Government 2.0

2014 – the year business gets serious about the intangible

bubblesPhoto Attribution

In 2014 Business will embrace the intangible.

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

–       Robert McNamara as attributed by Thomas Handy in The Empty Raincoat

In the 20th century business success sprang from the combination kind of property rights (intellectual or physical), process and efficiencies of scale.

But in the 21st century we are rapidly accumulating data that suggests that the new competitive advantages are both much simpler and more complex. (Not that value chains, and differentiation don’t still matter, but scale is now definitely a matter of debate.). The new, primary source of competitive advantage is customer satisfaction and innovation. Studies suggest that the most effective way to ensure customer satisfaction is to have employees who give a darn and are empowered to act.

There’s another 20th century reality as well. Complexity. Complexity is (a lot of things, some of them very precise, but for the purposes of this discussion…) the state of being which is either intrinsically impossible to understand by traditional rationalist methods, or where the cost or time involved in such analysis makes it impractical for the time being.

It is these two big truths – the shift in competitive advantage, and the paradigm-shifting complexity that now defines our world, that are the real motivators behind the shift in business toward new humanistic models.

 

There are a few unacknowledged side effects of the shift, but perhaps the weirdest is the fact that business is now highly dependent on intangibles. We must accept things we do not understand, act in environments where cause and effect are nearly impossible to discern, and deal with the paradox of needing to think holistically and intuitively while existing in a constant state of data saturation.

So – what kind of intangibles, and what do we do about it?

My prediction is that in 2014, you’ll see these words at the center of important conversations, along with research and experimentation that leads to deeper, more actionable understanding of each. (Send in the philosophers for some of this).

  1. Intention

In 2013 I wrote about the importance of intention, how it colors our perspective and nuances every decision and every act. Moreover, intention is a uniquely human (or at least organic) capability to both set and discern. This is why authenticity rapidly became so important. Authenticity is a very specific intention and people are viscerally capable of detecting it, like we can symmetry.

  1. Narrative

How do we understand wickedly complex situations? Through narrative. People are exceptionally good at inferring patterns and meaning. Narrative can frame a wicked problem in a way that we can share it, discuss it, make inferences, and create a vision of the future. The trick of course is that narrative takes some intangible skills to build, and is not absolute. There is no one narrative, there can be many. But the way a certain narrative frames the problem (is light a wave or a particle, is data a privacy or a property issue?) can profoundly affect what we are able and willing to do with those ideas.

  1. Culture

The overused and very poorly understood emergent behavior of a human community.  It matters. You know why? Because customer satisfaction and innovation depend heavily on it. And yet we are incapable of talking about it intelligently – yet. A recent HBR blog suggests a not terribly unique but inarguably correct list of things many good cultures have, but makes no suggestion as to how we achieve those things. There are some theories. I have some myself, but we’re going to start to get serious on this issue. We have to.

  1. Leadership

Seriously. Leadership of the advanced seeker mentality. Leadership that asks questions, inculcates values and intention, narrates intention, mission, and purpose, that constantly balances confidence and humility. Leadership with the intention of building more leadership. The Charlene Li 2,0 leadership, will begin to emerge from myth and legend and the yeah, but what about Steve shadows, and start to get serious. How do we build it, recognize it, and most importantly install and sustain it.  Other forms of leadership will be failing at a pace that becomes noticeable.

 

  1. Identity

Yikes. Who am I? What is human? How much of my identity do I own? Do I have identity rights? Are they the same or different from privacy rights? Singularity, transhumanism… these topics leave the world of freaks, sci fi, “Futurists” and other fringe places and become an important part of civic dialog.

These topics, among others, will stop being airy-fairy stuff.  They will be the stuff that business is investing in. Whether we can measure it (now) or not.  This century will depend on the immeasurable, the intangible, the unpredictable. Business will develop a… kind of faith …. In the complex systems and the wondrous things that (can) emerge.

The best is yet to come.

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

10 Extraordinary things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The amazing speaker series – Part One – Simon Sinek

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

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

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

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

The Case of the Serrated Chef’s knife.

We are lucky ducks – our friends gave us their beach house (right on the beach) for a couple of weeks this month.

