social media

Making Sense: The Next iPhone will be a Tricorder

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This article originally appeared in CMSWire

This past summer, I took a cab from SFO to downtown SF. I pulled out my credit card to pay the tab, and the cabbie hands me his iPhone – with a little thing stuck in the earphone jack. It was a tiny little credit card swiper. Moments later I read the email receipt of this transaction on my iPhone. This was significant because a taxi driver in D.C. a few weeks earlier had told me how expensive it is to have a traditional card reader in his cab, so I’d better have $50 cash if I want to get to the suburbs. Then, on the airplane, flipping through that catalogue that no one ever buys from, I saw a blood pressure cuff for iPhone. Its also available at Walgreens which qualifies it as mainstream for me. Just yesterday the FDA approved a Blood Glucose monitor for the i-devices. A little Google time shows me that there are also body-weight scales, projectors, and high-end microphones available. Not to mention pedometers. Actually, lets do mention pedometers. Nike mapped data from runners in London over a 15 day period. Early starts, late starts, distance runners, sprinters, neighborhoods. Its inspiring, cool, social, big data and beautiful. It is action as art. I love Nike.

But my swooning over data-aggregation-and-visualization-to push-sneakers is not the point I’m trying to make here. I joked on twitter a few months ago that the iPhone 6 would be a tricorder. Since I’ve only watched the William Shatner Star Trek (in syndication), and I don’t know the Whoopie Goldburg-and-beyond lingo, I don’t really know if you “millenials” will get what I mean by that, so I’ll explain. McCoy – he was the tech-enabled country doctor and Captain Kirk’s wing-man. He had this thingamabobber that looked like (and probably was) a tape recorder (remember those?) turned on its side. When he encountered a sick or injured person or Styrofoam rock-creature, he waved this thingy, and was able to learn everything about it. What it was made of, body temperature, heart rate, how it felt about its parents, etc. Great theatre.

Extra sensory perception.

We are all (and by “all”, I mean me, and probably you, and the people who are like us) now walking around with these devices that bring the power of the interwebz to our current context. It started (for me) by being able to walk through a dark parking lot with a cell phone in hand so that I wasn’t afraid, because my friends, family, and police were literally in my hand. A decade or so later, sightseeing in London, I was able to find out the history behind the statue and this “Cromwell” figure I was staring at. Now I can not only view my banking but make transactions with my phone (not the browser, the phone). And join a community of runners who run when and how I do. Now my phone is not just a source of information and communication it is a sensor. I can sense my environment – where I am and how fast I’m moving. I can sense information through QR codes (yeah, I know they’re still bombing, but that’s a different topic). I can sense financial info through a little doo-hicky. I can sense my blood pressure and glucose. I’m guessing the next great thing will be a thermometer to check your child’s fever and send it to the pediatrician. Perhaps I can sense how many people are in line at Starbucks before I detour there. In Paris, I could “sense” how far I was from a metro station or Notre Dame (though not without some glitches). And, critically, I could record and share it all with my family in real time. I may never need to send another postcard again. My phone is becoming a tricorder. I bet the military or MIT is working on a spectrophotometer – something that you can wave around and detect the presence of airborne chemicals or agents. Our generation’s coal-mine canary. Or perhaps cheap, portable night vision for every smart-phone owner?

Its not the internet of things, its the internet of senses.

Let me draw a different arc. In the beginning, human-kind spent their time searching for food, water and shelter. We were at the mercy of our environment. Fire, electricity, engineering and chemistry helped us master our environment. Communications helped us transcend and connect environments (we’re still evolving there, but still). We do not exactly control our environment, but we control its impact on us (within certain limitations). We are now taking what William Gibson called our “Constantly-improving, communal, prosthetic memory” and giving ourselves the ability to sense, record, share and compare what is happening right now, in our own personal context. We have built extra-sensory perception. My daughter asked me how many senses we have – she was thinking of the big five, vision, taste, etc. But our phones (which were once about talking ) are giving us a personal sense of location, speed, density, momentum, chemistry and what else? How many senses do we have now? As we stumble through our business transformations from mobile to social to cloud to big data, we arrive at the shore of sensing.

Business Sense?

Is there a business of Sense? You tell me. But I’d pay a buck ninety-nine if I could wave my phone next to my kids ear and pediatrician McCoy could diagnose her ear infection without having to bundle her up and take her to the office and then the pharmacy. I bet my insurance company would even spot me the dough. Field MRI? Traffic de-congestion? Food freshness ? The consumer market may be ready to buy as much as we can deliver. And the enterprise too. We talk about crowdsourcing – now think crowd-sensing. What could it mean for our comfort, convenience, medical care, food safety? What if the organization as organism grows literal eyes and ears as the workforce forms its nervous system? How will we tumble apace with this cascade of possibility? How will markets, organizations and humans change?

