independently change its behavior at least to some extent, and third, the system exhibits properties that cannot be predicted from its initial conditions or rules. There is vast literature about these systems in areas of math, computer science, biology, and economics. Complex systems are closely related to Wicked Problems. If you want to change a complex system, you generally have a Wicked Problem.

The thing about emergent systems, is that unlike a mechanical system – your car engine, for instance, or even your iPhone – you cannot predict what will happen or easily discern cause and effect. What you can see and understand are patterns that emerge, and some of the characteristics of those patterns with which you can then experiment.

So – we are being asked and asked again to establish metrics for evaluating our social endeavors. There are three standard responses to this, and I’m not particularly fond of any of them.

Option 1: The only relevant metrics are leads, revenue and cost reduction.  This is the hard-nosed approach. Show me the money or shut the heck [sic] up. This is not without merit, but it can stop a lot of good work and expertise development.

Option 2: What is the ROI of your mother? This is the argument that we know its valuable, so stop trying to measure it and just do it.  This is also a useful model –  at times you just have to do it. There is a downside here too. Do we really wish to be unaccountable? Do we really not want to learn what there is to learn?

Option 3 The ROI is dependent on the goal. Define the goal then you get the metrics/ROI. This seems reasonable – I’ve often said it myself – and its probably the strongest argument, but it has limitations too. One of which is that often the goal is only clear in retrospect. This should improve with our collective experience in the realm, but will always be limited (see “emergent”).

Each of these is simultaneously right and wrong. The problem is this: our traditional use of metrics depends on systems that have generally predicable, linear relationships between cause and effect. Emergent systems are highly resistant to this type of prediction and analysis. You can measure the fever, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you if the patient is sick or well. An incredibly interesting phone call with @rhappe got us to this idea that you need to have faith in emergence, and in its non-linearity and look for signs that it is working. Metrics aren’t necessarily meaningful in nascent social systems, but patterns are. [The discussion of faith in this context is a juicy one, but for later.] [Note that there is an Option 4 that purports to measure things like employee engagement and collaborative-ness. Few executives truly care about these things, however, and even if they do, these are tautologies rather than outcomes.]

Humans detect patterns very, very well. That’s why we see a man in the moon.
What do I mean by a pattern? Well a really basic pattern is one where an interaction with a person creates another interaction with that person. That would be a good pattern. That pattern can be built into something of value for both customer and business. I laid out the basics of how to create a very simple behavior pattern.

This is what Nir Eyal’s notion of habits and “virulence” is getting at. One could say that a pattern that an individual adopts is a “habit” and how compelling that pattern is to people in general could be its viral-ness.

I have a point here and it is this. If you really want to be successful at initiating and nurturing emergent social systems, you need to be both aiming to develop patterns, and then looking for early signs of patterns that emerge. Patterns, not individual metrics. You must accept that to a certain extent, your system is non-linear and unpredictable. We must learn to recognize and embrace this. If nothing emerges, you don’t have a cohesive system, so you must tinker with it. If something emerges, understand it and nurture it.  We need to transition from metrics to patterns. (I plan to do some research here in the next few months, so if you are interested, or have relevant info, please ping me.)

6.  Let me be the first to say it in print (or printish-ness): the sales funnel is over.

The sales funnel was a brilliant framework coeval with knowledge management, cross-functional teams and other “modern” business concepts from the 1990s. It is a framework for understanding that a customer begins as a stranger, that there is a progression of steps to get them from there to purchase, and allows a methodical approach to optimizing this transition.

The profound problem with the Funnel is that not only does it treat good people like so much meat and statistics, but that its object is to filter out those that don’t make it to the next step. In other words, you start with 1000 “leads” (otherwise known as people who might be somewhat interested in what you do) and you instantly lop off 90% of them as you get to suspects, and repeat for prospects, and opportunities. The very language here is predatory, no? Not to mention the fact that you are “wasting” over 99% of the audience who has some interest in you. One thing I’ve learned in my years of marketing: never waste an audience.

