A 2 x 2 analytical framework for identifying who you’re dealing with. Doodled while trying to explain the difference.
We’ve been seeking enterprise 2.0 and social business for several years now with some notable success, but still quite a lot of “vague,” and some level of fatigue.
We have found some easy fixes (employee social streams), and discovered challenges that are devilishly difficult (aligned and coordinated, but still autonomous action and decision-making, or convincing boards of directors that sometimes employees and customers need to precede shareholder value).
The recent announcement by Zappos that it was changing its organizational structure to a “holocracy” suggests that forward-thinking companies are taking it all very seriously. They recognize the emerging proof that a more collaborative organization is a more profitable one.
So what does this mean for the rest of us? What of big, hierarchical, traditional organizations – especially public ones – can they change? Should they? How can we make this happen? Now command and control is only one of several recognized models of leadership and organizational design. Alternatives are no longer fringe ideas, but increasingly mainstream.
Organizational design has a huge impact on decision-making and collaboration, and both reflects, and often creates, the level of collaboration and autonomy with and amongst the workforce. Culture may eat strategy for lunch but decision-making, reporting and budgeting structures can either birth or strangle both culture and strategy with both hands tied behind its back.
At this stage we have four primary organizational models along a continuum from command and control to cooperative and anarchic. From GM to Valve, we might call it with a Basecamp and a Zappos thrown in to complete the picture. Each has strengths and weaknesses.
This new diversity of models is a good thing, and in the long run different orgs will benefit from different models. What works, for example, in an R&D environment may not work in retail or restaurants (Or maybe it will, eventually.)
What are their relative strengths and weaknesses? What could catalyze a shift from one model to the next? Some reflections:
1. Command and control (push) hierarchies.
We are all familiar with this. Decisions are made at the top by one or a few people and pushed down to people who are expected to act on orders, not to question them. Those below the point of decision-making are rarely asked to contribute to a decision. Discipline is strict. Fear is the primary motivator along with the potential to rise in the ranks.
- Consistency: Reliable, repeatable systems.
- Rapid, if not always optimal, decision-making.
- Efficiency of scale, in many domains.
- Thrive in in highly stable environments, and can use relatively unskilled or illiterate workers (some will argue that they are “exploiting” rather than “making use of”)
- Inflexible. These organizations are not quick to learn, or change in response to changing events. This depresses innovation, along with most employees that have achieved any level of consciousness themselves. There are exceptions of course.
- Employees are only rarely engaged or committed to the work. They may or may not be aligned with a mission that they may or may not understand.
- Capabilities are generally limited by the decision-makers themselves. So the strengths and weaknesses of the oligarchy are in effect the strengths and weaknesses of the entire organization, for better or worse.
2. Pull hierarchies
Decision-making is still concentrated at the top. The difference between push and pull hierarchies is management style and communications pathways. Management “pulls” insight and contributions from the team. Leadership approach is the key difference. Leaders ask their teams to inform answers and decisions. Leaders are meant to help their teams collaborate, grow as individuals, do great work, build mastery and commitment from their teams in service to a mission or purpose that is broadly recognized.
Strengths: More Rapid Learning, high(er) employee engagement, more flexibility and innovation than pull hierarchies. Leaders encourage and value collaboration, recognizing the difference between leadership and management. The potential of collaboration, diversity are better captured. Employees are more respected for having information and capabilities that management doesn’t.
Weaknesses: Success depends on leadership capabilities and philosophies of each manager. Decision-making can be complex, slow, and ambiguous. Conflict has the potential to undermine the model – it works well when things are going well, and can seize up when times are hard. There are few formalized practices for dealing with conflict, so a lot depends on people’s willingness to cooperate. These organizations are often uneven, with some managers or leaders understanding their role well, and others taking a more C&C approach.
