enterprise 2.0

objects can see you back

Mobile is over. Pervasive is here. What about privacy?

objects can see you backYou’ve may have already noticed that the mobility is issue over and done. In fact, mobile, social, wearable and the internet of things have converged. What remains is to understand what it all means. What just happened to us?

Sitting in Starbucks a few months ago with my 8-year old daughter, we were playing 20 questions. She chose an oddly specific creature, a black and white warbler, but she had a spotty knowledge of its habits. Turns out she was doing a little research project on the bird. She knew its song and its size, but not its habitat. So with my iPhone and Starbucks free WiFi, we Googled the bird, and were able to find facts, images, and even hear its song. Mobile can be beautiful.

Super powers and Artificial Senses

Your iPhone, or Android, or whatever, may be in your hand more than your car keys, your silverware and your loved ones combined. It gives you superpowers. You have in your hand a super-human sense of everything from location and speed to radiation, food freshness, proximity, blood pressure and much more. It also gives you constant access to our “continually improving, communal, prosthetic memory” (thank you, Gibson), known as the internet (I have always found the capitalization of internet disturbing. Don’t do it. Just live with the green underlining.)

Your phone also gives you, should you choose to accept it, a constant awareness of the world around you – whether its telling us about the latest sports hero or dictatorship to go down, Bezos buying the Washington Post, or the earthquake you’re about to be rattled by. We have constant contact with our kith and kin. It gives you protection in uncertain circumstances and aid in emergencies. It can be a Geiger-counter, a blood pressure monitor or more. It gives you freedom. Certainly it gives my kids theirs – I’d never let them roam untethered.

We have seen phones, connected to social networks, catalyze the fall of tyrannical regimes, and coordinate aid in disasters. We’ve seen them both record and create historic events.  The medium is indeed the message. [McLuhan understood so very deeply, so early. Of course he was also witnessing a social revolution.  The 1960s and 70s reexamination of social mores hardly compares with the revolution we are seeing today, but today’s social refactoring will play out over a longer time horizon. Maybe.]

A third way – neither animate nor inanimate

There is no longer a simple dichotomy between animate and inanimate objects.

There is a new class of objects. I’ll call them signalers. They are objects that send signals.  These include your phone of course., along with many other things. Soon to be a nearly infinite number of things.  Your thermostat, for example, always was a sensor. It sensed temperature, and turned on or off your furnace accordingly. Your Nest, however, does more. It monitors, and adjusts, but also attempts to record patterns and adjust according to those patterns, which is interesting, but still not the point. The point is that Nest knows when you are likely to be home and your temperature preferences and it is iphone app controllable, which means that data is stored in someone’s cloud. Not your cloud. This is true also of your GPS, of course.

Your box of cornflakes is not a signaler, but a signal. When you buy your cereal, it is scanned. The price is displayed and added to your grocery bill. It is also logged with the grocery store inventory processes, and, of course their marketing database. Because the supermarkets now give very large discounts  for joining their clubs, along with gas discounts and others – few of us are radical enough to resist joining. Not to mention the fact that this same information is also registered with your financial institution because you probably paid with another signaler – a bank card or credit card. This began decades ago, but back then they were collecting data with little ability to do much with it. Well big data has come a rather long way – and now Target can detect your unwed teenage daughter’s pregnancy before you can.

Now objects can see you back.

We are used to being anonymous in an inanimate world. No longer. Your objects are pumping you information at the same time as they are pumping it back to some central location. Who’s watching and why? The government is watching some of it, and you can be certain that the company who sells or services your object/service is also watching. Probably to maximize their profits, and sometimes to also maximize your enjoyment. Apple wants to know what you listen to so that they can sell you more. Target and Safeway want your information so that they can sell you more. The government wants your information to track down bad guys, or possibly for other reasons such as public health or protection of civil rights (rather than, we hope the suppression of them).

In 1995 I was working for a now-defunct startup where I played with complexity theory. FedEx hired us to do a tiny project for them.