What we want is to morph the “funnel” into more of a concentric circle or orbital model. Where you have the tightest, most active relationships with your customers who are in a tight orbit around you, and a few successively looser relationships with broader sets of people in wider orbits to whom you provide value in the form of info, connections, expertise, entertainment, etc, and who may someday become customers, or influence others who may, or give you continued insight into your key markets. The orbital model is a more human model that creates intimacy, insight, and an exchange of ideas and value. It is also a more efficient business model. It retains more audience and preserves and enhances its potential to generate more customers, build brand equity and expand your circle of influence. This is, in a sense, the goal of “content marketing” (which may be my least favorite term since “content”, which was last well used in a sentence by Martin Luther King, Jr when he dreamed of a man being judged only “by the content of his character”). I have much more work to do on this, so please stay tuned.


7.    It’s not about understanding social, it’s about understanding you.

So here it is. Why is social business hard? People will tell you its because of culture, habits, technology, blah, blah, blah. And all of that is true. But the biggest challenge in going social is not that its social, its that it is business. A more social approach to business quickly reveals business problems that have been rumbling under the surface. Gaps or deficiencies in your mission, goals, strategy, internal coordination, organization, processes and responsibilities start popping right out. Its disconcerting, and it can be discouraging. (Unless you have an organizational equipoise). Its also quite hard to push the cork back into the bottle, though some do try. In the current model, we’re accustomed to just live with things that aren’t well thought through, aren’t well understood, or perhaps well communicated – see “fear” above. Its not that big a deal that the left and right hands don’t know what one another is doing. Well, it is a big deal, but its easier to ignore what we can’t put our finger on. Social business engagement both inside and outside the organizational boundary forces us to face of all those dust-bunnies and piles that have been hanging around under our metaphorical desks for years. You have to suit up for some spring cleaning.

Take a simple example. A number of companies, from Cox, to United to Best Buy have seen their service organizations get pro-active in social media, and benefited enormously from it. Others have their service people, if they are on twitter at all, say “please open a ticket” to anyone who asks for help. Why? Because they are not allowed to answer a customer without a ticket, and cannot open one themselves. This is because on the one hand, they only get evaluated by management on number of tickets closed (stupid metrics) and on the other, they can only ensure that issues are resolved if they are ticketed. And in many cases, changing this is, for some inexplicable reason (that probably turns out to be a recursive example of the same phenomenon), something that cannot be accomplished in under six months.

The number one thing that keeps people back from participating in social, both inside and outside the company is that they don’t feel they know what is going on, they don’t understand the message or the mission, or don’t believe in it. They are not equipped to represent. This may be the reason behind the surprising and surprisingly rapid shift in analyst-predicted total social technology industry revenue from the marketing use case to the internal use case. The rank and file are clamoring for internal social because they want to do better, and want to be part of the solution.
It is a rare organization that is Purpose-Driven, clear and confident in its value, strategy and path. It is an even rarer organization where that insight and confidence is evenly distributed throughout the organization. And rarer still, one that understands how to transform decision-making into a real-time learning orchestration exercise.

So the key question isn’t “what is social business”, it is “what is your business?” Answer that, and social is a relative piece of cake.

The best is yet to come.

The Pursuit of (Organizational) Purpose.

In the last few years, we have all accepted as desirable cultural traits the ideas of “collaboration” and “engagement”. Many people have talked about why these values are, uh, valued. The Shift Index, from the venerable Hagel and Seely Brown duo at Deloitte, discusses these things, as does Steven Dennings Radical Management. These two are just a couple of the noteworthy recent references on the topic. There are dozens more.

But do we just decide to be more engaging and collaborative? Does wishing it make it so? What really get’s people’s juices flowing? What makes a team, an organization click? Why are some organizations endlessly political and others brim over with enthusiasm and esprit de corp? Is it the people? The “culture”? the industry?