How to transform a Push to a Pull Hierarchy:
Change leadership – to make the change from push to pull, one must either change the hearts and minds of existing leadership or replace them wholesale. The challenge is that this is almost always a gradual and uneven process, difficult to measure, and can create lots of conflict in the transition. The transition depends on the conversion of the former command and control leadership. While some grassroots efforts have impact in some teams and some organizations, ultimately it is the commander in chief – in whatever guise – that must buy in to make it work.
Holocracy is new to me. I learned about it along with most of you, around the time of the Zappos announcement that it was going hole. Many fine writers have commented on this structure. Steven Denning’s somewhat skeptical review of Holocracy was the first I read, and I followed a number of his links to original sources of Holocratic thinking. In essence, the business becomes a hierarchy of self-directed and self-organized teams, governed by a constitution (at least it’s not a manifesto.) This is somewhat reminiscent of the early work in Agile software development, with which it has some values and processes and general concepts in common –a ritualized structure and process for achieving highly flexible organizations.
Holocracies are purpose-driven and use well-defined processes to of distribute decision-making. One of Holocracy’s proponents wrote an interesting response to the Denning article. He is from a company called Holocracy One. Holocracy is their brain child and a registered trademark. Hmm.
Strengths: Distributed decision-making and self-direction better capitalize on human potential. Rituals and procedures oversee potential areas of conflict, clarifying decision-making in areas that a pull hierarchy struggles with. This theoretically will maximize learning, business outcomes and individual development.
Weakneses: The general public doesn’t have much exposure to real life holocracies yet. Zappos is not the first to go Holocracy, but it is the largest. We aren’t familiar with how it scales. I would not be surprised if Holo followed a similar path to agile in terms of becoming a mainstream idea over the course of a couple of years, adopted by some and mangled by many, if not most.
How to change form a Pull Hierarchy to Holocracy:.
This would require deep commitment from the board, the c-team and their core teams. It would require extensive education and training for the entire organization. It is a wholesale and intentional re-org.
Did Zappos fire all the managers? Get them to agree to non-manager roles? Convert them all to “team leaders”? Adjust their salaries? Did they need to? Did they have a month of company-wide training in Holocracy practices and procedures? I haven’t yet found any information on this. It would be interesting to hear how this reorg is being received now and how employees will feel about it a year or more from now. It’s a gutsy move, and I applaud it, but wonder how it will work in reality.
Some information: Wirearchy is a term coined several years ago by Jon Husband. It’s a perfect term for the emergent, collaborative structures of a heavily connected community of peers. It gives a name to a kind of idealized organization – what Stowe Boyd would call a cooperative. It focuses on creating and sustaining flows of information. One could argue that Valve is sort of a wirearchy (thought it could also be a variant of an holocracy). Valve describes its approach as “spontaneous order” and actually have a very interesting economist thinking through their organizational challenges with them. They consider their organization an economy of merit. (The next big discussion we need to have about all of this is the role of scale and emergence. Emergent entities like economies (and cultures) act very differently at different scales.)
At valve, employees choose which projects they want to work on and how much time to devote to each. The idea being that the best ideas and people will draw in the best resources.
Strengths: optimizes individual contribution, emergence and opportunity space.
Weaknesses: Top-down planning extremely difficult. Ensuring coverage of the mundane can be extremely difficult. Outstanding, but potentially unreliable results. (By unreliable, I really mean unpredictable. Which is ok, in many situations, but may not be in life or death situations. This is where we still have a lot of learning to do – this balance on the edge of optimization and rigor, emergence, resilience and dependability. Faith and knowledge. Where business begins to resemble eastern philosophies.)
This type of organization may work best at very small or very large scale. The middle places –where the vast majority of business is done – is tricky.
How to transform a Holocracy to a Wirearchy: I am not sure you can. It would be a matter of faith. It would have to be undertaken in such a way that the downside risks of unpredictability are low – either because there isn’t much to lose or worry about.
This may be the kind of structure that you need to be born into. An organization born with these principles will have a vastly greater opportunity to succeed than a command and control organization that dreams of something different. The change would challenge every notion of business, making the transition painful and difficult for existing people.