They were exploring smart packaging. If packages were imbued with certain kinds of intelligence, would they be able to smartly route themselves along the most efficient route? Routing millions of packages globally throughout the world is a very hard problem. Optimizing the routes is extremely difficult – especially when you need to deal with things like scheduling changes, weather events, natural disasters and so forth. So FedEx was exploring the notion that the best possible solution to route optimization is to allow the packages themselves to detect and connect to their local environment and make their own routing decisions locally.

My simulation, of course, showed packages routing themselves around the world very efficiently, gracefully rerouting themselves around obstacles and dramatically reducing overall transit time for the system compared with the traditional centralized, predetermined routing system.

Those packages were not exactly inanimate.  They were smarter than your box of cornflakes.  They were like robots in that they could detect and react, and they can phone home.

For now, as you’ve noticed, FedEx put barcodes on every packages they are, like your box of cornflakes, signals, for now.

The pervasive internet of things.  Privacy, Prism and a very big question

But just like in the grocery store, the benefits have a quid pro quo – the GPS means I’m rarely lost anymore, but it also means that someone can know where I am – at all times. So does the phone company, and possibly the NSA.

So we have a new, urgent and mind-blowing privacy debate to have.

Here’s the truth. If you are storing information anywhere but within the confines of your house, you can be certain that someone other than yourself can see it. This means your cable box, your social media accounts, your Nest thermostat, your phone are conduits for others to see the most intimate details of your life.

Have we technologied ourselves out of privacy? Is the only truly private person a cash-wielding, non-cellphone, no-club card, AAA map-folder? An anachronism? Turning on your car or your kitchen lights with your iPhone is very cool, extremely convenient, but also logged in someone’s database.

Is there a right to privacy? If so, are private companies restricted in the same way as governments? The bill of rights, read a certain way,  is a list of curbs on governmental powers, but they also dictate the rules of society and commerce.   Should there be warnings on your credit card and GPS that explicitly say what data is collected and to what purpose? Should this sort of thing be allowed at all?

If it is unacceptable for our government to monitor our communications and movements and finances for the purposes of national security, is it tolerable for AT&T and Wells Fargo to do the same for purposes of revenue?

The right to privacy is not listed in the U.S. constitution and was brought into the public debate in the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. We have many rights that come a a very high cost. Free speech for example. Miranda. We have anti-slavery laws (including, most importantly, modern minimum wage and worker safety laws).

I came across this legal brief by two Supreme Court judges:

Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual what Judge Cooley calls the right “to be let alone” [10] Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that “what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.

Would you be surprised to learn that this was written in 1890 by Judges Warren and Brandeis?

Public data can aid in public health, democracy, safety and our understanding and access to the world.  This talk, by Jennifer Pahlka shows how public data is, in fact, the basis of American Democracy, and that it is essential that we grow and protect its integrity. It can bring critical resources to those in need. It might build a more just and civil society. It might also shift power – that is to say information and knowledge – into another resource like money – that governments and phone companies have lots, and citizens have little, and little hope of achieving it. We’re going to have to decide how we want this to go, and start experimenting with the rules and regulations we’ll need to get us there. Where will we compromise?

And so we get back to intention. Is society’s intention to maximize profit or to maximize prosperity – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What unimagined extensions to human capability and prosperity will pervasive computing bring us? In what way will it refactor our expectations of society and our role within it as individuals?

The best is yet to come.

This post originally appeared in CMSWire.

Title image courtesy of loop_oh (Flickr) through a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

zen-of-new-business

Enterprise 2.0 and the decisions we haven’t yet made

Image

What will 21st Century organizations aspire to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organizational design for Century 21 – more than one metaphor.

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

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

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

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

1. Free Will

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

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

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

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

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

2. Connected Decisionmaking – power, sense and consensus

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

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

3. We are Cyborg

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

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

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

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

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

4. Privacy

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

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

5. Choose. Now.

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

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

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

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

(The best is yet to come)

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.

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.

crystal ball

Steve Jobs did NOT predict the future. He invented it. And you can too.

Cross post from CMSWire

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
– Steve Jobs Stanford University commencement address, June 2005.

About a month ago the huffington post published a widely shared article: Steve Jobs’ 1983 Speech Makes Uncanny Predictions About The Future, hinting at the fact that in addition to being a marketing, design, technology and otherwise genius, he was  a modern day Nostradamus to boot. But read the article. Steve Jobs in no way shape or form predicted the future. He envisioned how wireless connectivity should work, how technology could become a deeply integral part of every part of daily life, and made it happen over the course of decades (and a good number of failures). Steve Jobs did NOT predict the future, he invented it.