The market will absorb lots of new tech for a while – the field is very wide open. But how quickly will we generate meaning? The social media frontier may be tamed (or taming) but the sensing frontier is just beginning.

How will organizations take advantage? Ahead of the game right now are the UPS-type guys in the field with scanners, and the Starbucks folks who know what coffee beverage I chose (and probably who I drank it with) this morning. Look for hints there. Tricky issues of price/cost and bandwidth I leave for others to tackle. But while I hold off spending $75 a month for my 12 year old to have the world in his pocket, I’m not sure I’ll be able to say no when my 7 year old hits middle school. Must it cost that much? The carriers will play a pivotal role here.

The real McCoy?

So as i walk down the street now able to sense if the street vendors have the flu, the only thing missing from my tricorder will be the ee-ooowooo sound, I hope to channel some of Dr. McCoy’s folksy intuition and wisdom (“Dammit, Jim, he’s just a boy!”). I wonder, though, will my innate senses atrophy? Will my ability to read a map, never particularly acute to begin with, wither entirely away? Progress is change, change is a tradeoff. Tom Wujec’s TED talk gives a flavor of this kind of tradeoff by looking at how we told time 500 years ago. In the 16th century, the 1% checked time on an an Astrolabe – an insanely complex device that requires a good bit of training, astronomy and agility. Now time is a trivial matter. We’ve learned a lot as a society, but we’ve forgotten a lot as individuals. Will the “Watson”-enabled doctor (or CEO, or mom for that matter) retain the ability to research and ask important questions and question their results?
Our society has always had a deep and ever growing pool of wisdom – though it spent a few years out of fashion, its definitely the new black. Art, design and philosophy are re-surging as essential tools of society and business. Are they building new wisdom as we trade some older wisdoms for our new techno-senses?

The best is yet to come.

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.

Could E2.0 really mean Enlightenment 2.0?

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This is a cross-post of my current article in CMSWire. I hope you enjoy it.

Social Business doesn’t mean what you think it does. And neither does E2.0

“Social Business” is not about technology, or about “corporate culture”. It is a sociopolitical historical shift that is bigger, broader and much more fascinating.

A new perspective is changing how we think about society, politics, interpersonal relationships, science, government and business. New approaches are emerging. Learning and self-expression are exploding. Values are changing. Leadership is changing. The economy is changing. Change itself is changing – it is accelerating and becoming the norm.

Business structures founded on command and control, automation and process are giving way to structures that are less hierarchical and more dynamic, designed to engage people’s hearts and minds to make a difference in the world. Business models of the past – some of which focused on exploiting resources – human, resource, financial or legal – are beginning to fail as we reach the limits of their sustainability (Umair Haque’s New Capitalist Manifesto is a very well written and brilliant description of these forces). The new successful businesses and governments are building, not destroying. Creating durable value that is greater than the cost (financial, societal, environmental and otherwise) of the resources they consume.

In the past most business value was derived from controlling land, resources or intellectual property (processes, technologies and patents). A “Social Business” is one that derives most of its value from the hearts and minds of people who work there and the people who buy from them. A social business’s first priority is not structure or process, but the aspiration and approach that engages those hearts and minds.

If the industrial revolution’s idea of a great business was one in which every role, process and activity was well defined and controlled by management, social business is one in which every employee and customer are aligned around a common purpose.

There are 2 shifts in thinking that are driving the move to “Social Business”

1. From Command and Control to Network Management.

We have maxed out what we can do with Command and Control organizations, and we’re learning to manage networks of capable people instead.
Social Businesses are beginning to recognize that we’ve fully milked the mechanistic, reductionist concepts that lead to command and control, and to go forward, we need a new model.

Let me put that into English – Since the dawn of civilization, most organizations – governments, military and businesses – have operated in a command and control fashion. Why? First, this was the only way to communicate at scale, and second, people lacked, or were thought to lack the competence and/or the will to operate independently toward the leaderships goals. The communication problem is rapidly disappearing (though it lingers), and higher levels of education generally have profoundly reduced the need for command and control, while the complexity of the world and need for speed have diminished its effectiveness.

Stuff is changing so fast that the rigid mechanistic structures are simply failing. It has actually become harder to be productive in a big organization – economies of scale are reversing themselves in command and control environments. And in these new organizations that are networks of capable individuals who have great communications tools, leadership emerges as more important than command structure. even if most people have never heard of John Holland and Complexity Theory (I’ve recently been reminded how obscure they still are).