Do Hierarchies dream of wired sheep?
If you believe that “command and control” never dreams of wirearchy, you may be wrong. In many large organizations, especially the ones where the outcomes are “real” – beyond shareholder value – I’m talking about hospitals, and government, and energy and the military and education – people are recognizing that there are new models out there. There is a nascent optimism that the intractable problems of generations shimmer with new potential. That in a giant leap of faith, we can step away from our expectations of the past and reimagine a future without limits.
You may not travel far down this path with any one organization. Or perhaps you may. The profound thing here is that there are real options and real experience to begin to learn from. We are no longer limited to the idea that one model fits all. It’s a new opportunity to be creative and to test centuries old assumptions.
Go forth and report back, please.
The best is yet to come.
Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.” — Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter
I am beginning a new journey in a new role as a marketing leader. As such, and fresh from a delightful coffee with @mpedson, I think we need to talk about marketing.
What Marketing Was
Traditionally, marketing has been fundamentally manipulative. Marketing was designed to make products (and brands) desirable by whatever means necessary or possible.
(If you are not a Harry Potter fan, then get reading. The few nights of sleep you’ll lose reading them are a very reasonable price to pay.)
In the first book we find poor orphaned but magical Harry around about the castle, where, in an old and unused room, he finds the Mirror of Erised, in which he sees his deeply yearned for and long gone parents. Ron, sees himself holding the big trophy. The mirror, as you well know, shows people their deepest desire (hence the name).
Traditional marketing tries to put its brand or product in your Erised reflection. It wants you to want it (with some apologies to Cheap Trick). It strives to make things an object of desire that you happily pay for.
What Marketing Can Be
Marketing 2.0 (or enlightened or social or what have you modern marketing) is a different thing altogether. The idea is to put you back in the mirror — you, slightly better. But the very best marketing, the marketing I aspire to, my Erised, shows an improved you in the mirror, along with a real, credible way to get there.
In plain(er) English, it’s like this: Every human wants the opportunity to aspire, to be something a little bigger, a little better. The goal is to build a company that helps people do that. Helps its employees, its customers, partners and the world think a little bigger, be a little better.
The new marketing is about building a bridge on the back of a slightly guilded self-Erised reflection, right to the place where the treasure is stored.
That’s the point of thought leadership, the point of content marketing. The point of Nike ads telling us to walk away from the notion of greatness as reserved for the chosen few, and give it back to each of us.
Marketing, as I try to practice it, is about helping us all to find our greatness.
The best is yet to come.
Social Business is an Intention
Cross posting from CMSWire
There is no such thing as a social business. There’s Enterprise 1.0 over there, and Enterprise 2.0 over there, and we’re all somewhere between the two and some part of that is Social. Embarking on the journey from there to there is to form an intention. This intention can be about the way we want to engage customers. It can be an intention of creating a richly connected workforce so as to reap the rewards of agility, resilience, problem solving and innovation that such a workforce is capable of.
It is about realizing that the power of command and control is great, but limited, and we have reached that limit. It is about realizing that the capabilities, ambitions, insights and preferences of people that have been largely ignored in the 20th century will not be ignored in the 21st, in part because technology has redistributed a little power from corporations to consumers and the workforce, and in part because you cannot command and control your way through the pace and complexity of 21st century business and society, and, to quote a beloved fictional character, “the only way out is through” (bonus marks if you leave a comment with his name).
Intentions are different from goals or missions
Jony Ives narrates this lovely little video about why the next iOS will be flat, not bubbly. This is not simply a matter of taste and sophistication. It is a matter of intention.
In the video he says “Design defines so much of our experience. There is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity and clarity and efficiency … its about bringing order to complexity.” What Jony is saying, is that they did not set out to “change” the UI. They set out to bring order to complexity, while honoring simplicity. The difference between goal and intention is subtle but important. Intention is a permanent state of seeking, it is never achieved, but always honored. A goal says – I want a new UI, or I want to solve a problem, or I want something that will make it clear that this iOS is really different an innovative. A goal has an end state. Goals are good, but they are not intentions, and, unlike Social Business, they can be achieved.