Its is not any of those things. People work together and collaborate well when they have a sense of what David Brooks calls “Limerence” those “moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away” and people experience a deep sense of intellectual intimacy. Daniel Pink shares his research into what motivates people in cognitive tasks – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Simon Sinek divides the world of organizations into the “whys” and the ‘whats” with the “whys” winning every time.

For the last couple of years I’ve been working in the enterprise 2.0/social collaboration market.  I’ve learned a couple of things out in this jungle.  We can accurately predict who will be successful with our collaboration tools. We can predict it with 100% accuracy. There’s only one criteria. A sense of mission and a sense of purpose.
Not a mission statement, crafted in the late 90’s and framed on the wall somewhere. I mean a deep, omnipresent, constantly pursued sense of what the organization is about. What its for.

People want to matter. They want to do great things. Nobody goes to work hoping to be dull. What holds them back? Sometimes management does. And sometimes lack of it. And sometimes its personal issues. But in a purpose driven organization, every conversation, every meeting is infused with “how do we get better at making this important difference”. The company is creating value faster than its taking it out of the market.

The purpose acts as the primary criteria for decision-making. Without a purpose, there is only the balance sheet and politics. There is no way to make durable, impactful decisions in the absence of purpose, so politics becomes the primary factor. People become  competitive, self-protective kingdom builders.  Power and talent is used for personal gain, not constructive, purposeful outcomes.

Or worse, they are just disaffected. Disengaged is the term used  in the invaluable Blessing White research. The net result is people going through the motions.

But when people have a shared purpose, a mission, an aspiration, politics recedes into the background and talent is engaged. People strive. To do the right thing, to do the best they can.

A long time ago I worked on such a team. It was awesome. We loved each other and our jobs and we did incredible things. Then things changed. The team was broken up. And the new team couldn’t do the same things. We couldn’t do the impossible. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to always find ways to restore the power and euphoria of  that first team again. To regain that heart-pumping feeling that we could do anything. Together. I’ve dedicated myself to understanding the difference for myself, and so that we could change the norms of how people work.

Then about a year ago, I found an fantastic opportunity to work on technology that  helps people to eliminate the barriers and complexities and banalities of teamwork – the impossible task of keeping in synch, understanding, seeing opportunities, building and leveraging on what’s been done before and on each person’s contributions. Of course you know that being collaborative is not a technology problem, but good, useful, simple, powerful tools certainly help.

I now enjoy the extraordinary privilege of working with some extraordinary people, including Anthony Gallo and Scott Bowen, Jason Varmazis and Dave Wormald, Ian, Mitro, Dawn, Greg, and many more. And yes, we’ve got a solid dose of that “team” magic.

As we set out, Anthony asked me “what is the essence of what this is for, what is the gestalt of it?” And so I tossed off some stuff. And we worked at the whiteboard. For months. I would send him one-liners. From my car. From my desk. From the playground. And he would say “yes, but….”.

And then finally we got it. Really got it. Our mission is to support the purpose-driven organization. To support your pursuit of it, your understanding of it, your spreading of it, but most importantly, your execution of it.

The Purpose-Driven company. Driven by purpose, powered by teams. Collaborative teams – in the deepest sense of the term. Scott  championed our approach throughout the company. We are a team – different personalities and talents that wanted to build something that mattered. To you.

And so – today it begins. We launched a new website that tries to convey our thinking about purpose. How our customers and research have taught and inspired us, and invites you to join on our ride here. (though if you’re  interested in learning about the product, we have that information in there too).

Our team at OpenText (Note the new one-word version of the name.  We need to put a dollar in the curse jar every time we screw it up.)  celebrating what we’ve learned. A nod to the organizations who’s greater purpose drives them to do great things. We are celebrating you, and your purpose. Our goal is to provide something of value to you.