The kitchen of this dream house- with its fantastic 6 burner viking range – has a random beachhouse assortment of crummy implements to cook with. Among these was an an assortment of cheap knifes, and no good ones. (I do know what I’m getting them for xmas). I cook. So, I pull out I knife from the block on the counter. Its shaped like an 8 inch chef’s knife, but has a serrated blade. I declare it completely useless, and again after I actually try to chop an onion with the thing.

My husband, who does not cook (but does run the grill) says “it has to have a purpose – they wouldn’t have made it otherwise.” But, you, my savvy business friend, have already guessed the problem here I’m sure. Some manufacturer of goods headed for a discount chain said – I know how to stamp metal, I can put a plastic handle on it. I’ve looked at a knife catalog. I see chef knives and serrated knives. I know its harder to make a sharp blade than a serrated one, so I’ll put a serrated edge on it.

The manufacturer didn’t seem to get that chef’s knives are for chopping and serrated are for slicing soft things. And that if you try to do both neither works. The manufacturer surely didn’t ever cook or even bother to ask his wife or maid or chef or whatever.

The analogy here should be pretty clear. If you do not truly understand the purpose and value of your business or product you are very likely creating the equivalent of that serrated chef’s knife. Beware.

 

The Pursuit of (Organizational) Purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning may not apply

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Planning works in well understood fields that are well modeled. Consequences can be predicted and planned for. Even very complex tasks like constructing train tracks or building cars can be planned.

BUT. When you’re dealing with people, however, or the weather or global economies or other systems that are extremely complex, poorly modeled, ever-changing and impossible to predict, planning in the traditional sense is impossible and even can actually be destructive. People plan anyway – and they’re wrong, and management gets mad

The reason we plan is so that things go smoothly, details aren’t forgotten and difficulties are anticipated. It’s a good thing. When dealing with an inherently unpredictable, wicked problem, however, we do not and cannot predict what will happen. We need to acknowledge his and act in a way that will maximize the outcome while recognizing that each moment of the process may present surprises.

So our workcycle has changed. Collapsed really. We no longer plan, execute, measure, review and plan again. We inch forward doing all of those things simultaneously.

That means that at every step we have decisions to make. The world will change. Our success depends on our ability to detect, understand and respond positively to the change.

So how do we make good decisions? By understanding our goals, our vision of the outcome we’re pursuing. The more well articulated and examined our goals, the more well imagined our vision, the more effectively we can gauge progress, and the sharper the criteria we have for decision making.

Fortunately new media gives us a better way to formulate and evaluate vision and goals with our teams. It also provides us remarkable new tools to detect and to understand changes in our environment – enabling a hyper-sensory, hyper-vigilant walk toward the goal. Networking enables us to have  ambient, real-time insight into the world around us and to engage, inquire and explore that world through unprecedented access to the worlds experts and collective intelligence. We have a man in every corner of the earth. It’s a lot easier to find a needle in a haystack if the hay is helping you look. (who said this?)


This means that we can accomplish feats of great complexity over a significant timeframe – but we’re doing it in tiny chunks – basically planning only the shrinking amount of time that we can reasonably predict. And this works because we’re doing it in small chunks so that we can learn re-work, re-imagine and re-cover almost constantly. this is the process that “fail fast” ultimately is meant to support.

In some ways, the Unites States government was established in this very mold. The founding fathers articulated a clear vision. They created the role of president to lead the country in the work of achieving those goals. They created the congress as a way to detect and learn from the people, and the judiciary to constantly debate and refine the vision and to  help us understand our progress. Last they created elections to ensure that the people, who’s welfare is the governments ultimate goal can contribute and control their destinies.

So – given that the United States government has been imperfectly, but (by many measures) constantly improving (on the whole – think of things like civil rights – no, not perfect, but way better than in 1776, no?), perhaps it is not a bad model on which to model enterprise organization. We know that the despotic model is failing, and that organizations that embrace the “of, by, and even “for” their people are starting to succeed. Just a thought. Should we be looking to democratic institutions for what we can learn about the next way of organizing?

Can we ever (did we ever?) build cars or railways this way?