Month: August 2009

The radical enabler: Many to Many Communication

What’s different about today’s internet and technology – what we’re calling social media?

Many to many communication. For the first time in human history, people can converse en mass without being in the same room. The implications are many and highly varied, and this is why people have such trouble defining the terms.

We’ve moved from letters to Newspapers, Magazines and  telephone. Modern one way media like television and radio emerged. New social media tools are truly radical in that they enable multi-way communication that is so different from what precedes it, that we don’t really even have words to describe it.

“Conversation” is the best, really the only, word we have to describe this, because the only precedent for it is social events of relatively small groups of people meeting face to face. But the term is overtaxed. Appropriate in many circumstances, “conversation” does not quite get to the heart of issues like ambient awareness, group filtering, and the strange patterns of the spread of memes, ideas and information that feel like we can almost grasp them, but haven’t yet.

David Armano and the Dachis Group have started defining the terms, if not completely yet the dynamics of this in an exciting way that promises to be a useful framework for discussion. I’ve written on the various types of collaboration that people seem to struggle to articulate (though I lack Armano’s considerable skill at illustration).

We also lack words for multi-modal communication. If i want to invite someone to call/email/IM/Tweet/Social message me in the form that is most convenient, the only word I have is “ping” – an obscure term that I got from old unix guys, who got it from even older radar operators.

This strangely, but radically new form of mainstream many-to-many communication is the unique thing that social media enables, and its no surprise that we’re still grappling with its implications. We’re still figuring out what to call it.

Lawrence Lessig gives a breathtaking review of what “read-write web” means (if you haven’t watched this yet, you really should), but I think there are other basic issues that many-to-many unearths:

– We’re not completely sure how to listen. We use each other as filters, but we’re still working this out.

– We’re still working on how to engage. Best practices exist and are developing, but we’re in early stages. So what’s my point here. As always they are several.

1. We are just beginning to unpack the value of many to many, and will be doing so for the next decade or more.

2. We need more and better vocabulary to describe what we have and what we want. if we can’t discuss it, we can’t easily get it.

3. Along the way we will be articulating, demonstrating and leveraging what many of us already sense in our guts about the many ways information and insight travel from mind to mind. This hints at the astonishing power to truly connect minds, harness enthusiasm and make nearly all human endeavor more productive and efficient.

A repost: Enterprises aren’t human

When someone you respect suggests you repost something, its a good thing to do on a late friday afternoon. So for Oscar Berg, I offer you a classic post from last fall during the Obama/Hillary race for president. I’ve fixed some of the grammar, but left the rest in tact. Have a great weekend.

December 29, 2008 • 5:10 pm (Edit)

why social media is hard for government and corporate america

Since the dawn of commerce and government we’ve been programmed to believe that enterprises are not human – they are better: polished, powerful and perfect. They have a presence (rather than a personality) that does not include human characteristics, like warmth, empathy, vulnerability, hobbies or ears. The job of the people in the enterprise has always been to perpetuate and perfect this presence.

Now employees and leadership both are confused by their centuries old mandate not to act human, and their new one to do just that. They see the risks – revealing too much, legal liabilities, leaking information to competitors, and all – and are unsure of the rewards.

But they’ve heard about “viral” and “loyalty” and “word of mouth”, and “customer-evangelists”. they’ve seen Obama be cool and successful.”

And they’d like to too. But to do this they need to take a big risk. They need to be human – vulnerable, imperfect, and all that. The people in the enterprise need to be free to (and encouraged to) come out from behind the curtain, and to know what that means.

1. Most enterprises don’t share enough with their employees for the employees to feel confident as spokespeople.
– Beyond the mission statement, the leadership needs to discuss with people  the priorities and values of the company. Not just in an annual meeting, but constantly. It needs to be true and real – not white-washed. If you can’t convey your mission, aspirations and values to your employees, they can’t internalize them and carry them outward as people. Solution? Internal dialog. Perhaps facilitated by internal social media. Its NOT rehashing the phrases coming out of the PR team. Its not a ghost written memo. This means that YOU, the CEO, the VP of whatever, need to be in constant dialog with your team. It seems as though that would have more than this one benefit dosen’t it?