Hierarchy, process and automation are returning to their proper place – as tools that support human efficiency and capability. Rather than the 20th century model of people existing to keep the processes running, we are now flipping it around so that processes exist to support us. Processes and automation amplify human capability. Importantly, there is another profound amplifier of human capability – and that is other humans! The focus on collaboration fueled by radically improved communication and the internet that William Gibson deliciously described as our “increasingly efficient, communal, prosthetic memory” is dramatically changing how we think about organizational structure, efficiency, learning and innovation – even if most people have never heard of Complexity Theory.

2. Business needs people and people need respect.

To do good work, people must constantly be scanning their environment, understanding and inventing solutions to problems. Command and control is not the best way to encourage or benefit from this – particularly as the organization grows large. Consumers (constituents, clients etc), similarly, are tired of being taken for granted, and also wish to be respected as the ultimate judges of your organization’s value. The same increase in talent, education and capability that makes networked organizations possible, means that the people themselves have thought beyond their occupation as a means to survival. They want more from it, and want to offer more to it.

Hence, your organization is now in the business of earning and maintaining the respect of your market and your team. Your team is useless to you if it is not well respected, and your market will simply walk away if it thinks you are trying to trick, cajole or manipulate it. Daniel Pink’s research shows that people, in order to be truly motivated in their work, require autonomy, mastery and purpose. Simon Sinek goes on to show how purpose is also key to market success. The common thread here is respect. Respect the purpose of your organization, respect the capabilities of your workforce, respect the attention and value of your customers.

Command and Control doesn’t allow for that kind of engagement. A strictly hierarchical organization struggles to engage and consider each of its employees. Executives miss many, many opportunities for insight and problem solving because they don’t know how or don’t value the contribution of their corps. Similarly, a company that is not maximizing the amount of engagement between its employees and the people they serve are walking away from the real value potential they have – which is to understand an audience, and share their perspective with it.

Social Business is one that recognizes that their mission is engaging hearts and minds to achieve excellence. Social Business is about respecting people.

Geeking out on the riff, or what E2.0 really stands for

Social Business is a reflection of a larger societal shift. Its tempting to draw analogies between what is happening now and the Enlightenment, which began transforming Europe in the mid 17th century and ran straight into the the 18th. The Enlightenment changed how we westerners thought. We went from norms of feudalism and mythology to democracy, rationalism and reductionism.
It brought us both democracy and the industrial revolution. Woah. It took a century or so, but it was a radical rewrite of how we think about who we are and how we live.
It was hastened on its way by the invention of the printing press, Newtonian math and science, Liberalism, and a number of philosopher scientists who were later excommunicated.

The enlightenment was characterized by an intellectual elite that saw the opportunity for a better world. It gave us the tools to re-explore the world from a rational, reductionist perspective using scientific principles – predictable consequences of any action – to transform everything from navigation to technology and society itself. It was hastened on its way by the invention of the printing press, Newtonian math and science, Liberalism, and the work of philosopher scientists who were frequently excommunicated.

Rationalism lead to a massive diffusion and expansion of scientific knowledge, math and technology. in this mindset, the perfect system, the perfect business structure, was one where every variable was known, every detail calculated. Whether consciously or un, we tried to model our organizations after these ideals. When every variable was known, we would have complete control. Henry Ford capitalized (so to speak) on this principle with his famous assembly lines. Things became fast and consistent – a fundamental enabler of the industrial revolution and mass production which allowed for the creation of an educated middle class. [This TED talk which looks at how the invention of the washing machine lead to the modern concept of parenting, seems at first blush silly and then absolutely profound. Imagine if women in developing countries didn’t have to carry water – but I digress (and you should too – the TED talk and water stats are worth seeing).]

Enlightenment 2.0, which we could argue is what’s happening now, has been catalyzed by quantum mechanics (you really can’t know it all, sister), complexity theory, and social media technologies, is leading us from the age of reason to the age of – emergence (?!?) – where we will start to understand that while we cannot predict or control what will happen, we can surf it. It is enriched by humanist thinking and a general increase in the global standard of living that allows people to care about determining their lives, rather than simply surviving. We are again seeing the rise of the polyglot polymath- the person who knows some science, some philosophy, some business, some politics and is taking control of producing their ideas. (Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are as well known for their contributions to science and technology as to politics). This is a time when we are again inventing, acting, doing as well as learning. This will change the way we think and act as dramatically as the first Age of Enlightenment, though it may take as long to unfold. It takes a while to re-wire the human psyche.