We’re beginning with a series of lectures and discussions to help you explore the idea, the value and the experience of being  purpose-driven  mission and purpose, and how it can transform your organization and the world. Simon Sinek will be our first speaker in NYC at 9am on July 11 at the cool Ace Hotel. He’s fabulous – if you haven’t seen him in person, I really hope you can join us. He just hums with passion and intensity.  (you can register here or on that shiny new website)

Please tell us what does and doesn’t matter to you. The best is yet to come.

Wicked Teams for Wicked Problems

Earlier this week, CMSWire published a well-edited version of this article. What follows is the unexpurgated, much longer version. Pick your poison.

What are Wicked Problems?

Some problems are such complex, entangled, multifaceted hairballs that we cannot approach them alone. They change and morph as quickly as our ability to understand them. They are known to academics as “wicked problems”, and we need a new way to take them on.
The challenges of modern enterprises are wicked: How do we compete? What should our next product do? How do we structure? Traditional divide and conquer, top-down organizational structures are a mismatch for these types of problems.
So, how to address these wicked problems then? The fog is beginning to clear on the answer: work as teams, collapse the boundary between learning and doing, embrace the rapid pace of change.

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from a Video on How to Build a Raft

If you are a member of my GenX cohort, you will remember the PBS show, ZOOM. It would occasionally do feature segments on kids who’d done really cool things. Like building a raft from scratch. It was clear to me even at 8 or 10 years old that these kids were doing something special: -that is they were doing something.
This skill – to simply “do” – despite a lack of resources or formal expertise – is a key part of succeeding in wicked environments. This is the skill of Benjamin Frankin, the California 49ers, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, Thomas Edison, and Johnny Appleseed – this willingness to simply give it a go, learn from the flops and keep on going. It is the skill that brought us from the Age of Enlightenment into the Industrial Age. As we continue to stare down the intractable “Wicked Problems” of the 20th and 21st centuries, we need to mainstream this skill to catapult us from the Information Age into the Transformation Age.

Wicked Problems are Wicked Important

In 1973, Horst Rittel, and Melvin Webber were professors at UC Berkeley (Science of Design and City Planning respectively), and they published a paper that is getting some renewed attention. They give an overview of wicked problems in public policy:
Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic
society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity;
policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no
sense to talk about “optinaal solutions” to social probIems unless severe qualifications are imposed
first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.
Dr Tom Ritchie, a consultant on such problems, has written this succinct review of of wicked problems and says this:
“They are messy, devious, and reactive, i.e. they fight back when you try to “resolve” them.”
Wicked Problems are entangled issues and problems where no definitive or objective analysis of the root causes or ultimate solution is possible. These are problems where the number of people involved can make the problem worse. It’s the herding cats problem. Each tug at the issue changes the problems so that it evolves even as we try to fix it. The most obvious examples of such problems are world poverty or obesity.
Wicked problems are different from very hard problems. Putting a rocket on the moon is a very hard problem, but it’s not wicked, because the goal is pretty straightforward; it’s just really hard. DARPA’s red balloon challenge was very difficult, but not wicked (though the solution was wicked cool, and yes, I’m from Brockton). Righting a troubled economy — that’s wicked.
Not all wicked problems are as profound as the economy, energy crisis or hunger. The challenge at the core of nearly all business and government is around these problems. How to structure a business unit, how to design and build a product, how to build value in a dynamic and competitive market (how to defeat terrorism and stabilize Pakistan also classifies); these are wicked problems too.