Here’s a simple example of corporate leadership being human in an inspirational way:

That’s not too hard. A nice step. A nice example. You could do that. You could go a step further and add an email address or a blog. You could go a step further, and do it a couple layers deeper in the organization, or for everyone in the organization. Think about how that would make the people on your team feel about being on the team.

2. Government and Commercial enterprises fear the loss of the power of the curtain.

It takes a tremendous amount of confidence to be human. It means that you are confident that on the whole, the value your organization brings to its customers is very high, and that you are operating with integrity. That you are generally proud of what goes on inside.

This is a kind of confidence that companies have not had to develop or test. But the people and organizations that we respect most are the ones with these qualities. Its the difference between Hillary and Obama, in many ways.

3. Unclear on the upside.
Well, here it is. Corporate credibility is on the decline – not because corporations are, but because people have now had enough experience to know that the facade is just that. Who believes advertising? Who trusts the literature? But they’ll trust a person – one they know, for a recommendation. They’ll trust someone they don’t know who makes the effort to gets to know them by listening, showing an interest, speaking clearly and honestly, sdoing what they say they’ll do – someone who builds a relationship with them.

If you want credibility now, you need to be communicating as an organization of people, not a corporate entity.

Focus big F, little f

I come back from my summer vacation to a desk stacked to the ceiling with stuff. Six months of expense reports, “strategic initiatives”, docs that need to be written, projects in every phase of completion, and, having actually struggled through the paper work, I’ve sat down to look at the article I’ve promised I’d flesh out on measuring the ROI of Collaboration.

So, I’m researching productivity, ROI calculations, historical information for comparison, etc and I’ve come back to the conclusion that sure, you can do an adequate job of measuring ROI in terms of it saving x% of time and money, etc. But the key to productivity for knowledge workers is Focus and focus.

Focus – knowledge work is often a swarm of activities – strategies, requirements, research, communication, project management, follow ups – an endless and endlessly evolving to do list which can be difficult to remember track or manage. This leads to two focus problems – little f focus – where I get interrupted so many times, I can’t recall what it was I was in the middle of, till I close down a few windows at the end of the day and find the email or doc I was half way through when I got distracted by twitter, a link, an email a visit, need to go to the loo, etc.

Then there’s big F focus. The big F focus is about working on the right stuff so thatyour labors, and that of your colleagues, actually makes real progress toward a particular goal. Both are important, and both can actually be aided (or hindered!) by collaboration and collaborative technologies.

Big F focus requires careful thought, direction and a keen sense of the value you’re trying to bring to your audience. Big F is about leadership – which is obviously not a technology. Or is it?

Leadership can’t be created by technology, but it can be supported and enhanced. Technologies that enable better communication amongst and between people in an organization give leaders an opportunity to better understand what is actually going on in the organization, and to better communicate goals. It means that leaders can keep focus on what matters by keeping goals and progress visible, by constant discussion and reaffirmation of direction, and by continual refinement and adjustment in response to what the team learns and the world does.

A lot of attention and press is given to leadership blogs, but there are very few (though certainly some) companies where the leadership and corporate culture support this kind of ongoing dialog about goals and how to meet them. Goals are announced annually, and much ado is made around creating some powerpoint slides. This is good – but as the year unfolds, thinking and circumstances evolves. Some of this evolution occurs in the inner sanctum of the leadership – more occurs in the broader team as they go out and on. The challenge is to bring these together so that the team and leadership can be in a constant feedback loop, constantly optimizing, focusing, aligning.

The ultimate value of collaboration in organizations is this ability to support Focus and focus, while leveraging the collective intelligence to fulfill the objective.

Technologies help here by enabling creation of a unified world view for the team, needs to keep goals, tasks and deadlines organized and in front, and support unfettered dialog amongst and between people so that they can see each other’s thinking unfold.

But tech is not the key issue. For this to work, organizations need to foster a culture where dialog is encouraged – where questions are thoughtful, where bad news is as welcome as good so that course correction is expected, welcome and planned for. Professional teams trust and respect each other and share (and foster) the thrill of a common mission and constructive debate.

So – how do we move from the maelstrom into focus? The key is communication. When I know what we’re working toward, and who’s doing what and how I can contribute, when the dialog and discussion around it is lively, I am focused. Multiply by the number of people on the team, and in the organization, and there you have it. Simple, right? Not. But shared workspaces, fluid communication, and general awareness help. A good collaborative tool supports all of these.