Human behavior is one of the most non-deterministic, irreducible forces we deal with in day to day life. The Enlightenment respected that, at the same time as it created the paradoxes of command and control and mechanistic views of the world. We’re now able to come back and reevaluate the role of human complexity in society. Enlightenment 2.0 is causing Enterprise 2.0 to embrace complexity and human behavior.

A Social Business is a business that respects and profits from the complexity and unlimited potential of people.

The best is yet to come.

Wicked Teams for Wicked Problems

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

What are Wicked Problems?

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

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

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

Wicked Problems are Wicked Important

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

Enterprises are rife with wicked problems

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

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

The Age of Constant Disruption and Actionability

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

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

You Can Do Anything With a Decent Team and a Laptop

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

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

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

Respect 2.0

As we ponder (and recirculate) the various 2.0 notions that are insinuating themselves into the business world, I’d like to reflect for a moment on the critical underpinning of all 2.0 social and business phenomena.

Leaders are now able (and required) to respect their teams,. Companies are able (and required) to respect their customers and prospects more fully, and peers and partners must do the same. But respect is not merely a matter of attitude but one of connoisseurship.

What I mean by that is this – a little education on how to listen for and appreciate people helps a lot – much as a course in wine tasting helps you identify different flavors and characteristics of wine to be alert and aware of. By respect – i do not mean “fear” or obedience – as is often implied. Respect in this context means the expectation that your contribution is valuable, that your perspective is important to consider, and that I can not, ever, assume that my thinking or my contributions are superior to yours simply because you are younger, subordinate on the hierarchy, less well known than I, etc.

This does not mean that you should not be discerning – but that that your discernment should be based on your experience with an individual, not based on roles or labels.

Jeffrey Levy is an excellent connoisseur of expertise. He has a little catch phrase that really hit home with me. “An Expert” he says, “is anyone who knows one thing that you do not.” Have you ever met anyone who did not know something that you don’t? Even one thing? A true expert expert will be able to find out what that one thing is, and truly value it.

Michael Edson is another very fine connoisseur. He has a delightful – and extremely effective – knack for divining what a person can and should contribute, and describing that to others in a way that makes you eager to meet and learn from that person yourself.

The peculiarly and surprisingly effective speaker training I did with SecondCity last year, was in effect teaching us how to tune ourselves to highlight and demonstrate respect for our audiences (with a bit of good performance techniques thrown in).

There’s a reason I’ve gone down this path. This authenticity, trust, listening, collaboration, etc, that we’re all talking about (endlessly it sometimes seems), can only come to fruition as we make respect the basis of every interaction. This may seem obvious – but this is actually counter to our traditional notions of most relationships. There is an implicit expectation of inequality in most of our relationships, and this impairs our ability to respect and to listen. Most relationships are assumed to be one of superior and subordinate. The truly peer relationship – that of equals  – is the exception, not the rule in our current society. These relationships were documented by Confucius, but no doubt existed prior to that.

This makes people who respect others first and foremost stand out. They make outstanding leaders, because they are not patronizing. They make outstanding collaborators because the inevitably bring out the best in their co-conspirators. They are the future, and I look forward to them being more evenly distributed.

Respectfully submitted.

Its not the same thing – the 3 types of collaboration

A year or so ago, i found myself in a (slightly heated) discussion around what the key enabling factors for collaboration were. Somewhere along the way, I discovered (as often happens when one is debating with ones spouse, or at least my spouse) that we were actually not talking about the same thing.

I was talking about helping teams to work together. He was talking about helping people who may not know one another connect as their expertise becomes relevant to one another. Oh. Well those are very different things, and while some enabling factors are similar, these two activities actually have rather different requirements both culturally, organizationally and technologically.

After working this issue for a while, I’ve labels the three major types of collaboration. This categorization seems to work for most people, and I’d love to hear what you think as well. I believe that it is critically important that we have a shared language to discuss and describe these different concepts if we are to make any progress toward enabling them in organizations. We cannot become sophisticated and make progress here if we cannot define the terms. So here is my take on this, and I look forward to your refining input.

Collaboration refers to a cluster of 3 types of activity – they are often interdependent and linked, but they are distinct in what they can achieve, and what is required to enable them.

1 Creative Collaboration.

Creative collaboration is collaboration that’s intended to create something. It is goal-oriented, and has a defined team (though stakeholders may come and go) that is responsible for delivering that product. Examples here are a product team, a legal team, a team responsible for an RFP, or a marketing launch, or developing a product, or a corporate acquisition.

The objective for this type of collaboration is to be able to achieve what an individual can not, either because its too much work for a single individual, or, as is more common, it requires a multitude of skills or perspectives to achieve.