Why does this matter to you, who are neither Jack Kennedy nor Steve Jobs?

Because it is becoming increasingly impossible to predict the future but diminishingly effective to look at the competition and engage in checkbox-wars-faux-innovation. It is increasingly easy to make a business case for or against nearly any approach to any problem, and the interconnectedness and complexity of nearly everything renders traditional 12 month planning cycles barely useful, and increasingly time consuming.

But do not despair! This may look like a paralytic situation, but it is the perfect time to tweak the rules and reframe the question. It is a liberation.

Rather than spend the majority of time and effort trying to predict and account for external factors, the near collapse of this model gives us license, permission and imperative to focus on internal ones.

The Simple Way forward.

1. You must decide what really matters, and use that as your primary guide. 

This has traditionally been an overlooked discussion in business (with a few notable exceptions). The discussion of why has exploded (thank you Simon Sinek) (though few know how to do it, but this is another discussion). Understanding what really matters – the outcome you want to deliver is now the only meaningful, durable, criteria for decision-making. It is the future. What do you want it to look like? What do you feel in your bones? What do you believe in? Without this, decisions are random, reactionary, political, and rapidly remade, and unmade if they are made at all. This is what Mr Jobs was referring to when he says “you have to believe in something”. Its your only viable guide. (and while I applaud and wear Toms shoes, when I talk about a purpose-driven company it is this that I mean, not that)

2. This is not an excuse not to think, but an invitation to think harder.
The great remaining benefit of planning is that, when properly done, it thinks through the problem rigorously, and unpacks the foreseeable details. To avoid this is simple laziness.

3. HOWEVER- we know that reality will intervene in unpredictable ways
Our responsibility, therefore is to build resilience into our work. That is to say, establish times, places and mechanisms to understand and acknowledge reality and respond accordingly.
This can take many forms. The simplest is to work in short phases. That is, rather than planning a year long project, break it into pieces.

4. But business is planning, right?
Planning assumes that you can predict the future. We grade our performance based on how well we predicted the future  (metrics). We think we can look at the metrics, use them to improve our predictive capabilities. So if we accept that we can’t predict the future, are metrics still useful? Yes! Metrics become guideposts and diagnostics. They help us to understand where we are and how well we understand cause and effect. They are not goals, and they are not meaningful in and of themselves. If something isn’t working, your metrics are your way to get deeper insight into what is not working. If is is working, metrics can help you recognize that.

Planning itself needs a new approach. Engineers began to figure this out about a decade ago. In counterpoint to the traditional waterfall method, they chose agile and agile-ish methodologies for software. Software engineers adopted agile, because waterfall (design intensely, build a schedule based on design, execute) methodologies turned out to be such appallingly bad predictors of success. (I look forward to any takers on the Agile debate – its effectiveness, whether and when its actually used, blah, blah, the point is it was a significant attempt to change the game that was interesting enough to go mainstream- ish).

Engineers discovered and accepted this quickly, because management at the time only understood one thing with software – the ship date. Make it and they were rewarded, slip and they were finished. And waterfall schedules always slipped. 98% of the time. Why? Because software is so complex that it is nearly impossible to tell if it works prior to actually trying it, and even then, its not that easy.

Most other business problems are similarly complex, but the complexity, and the failure of traditional methods can be harder to recognize. So ironically, it was the perpetually slipped ship date that reinvented the engineering process – which might be the best success story for metrics this side of Amazon.

The other business disciplines must follow suit.

We suffer when we try to predict the unpredictable. We look foolish when we’re wrong, so we work very hard to be right and in doing so we shred our ability to respond to change. And we, the participants, detest the process because we know that no matter how hard we work, we are unlikely to succeed this way. It is depressing.

As we continue to stumble into the gaps created by our waterfall predictions of marketing, sales, design and other business activity, we must bring more of them into a post-waterfall, quasi agile approach.