Enterprises are rife with wicked problems

Why do we care that these problems are wicked? Because the inability to deal with wicked problems can be the undoing of an organization — keeping it forever stagnant, or worse, spiraling downward. These are the problems that can be so pervasive we barely dare try to solve them, or heroically throw ourselves against time and time again to little avail. They do not respond well to divide and conquer solutions. What they do respond to, are heterogeneous teams of people who transcend conflicting agendas, and target their coordinated expertise — and ability to learn and discover — on the problem.
Most organizations are hierarchical and inherently designed for divide and conquer. This patter is optimal for finding algebraic solutions to the kinds of traditional problems that organizations were designed to solve. The problem is that core issues of strategy, positioning, product development, solution development, marketing are not divide and conquer problems. They require holistic approaches. They are never solved, they only get better or worse.
Businesses that handle these problems well, have tucked away a very good team somewhere in their leadership or in some other very influential role that is addressing the problems collaboratively. John Seely Brown’s (Co-Chair of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, and former PARC Chief Scientist) describes these team as “marinating together in the problem space”. Without these teams and their diversity of perspective, you lack the intensity and pace required to make progress on wicked problems. (Have you noticed the recent uptick in use of the vulgar term for a failure? It has the word “cluster” in it. I’m sure this is an instinctive knowledge that the entanglement of issues is the real issue).
Three themes to note regarding wicked problems..

1. Change is part of the challenge. These problems are not static – they morph and wiggle away from any attempt to pin them down.
2. People are a source of, and the solution to, complexity. The more people, the more complexity, the more ability to comprehend and understand them. It’s confusing, but while an uncoordinated crowd of people makes things complex and wicked, a coordinated team is required to make progress (so approach matters).
3. The concept of the social network is changing our approach to problem solving. There are some wicked cool thinking emerging around groups, teams, learning and change which could revolutionize the approach to solving wicked problems.

The Age of Constant Disruption and Actionability

Our reality is getting disrupted. Often. Have you watched this speech that John Seely Brown gave as a closing keynote at the 2010 New Media Consortium? It is an hour long and every minute is fascinating (except for the first few, while he gets warmed up). Brown explains that we’ve entered a revolutionary age where we will never again have a status quo to maintain, and that radical new concepts of “extreme learning” will be the dominant way that people excel.

This age is every bit as radical as the French and American revolutions that introduced the notion of democracy to the world. This revolution is far beyond the political, however. It features technology, economics, sociology and culture. Brown suggests that the revolutionary period that we’re in will mean that the pace of change — radical change — will, for the duration of our and our children’s lifetimes, be so intense that we will never again live in a predictable world.
Brown goes on to talk about how some people make incredible progress in these up-heaved times through intense learning and doing.
What we need to do right now to solve hard problems is to team with other smart (passionate) people, “marinate in the problem space” together and progress — not simply by applying expertise and effort, but by vigorous application of our creativity to find new ideas, possibilities and connections that we can leverage and mash up (if you will) into new solutions that we try, test and discard as we find the next.
Brown offers terrifically entertaining examples of this, including how a cohort of boys became world champion extreme surfers. He focuses on working together with others and doing, as studying. It’s a great talk.
When I first started watching Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk several years ago, I was unimpressed with the “laws stifle creativity” theme he begins with.
But within minutes, I embraced his notion that what we need to do is actually encourage people to use existing work as the basis for new work and to re-purpose things in novel new ways. That this was the ultimate creative process. He proved to me that until we put the means of production (that is tools with which we can make things real – at least in the realm of media) into every school child’s hands (and their parents too), we are profoundly inhibiting our cultural, economic, personal and global progress.
In his recent review of “The Social Network” he makes a similar point when he argues that what was disappointing in the film was that it failed to highlight the difference between being brilliant and converting that into action. The ability to do this as never before is what made Facebook, and what can make the next great innovation.
So what we have here is this: a wildly unpredictable world and an infinite toolkit with which to explore and manipulate it.