The outcome that we’re concerned with is a factor of the team’s productivity. We want the outcome to happen as quickly, cheaply and with the highest possible quality, and collaboration has been shown to improve each of these dimensions. [citations]

What we need to do to encourage such collaboration is make it easy for teams to form, communicate, get organized, contribute, aggregate and iterate on work. I talk about this in depth in a recent post “Is Collaboration enough for Productivity.” Technology helps enormously here by providing shared workspaces, a variety of communications tools (wikis, document management, discussion forums, instant messages, etc), which, if you’re lucky enough to have well designed software, accelerates the rate at which people can get work done, and removes barriers like geographical and organizational distance.

The key cultural requirements for success for such teams are (and forgive me if you’ve heard this before) 1) a shared sense of mission 2) mutual respect 3) trust 4) a commitment to continual improvement. I’ve discussed these elements elsewhere on this blog, so I’ll spare you the details right now.

2. Connective Collaboration – its not the wisdom of crowds, its the aggregated wisdom of individuals.

This refers to connecting with a broader community – the organization as a whole, or even more broadly than than. You may not know most of the people in this community. The goal of this type of collaboration is to connect dots – find expertise and resources as you need them. Discover unexpected relevance, connections or insights, and maximize the chances that information, resources and expertise find the places that they’re meaningful or critical. (I’ve written about this in several places too – “Intel clear on ROI of Social Media” and “ Is collaboration enough to connect-the-dots?”). While there are examples of this type of requirement everywhere – science, healthcare, art, strategy, problem solving of nearly every kind – the most notable examples these days are from the intelligence community – is it possible that the intel community could have identified and connected the dots to warn them of the 9/11 attacks? The Christmas 09 underwear bomber? The answer is – maybe. There’s a lot involved in that problem, and I won’t get into all of it here, but recognizing patterns of droplets of  information and activity in an ocean of activity is not easy. The goal right now is to maximize the odds.

Connective Collaboration requires a broad, loosely connected community that can maintain awareness of activity, and ideally, technology that helps them find, discover or get pinged about relevant information, resources, insight and expertise –  that they may or may not have been aware of – elsewhere in the system. Status and microblogging have proven surprisingly useful here to build ambient awareness of what is going on  in the organization. It is also vital, however, to have communication and work indexed and searchable to be able to find those nuggets of connection. Semantic analysis, and statistics also have much to offer (and far to go) here.

3. Compounding Collaboration – Standing on the shoulders of giants.

The purpose of compounding collaboration is to ensure that whatever our endeavor, we are leveraging, to the greatest extent possible, the work that has been done already. Even if it is only to show us what to avoid. To the extent that we can do this, we can constantly compound and extend our capabilities, productivity and agility. There is nothing that can compete with this sort of dynamic, and it in competitive situations it trumps nearly any other dynamic (think of compound interest on your money – you cant catch up with an early, strong start).

To achieve this, we need to be able to capture work. Work is not only about documents. Work is what happens when you’re creating those documents (or other products) – what resources were used? What questions were asked? Who answered them? How did you overcome obstacles? What were the false starts or poor assumptions? What processes were followed?

The beauty is, that if you’re using technology to support Creative Collaboration, you should be capturing all this, so that the next people coming through can learn from what you achieved – or failed too. (cultural note – you need a culture where its ok to fail, and it is a respected part of the learning, discovery and continual improvement process).

The field of Knowledge Management was devised to support this type of efficiency and collaboration. But the trouble with KM as it was defined in the 1990s , is that knowledge capture and dissemination was separate from the work itself. It is something that must be undertaken and explicitly referred to. The implications of this are many, but it usually means that only the most formal, documented and recognized knowledge is captured. That a vast majority of insight is lost, and that what is captured is only found if someone explicitly thinks of looking there. In other words, because the prior generation of knowledge management techniques were largely divorced from the act of work itself, they were inefficient at both capture and dissemination of knowledge.

The new age of collaborative technologies should fix this, and make knowledge capture and transfer much, much easier.

There are other issues here as well – onboarding and training of new people.

I was recently part of a discussion where people were talking about the twin issues of senior people leaving and junior people coming up to speed. I’m a firm believer that one of the most tried, true and effective methods of transferring large amounts of knowledge is through apprenticeship – (try learning to make a pie crust from a book, vs doing it  with a friend or relative who already knows how). The transparency and team environments that good collaborative technologies can create enable apprenticeship on a broader scale than ever possible – and the beauty is that it goes both ways. The new kid can teach the old fart some new tricks too – without any loss of face on either side. Transparent environments are tricky and imperfect, and extremely sensitive to culture and organization – but they are also the most effective learning environments there are.