[A brief aside - ten years ago, when agile was new, it was phenomenal in its effectiveness and ability to help people rethink something that was deeply broken and depressing - the typical software cycle. We’ve seen this methodology abused, both by teams who are still waterfall but call it agile, and by radical practitioners with near religious zeal for its rituals. Frameworks, people, are there to help guide the way, not relieve you of the need to think ever again.]

So – how do we apply “agile” to the business process? What follows will seem obvious, edgy or downright radical, depending on your circumstances, but this approach can scale to your level of comfort.

Step One – think
Establish your why – “how will the world be different if we achieve our goals.”  Ironically, many of us ignore the fact that we can’t answer this immediately. Perhaps its too embarrassing to admit. If this question is unanswerable, then the first stage – the first experiment – is about answering this question. Do something (almost anything). This is throwing out feelers to immerse yourself in the gestalt of the issue. It may or may not be a completely false step, but it can be an effective way entering a completely unknown realm. A kind of echolocation.

Step two – think
Depending on how new this type of project is for you, do an appropriately in depth level of planning. If it is completely new, do very little. If its your second at bat, a little more, if you do it everyday, go ahead and think it deeply through.

Step three – create resilience (think)
Consider one or more resilient approaches to the work.

A few weeks ago at KMWorld, David Snowden laid out an extremely compelling case for one highly resilient method he calls “Multiple Parallel Safe to Fail” experiments”. This is an ingenious, highly resilient process that rapidly explores the solution space in a low risk way, while maximizing the likelihood of finding success through the process of ritualized dissent. Its a magnificent and magnificently simple process (in theory), but may be a bit much for beginners. Not because it is difficult in deed – but it plays by a different set of rules, and that’s awkward.

Mr Snowden acknowledges that we can argue all we want about the best approach to a tough problem, but in the end, we cannot know in advance which is the best solution. The best approach is therefore to take all of the ideas that pass the sniff-test ( he has a fantastically useful and rigorous sniff-test he calls “ritualized dissent” ) and invest just a little in each and see what works. If at least some don’t fail, Snowden says you aren’t exploring the space aggressively enough. It makes so much sense it kind of hurts.

That said – this can be a lot to swallow for those teams and organizations who are not yet comfortable recognizing the high levels of uncertainty they live with now. It may be easier to sell a single-threaded version of this approach.

Several years ago a colleague of mine was tasked with the job of creating a social collaboration space for the entire US government. A role that she clearly understood was both a plum assigment and a catastrophe waiting to happen. She was smart enough to invite a wide variety of people into an open exploration discussion early on. She was kind enough to pretend I didn’t work for a “vendor” and invite me  to attend.

The one bit of advice I gave her was to plan on the fact that whatever she did would be inadequate by definition, but if she said up front that they would build it in three phases – then she’d get three tries at being right instead of just one. After each phase should could face the complainers and detractors with a smile and invite them to invent phase next. By the time phase 3 came along she should have made enough progress to earn a phase 4. Or not.

At the time this seemed very radical, but what I was trying to tell her is not “fail fast” which is a problematic little epithet, but to construct the plan in advance to afford opportunities to make feedback, problems and concerns a positive rather than negative element.

You do this very simply. Rather than doing it all at once, break it into pieces (whatever it is) and do something quick. Step back and check it. Adjust and go forward a little more. And when you get good at it, parallelize it in the Snowden model.

What is important to you is the only sustainable advantage

You can’t predict the future, but you can make it happen – if you have two tools at your disposal. The first is a willingness to take small steps and learn aggressively from them. The second – and this is the very most superlatively important thing – you must know what you are trying to achieve. You must have that durable internal guide that enables you make good decisions and to understand their consequences. Attaining this can be the most difficult business challenge of all. But it may be the only one that really matters.

No one would argue that Apple is a leading social business. But they are a leading visionary  business. Don’t try to copy Apple’s products, or anybody else’s. Don’t try to copy their management approach. Don’t try to copy. The checkbox wars might keep you afloat in the short term, but in the end it will fail. In the end the greatest sustainable advantage, and ultimately the most important driver of so-called “social businesses. The ability an willingness to think hard about what matters, and make it so.

The best is yet to come.

 

Note: David Snowden read the post on CMSWire, and blogged a response that is worth reading.