You Can Do Anything With a Decent Team and a Laptop

Chess is not actually a wicked problem. The end state is well defined, but it has certain wicked characteristics (infinite problem/solution space). Individual chess moves have a wicked flavor to them. Chess is an iteration of think, act and think again — which should, perhaps be the new motto of work (hopefully replacing my alma mater’s “grandescunt aucta labore” which I always thought was a near miss).
A few months ago, Andrew MacAfee wrote about what Kasparov had learned about how to win at chess. It used to be that individual genius reigned supreme. Then in the 1990s, computers broke that barrier. Now in the aughts, it seems the way to beat both the computers and the savants is by working collaboratively with a team of decent (not necessarily stellar) players supported by decent technology and good process.
From McAfee’s piece:
The overall winner was a team that contained neither the best human players nor the biggest and fastest computers. Instead, it consisted of “a pair of amateur American chess players using three computers at the same time. Their skill at manipulating and “coaching” their computers to look very deeply into positions effectively counteracted the superior chess understanding of their grandmaster opponents and the greater computational power of other participants.”
Let me say that again. A team with a bit of sense and technology can consistently outperform a genius and the world’s most powerful computer in working through a wicked(ish) problem. For real! Take that back to the executive team.
Enterprise 2.0 Is an Approach to Wicked Problems
We are to rising to the challenge of Wicked Problems by getting better at dealing with change and working as teams. We will be changing our divide and conquer mentality to marinate together in the problem space and to work jointly with our hands to produce tangible results that we can jointly examine, and manipulate into its next evolution.
Great teams are found in many organizations, but these are the exception and not the norm. Increasingly, great teams, enabled by sensible processes and good technology will be the engines of progress.
For those who consider Enterprise 2.0 to be just a strategy or a tool-set or a marketing plan, I say this – Enterprise 2.0 is but the first step of a profoundly more interesting and effective way to do business (or government). It is an extreme, full-impact sport that touches everything we do as an organization – who we work with and how, what we work on and why. The technology we work with too.
Our wicked challenges require the diversity and experience of teams – as well as their ability to tap into and integrate new ideas and information. Our solutions will be tried and transient – keeping pace with the challenges they are meant to solve.

If you see these trends like I do, you’ll help us learn how to do these things better:

1. We need to work as teams – not a set of people with similar job titles, but real, collaborative, mission-focused, process-oriented, esprit de corp, i’ll-cover-your-backside-and-I-know-you’ve-got-mine teams.
2. Work is learning is doing – we need people who DO as much as people who cogitate. Our society has lost most of its DO, but we’re getting it back, and we need to accelerate the rise of the Do-er . (all hail the Makers Fair and this Father and son Team Homemade Spacecraft on Vimeo).
3. Change is the norm – we must start to learn and work in a way that is extremely agile, deeply and broadly informed. Normal isn’t normal anymore.

Common Operating Picture – share facts, debate possibilities

The Department of Defense defines a common operating picture as “A single identical display of relevant information.” A COP is the key to enabling team analysis and decision making.

In the battlefield, a COP, as they are known, helps commanders visualize their positions, existing and emerging threats, and the available resources, so that they can understand the situation, plan and respond intelligently.

In Haiti, google earth mashups, the contributions of NGOs and earthquake survivors were able to visualize what was happening on the ground, what was needed and how supplies and people could be brought in to help.

In the workplace, a COP means a common, identical, current, mutually accessible view of relevant information such as goals, issues, status, ideas, questions, etc.

A workplace COP can accelerate productivity and unlock complex challenges where there are multiple stakeholders with differing opinions.

6 ways you’ll  benefit from a common operating picture for your team

1. Focus the conversation on moving forward, rather than rehashing and circling on priorities, definitions of terms and status.

2. Assure all parties that their issues are recognized and noted.

3. Create a common place for feedback, so that it doesn’t have to be manually tracked and reconstructed from email.

4. Facilitate deliberation and debate – a COP is not consensus, but it is an important step in gathering all stakeholders together so that at least the discussion is based on a common framework.