So there you have it. Deb’s basic taxonomy of collaboration. Thanks, Ken, for pointing out that I hadn’t pulled this together in a single post before. And thanks in advance to you, for your feedback so that this can be further refined and increasingly useful.

Is Collaboration Enough for Knowledge Management?

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve written (dashed-off is more accurate) about the relationship between collaboration and team productivity, and collaboration and the ability to connect the dots.

I’m working to ensure that we move the conversation away from collaboration per se, to what we’re actually trying to achieve –

  • We want to increase the productivity of knowledge work.
  • We want to solve hard problems.
  • We want to ensure that we can leverage the collective intelligence of our organizations.
  • We want to leverage the work, expertise and assets we have.

That last bullet there is what has traditionally been called Knowledge Management.

Knowledge Management has been in a tough spot for the last couple of decades. Its been identified both as a strategic imperative, and largely a failure.

There are three key reasons for this.

1. First generation knowledge management captured only formal, not tacit, knowledge.

I previously swore off using the term tacit knowledge because people don’t get it and think that its too abstract a concept. For the purposes of this discussion, lets just say that tacit knowledge is the stuff in the organization that people know, but haven’t written down in a formal, organized fashion. It its most basic form, this is the “does anyone know if we’ve ever had a customer who needed x?” or the “does anyone know where to get y” type of information.

It is well known that the vast majority of knowledge in the enterprise is tacit.

2. First generation knowledge is not part of any natural workflow, but an afterthought.

Its an additional chore. It doesn’t help me, so I don’t always practice perfect citizenship and take the extra time to ensure my work is properly catalogued.

3. Usability is poor. I can’t find what is useful for me when I need it.

Obviously defeating the purpose.

So – how does collaboration, or more specifically, social collaboration help solve the knowledge management problem?

1. Social collaboration puts more work and communication in shared, digital form.

By work, I don’t just mean documents. I mean discussion, question and answers, comments – the types of things that often either happen over the phone, or in the black hole, commonly known as email. Because these less formal, more fragmented items are captured, indexed and searchable in conjunction with the more formal knowledge captured in documents.

2. Knowledge capture becomes an organic part of work.

The greatest part of these systems is that I do not have to do anything extra to contribute to the knowledge base. The collaboration platform just absorbs what I do as the course of my work – comment on documents, ask and answer questions, revise, collect feedback, collect links and resources, etc. THIS is the critical point – knowledge capture – the key to knowledge management is organic and automatic.

3. Ease of Use

I’ve called social media in the enterprise a Trojan horse. Its raising the bar on usability for enterprise apps (and how we approach work – but that’s the next post). Social Collaboration tools (good ones!) are well designed so that people actually want to use them. The benefit far outweighs the trouble of using them. So they actually get used. Knowledge is actually captured, and can be meaningfully found.

4. Finding and connecting.

So what about the case when there’s knowledge and resources out there, but you don’t know it? See the last post on Connecting the Dots.

Even better – if your collaboration system is a good one (disclosure, this one is my baby right now), when you search, you’ll not only find the content, but the people who are most actively contributing content in that area.

Now the obvious issue – if I build it will they come? No. They won’t. To be successful in collaboration there must be a happy marriage between understanding your business objectives, the technology, and perhaps most importantly, the culture of your organization. That will be the topic of my next post. If you’re curious about some of my thoughts in this realm prior to my next post,  you can check out a little 10 minute  webinar on the culture of teams that I did (its not my finest – lots of uhms and ahhs, but it makes the point, consider it an early rehearsal) or this slideshare below:

Is collaboration enough to connect-the-dots?

Connecting the dots is what we call the problem of finding various bits of the answer from various people who may not have been aware of the question to begin with. I described this more deeply in a previous post on the intelligence community’s connect the dots problem:

Imagine 10,000 people on 17 teams, working on 100,000 jigsaw puzzles. Now imagine that some of the pieces have been randomly distributed among the other players. Nobody knows how many pieces are in each puzzle. And some pieces may be missing entirely, or fit into multiple puzzles simultaneously. Each person has a limited number of puzzles that they are aware of, and some may be working on the same puzzle without realizing it.

They need a system that will make it possible for people to know what pieces the others have, for the pieces themselves to find the holes they might fit into, and – here’s the odd one – the holes can describe themselves to the pieces. This one needs one with some blue in it, or a fairly oval shaped connector.

Why do we need to connect dots?

Problem solving – I’m working on a problem. Say its how to satisfy a customer’s tricky technology issue. Say its figuring out how to keep explosive underwear off of airplains, or how a particular frog species might predict global warming effects, or how a certain bacteria may solve the worlds energy crisis, or competing against another technology company in a market sector. These can be extremely difficult problems. They all depend on being able to form a complete picture from a diverse set of information, understanding the implications of that picture and being able to act on that insight.

So. Suppose I’m looking for a cure for cancer. Some other person in my company (or not) is studying the effects of pseudonameotryxlate on diabetes. She notes that this drug seems to limit hair growth, but she’s not certain why. I notice that one of the key processes in this cancer progression is the same process that is involved in hair follicle generation. How am I going to know about the study on diabetes?

What if I had a system that would tell me about things that had to do with hair. What if I had a general awareness of surprising outcomes that people chatted about?

What if I were trying to form a strategy to compete against a certain vendor. And one of the sales reps got a comment from a prospect about that vendor that told us something we didn’t know.

What if I’m on a services team, struggling with some exotic server configuration that I’d never seen before – but someone in my org has….

So what are the components that would be of value to us here (so, so, so – why do I write this way?).

First – you need a system which will capture small bits of knowledge, not just formal documents or even wikis. Fortunately, social media tools are (can be) nicely designed to facilitate and capture question and answer, comments, remarks and corrections. In a good system, these will be indexed and retrievable.

Second – you need a system that promotes some level of ambient awareness – twitter/yammer type capability is very helpful here, as you see a (somewhat self filtering) stream of activity go by that you never really have to deal with, but you’ll notice when something critical pops up.

Third, you need a really, really good search tool. This search should not only identify content, in the form of docs, comments, Q&A and wikis, but should also identify people who may have generated that content, and communities, projects or networks where that activity is taking place.

Fourth- you need to let technology work for you in the form of recommendations based on semantic and statistical analysis. Both the – “these concepts are similar and therefore you might want to check this other one out” idea, and the amazon recommends concept “people who read or write about x also find y interesting”.

In this way you are maximizing the flow and availability of information in your organization, and allowing it to be filtered by a) yourself b) your network and c) technology – which is a winning trifeceta. With you, your network and your technology working in complementary fashion to find information most valuable to you, you have maximized your chances of finding what you need to know and which you may not know to ask about.

A social collaboration system should have each of these components, leveraging the productivity focus of collaboration into a refined ability to connect the dots.

Social Media is not a strategy

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Web 2.0 Conference. The conference, like the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston this past summer,  is atypical in that most of the good stuff was happening in the talks and workshops. People were there to learn and see what the thought leaders were thinking. And there were some fabulous thinkers there. Jeff Dachis and David Armano gave a fantastic discussion of social business, Gentry Underwood artfully presented is very useful insights into adoption of Enterprise 2.0. Really, the list of luminaries and their beautiful and insightful presentations are well worth a look here.

In this context, my talk was very nervously executed (I was speaking on topics I don’t normally cover, I’m more of a culture and collab gal), but the quality of the audience was fantastic. The basic idea was this. You don’t start with a social media strategy. You start with a marketing strategy, a customer relationship strategy and a collaborative objectives strategy.

Insightful and important questions ranging from budgeting to competitive differentiators, and importantly, how to convince people of the worth of what you’re doing came up, and I believe the Q&A lasted longer than the talk itself.

More than 100 people came to my session, and I was grateful for the engaged audience, and have a lot of new twitter buds as a result. Hopefully I also created some interest in the excellent range of technologies, products and expertise that Open Text has to enable Enterprise social media.

My slides from the talk are here. If you attended the session, or if you didn’t, I’d appreciate your thoughts and a continuation of the Q&A.

A Means to an End: Aligning Social Media and Business Strategy.

Social media is many things with many definitions. Ultimately, however, it is a collection of tools that enable us to get some things done that were difficult, impossible or just less satisfying than before.

This is a discussion is about what types of business objectives are better achieved with social media. I will look at social media as a tool for market engagement, customer service (in the broadest sense), lead generation, as well as a productivity tool, and a tool for creating high-performance corporate cultures. As with any good tool, the real value is in how its wielded – and the applications of it are limited only by the insight, imagination and ambition of the craftsmen who use it.

Lets begin with an overview of business objectives:

Market Engagement

Businesses want to engage their markets for several reasons:

– To understand market needs, wants, goals and desires so as to craft products, services, messaging and pricing to suit.

– To create awareness of their brand or offerings.

– To get new customers

– To improve their reputation Mainstream Social media has proven to be remarkably useful in each of these regards.

Enabling brand and product managers to listen to their markets, engage and discuss their needs and their offerings in a way that was nearly impossible before. Key tools: Mainstream social media sites and aggregators: Facebook, twitter, youtube, myspace, niche social networks that cater to your target market. Connections back to your own web properties is essential.