5. Clarify what decisions have been made – they don’t get lost or lost in translation.

6. ELIMINATE 50% of internal barriers – at least half what makes a complex situation complex, is that people lack clarity on the terms, vocabulary, issues and so forth that characterize complex situations. The majority of the time spent working on the problem is spent rehashing these – stealing precious time and imagination from the solution itself. So – if nothing else, a common operating picture eliminates debate of the facts, so that the debate can focus on possibilities.

So how do you get a COP?

Well, I’m working on that.

In the past, some people have proposed mindmaps. I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach. Mindmaps are useful for brainstorming  – that is eliciting ideas. But they actually impede the process of organizing, evaluating and making ideas actionable.

The Cognexus Institute has an amazingly good whitepaper on “wicked problems and social complexity” and proselytizes Issue Mapping as a philosophy and methodology. (I’m still learning about it, and my personal jury is still out).

I believe, however that the first step toward this is a shared workspace – and that this is now as accessible as your favorite wiki tool. Certainly you have to work a lot harder at it if all you have is a basic wiki. But Michael Edson managed to use it to great effect here. He managed to carve out and construct a truly visionary strategy for elevating the Smithsonian into the 21st century and beyond – and got unprecedented support for the strategy, including the board of regents.

Other tools have emerged and are emerging that facilitate this core concept of a shared perspective on things in the enterprise – Base camp is one. My beloved Open Text Social Workplace is another (and yes, the roadmap reflects this view). Of course there are many specialized tools for military, security and first responders (fire, police, ambulance, etc).

But at the heart of it you need:

  • A shared workspace
  • where everyone can contribute equally
  • and there is no ambiguity about its content (ie version confusion)
  • and it is possible to iterate and evolve
  • in order to refine understanding.

Once you’ve accomplished this you can then focus on the hard, but satisfying work of solving the problem, rather than arguing about it. Or at least now you can argue about the solutions rather than the facts.

G20, Social Media, Solving Hard Problems

This year the G20 did something different. Several weeks in advance of the G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto, they began to use a social collaboration tool to prepare for the event. The way the project was conceived is interesting, and the outcomes and implications are even more so.

First, let me say I currently work for open text, the provider of the tres cool software they used (its not your papa’s enterprise software). That said, my interest here is really more academic than commercial ( i guess that’s why they keep me around).

The G20 is a meeting of the senior  finance ministers from the top 20 economies. The G20 Summit is a meeting of the heads of state of those economies which was first held in a response to the 2007 economic crisis.

To support last weekend’s meeting, Open Text put up 3 hosted instances of Open Text Social Workplace – a shared, social workspace designed to support team and organizational effectiveness.

The first instance was highly secure and restricted to use by the key delegates and sherpas to share information and collaborate. The second was  for the media, librarians, academics and other interested parties to do the same, and a third that used some cool 3D experience widget technology to publish and navigate video published by the various attendants.

BTW – the official press release is here.

So what? Well, if the system works at all (and the early anecdotes are very, very positive), the shared, social workplace will have improved preparations and enabled extended, persistent collaboration amongst the principals between meetings, so that their understanding, work and resources can evolve and compound naturally between meetings as well as at the specific meeting times. It supports and amplifies continuity of the proceedings and working groups beyond the annual meetings..

Next it has extended the number of media, academics, librarians and other parties who can participate – regardless of whether they were accredited to attend the conference –  and track what is going on  – connecting the dots amongst and between a large, diverse group of interested minds.

All that is good of course. What’s really interesting, however, is the chance to see whether the G20 can and will use this shared workspace to create and sustain a common operating picture of economic issues amongst the delegates and their sherpas, and whether that will help them make better progress in understanding and addressing global economic problems – a wicked problem indeed.

I’m on a mission to collect as many anecdotes and outcomes from this experiment as possible, to see if this works and we can really use social media to begin to unravel heinously complex global issues. stay tuned. As I said – early reports are positive, with lots of reports of questions to the effect of “we get to keep this going, right?”. I’ll do my best to report back on what we learn about supporting highly diverse globally distributed teams and organizations.