Customer engagement

Customer service in the form of providing information, support, service, updates and more for the purposes of increasing satisfaction, optimizing revenue opportunities, creating loyalty and customer advocates.

Social media has made customer engagement far less expensive while making it far more effective and satisfying for both customer and company. Key tools: Some mainstream social networking and media aggregation sites, but your own web properties play more of a starring role here. Custom Social networking sites for customer service, account management, customer communications are the primary tools, external social media tools are a place to reach out in order to bring your customers into your communities.

Employee engagement

Corporate intranets are intended to share corporate information, policies and processes with employees. In general, they are poorly designed, and disrespected as having only the most banal information. Adding a social dimension here can help increase relevance, share leadership thinking more deeply and in a fashion that garners greater buy in by employees. Employees can also be encouraged to share ideas, find answers to policy and process questions, make suggestions and generally get more benefit from the core corporate support services such as HR, facilities, finance and procurement.

Key tools: discussion forums, ratings, Q&A, idea management, blogs, microblogging.

Employee productivity

While social media is frequently thought of as a social, extra-curricular activity that may have some benefit in the brand reputation and PR realm, the same tools that allow this form of communication can also be leveraged to create super-effective, next generation productivity tools.

These tools are not toys, but leverage the new communications paradigms offered by these tools to quickly get good work done. Most organizations, particularly those that deal primarily in information and ideas – that is any company that has a significant creative, analytic or R&D arm – needs to optimize and leverage that work and those work processes to the greatest extent.

Social media tools, because of their ability to improve communications, as well as create and maintain weak ties, make it easier to support the three most important forms of collaboration and productivity:

Creative – a team can use shared workspaces and other social media constructs, such as feeds and wikis to organize work, collect individual contributions, review, edit, and iterate vastly more efficiently than only through the use of in person meetings, email and conference calls.

Connective – knowledge workers can tap the collective intelligence of the organization by finding and friend-ing knowledgeable people within the organization, spotting trends and activity that may be relevant, and contributing their own value where its relevant and valued. This type of activity can save thousands of hours in the “who knows x about y” department and research has shown that tapping a diverse set of skills and perspectives leads to higher quality outcomes in less time.

Compounding – Here’s the fundamental idea: all work should leverage, to the greatest extent possible, leverage work that has already been done. Most companies currently have the basic capability to let employees search on documents and find things of relevance (this is rarely perfect, but even so). Social media tools, however, capture not just work product, such as documents, but work processes and resources as well, making it possible to find not only a document, but how it was created, how it evolved, who contributed, and what resources were used. The ability to find and follow this type of information is vastly more valuable than having just the end product to an employee who must accomplish a similar task or bring it to the next level.

Key tools: shared workspaces, communities, friending, profiles, wikis, feeds, instant messaging, planning tools, and other technologies that promote information aggregation, communication and networking.

 

Challenges

The Challenge of acting human: As I’ve said before – acting human is an unnatural act for most corporations. They’ve been trying for so long to be perfect and distance themselves from the warmth and fallibility of humanity so as to project flawless, rock-like solidity. The problem is that in this post-commerical era, where consumers are jaded, the corporate façade is not trusted – its considered more of a sham than deserving confidence above and beyond people. People now trust people more than brands. So how do you act human without being inconsistent? Warm without looking incompetent? Sympathetic, interesting and engaging without looking unprofessional?

Well, it takes a leap of faith. Savvy employees will understand that they are aiming to reflect well on the company as well as engender excitement and loyalty from the market. Mistakes will be made. Respect will be given to those companies who admit their mistakes immediately, and offer thoughtful, meaningful responses to them. Plan for success and plan for the mistakes

The Payoff: Trust, credibility, loyalty.

The challenge of the collaborative culture: collaborative cultures are different. They are mission focused, ego-swallowing machines where every problem and challenge is quickly surfaced, discussed and dealt with. Individuals, and the team as a whole learn quickly, act decisively, and efficiently  by quickly engaging people, harvesting their work, and letting the entire team polish and hone it to perfection.

We aren’t used to working this way, however. It takes a tremendous leap of faith that I can show my vulnerabilities and still be respected. information sharing is valued over information hording, and leadership is distilled into its purest form of setting direction, orchestrating activity, inviting and responding to new information from any part of the organization.

Management by fear and blame is left behind along with its tendency to breed mediocrity from people who either don’t want to take risks, or who have lost faith that their best contributions can be valuable in the organization.

The payoff: agile, smart, streamlined efficiency that can shine like a laser beam on any challenge. Fierce productivity.