Intention says – I do not know what my journey is going to look like, but I have certain qualities and ideals in mind. Intention puts your focus on the outcome, not the method, or really the goal.
Do you play tennis? If you remember learning to play, then you know that if you try to hit the ball – connect the racquet with the ball – you whiff, but if you put a laser focus on the ball and you swing your arm, somehow that ball gets hit. This is the power of intention. It lets the right things happen without examining them overly.
(It’s an act of faith that is reinforced by the delight in seeing the shock in your husband’s eyes as his ball comes back to him with equal power. But I digress. Actually this theme of faith comes back again and again when we’re talking about complexity, emergence and social. That is because we can’t explain it – at least not in rational, reductionist, cause and effect terms. We can only know it. This is an excruciating state of being for biz and science types, but is a leap that must be leapt. This is both why we crave and why we can’t have the ROI calculations we seek. We can only look for correlations between social-ness and top line performance. We can’t find cause and effect. We are epidemiologists, not chemists. ok. really, now I’m done with this. for now.)
Intention means that every step is both unrestricted but well informed by the truths you can find – that good products are better than bad products. That good products are the result of knowing customer needs and applying talent against them. That respecting the voice and convenience of the customer is a good investment. That there is no executive in your organization that is one fraction as smart as the rest of the org combined.
Perhaps my favorite exposition of intention is an old ad about a faucet. Yes, Kohler did a double bluff on the theme on pretentious design aficionados who come to a pretentious architect and say “design a house around this” – evoking the idea that they so admire the tacit design principles in the faucet that they want a house that embodies those same qualities – some of which are nearly impossible to articulate. So they can’t be goals. They are intentions.
If your intention is to be a social business, and you have a vague notion – and it can only be vague – that a social business will be more profitable, more resilient, more interesting – over the next 50 years, and that your customers will love you better, and your employees will love you better and magical emergent innovation will fall from the sky, and you will, finally, get Lew Platt’s wish of knowing what we know – or at least being able to benefit from what we know, even if we never actually know it.
If you’re lucky, you were “born social”
We have been through frameworks, processes, and models.We have been through half a dozen years of theories, pontificating, genius and foolishness. We have platitudes, and attitudes, (both entirely skippable. 140 char has its dark side). Many of them have merit and application in certain circumstances. but as a whole they build a holistic and visceral understanding of the intention, if not the defnition of Social Business. We have learned a few tangible-ish things, however.
The first is that while some companies are born social, it is very hard to become social – but it does happen over time. We see this in narrative-lead consumer companies, like Nike and Levi’s, and in (some) places where knowledge and collaboration are fundamental (but not Law. Social and seven-minute accounting don’t seem to mesh). The way they get there is by taking a zillion little steps toward something. The something they are moving toward is a little hard to explain. They hire the right people. They make decisions in slightly different ways. They try stuff knowing that whether it works or not, it has taught them something, in some form of David Snowden’s
multiple parallel safe to fail experiments.
Many successful CEOs declare that they believe social is a better way to do business, and they summon the courage to go there and figure it out on their way. Some businesses – like John Stepper’s Deutche Bank – find pockets of value in social technology, that enable certain departments to thrive, without necessarily becoming a social business, at least not yet. IBM has been on its journey longer and larger, and it may have more momentum than many.
How do businesses become social, really? In 2001, Jim Collins wrote in his book “ Good to Great” that good businesses do not make the leap to great all of the sudden. It is not a strategy or a project or an investment or an initiative that does it, but rather an aggregation of steps in the right direction. He makes this analogy, and, in truth it’s the main thing that really stuck with me from the book:
Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. It’s a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It’s about 100 feet in diameter, 10 feet thick, and it weighs about 25 tons. That flywheel is your company. Your job is to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible, because momentum—mass times velocity—is what will generate superior economic results over time.
Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward. After two or three days of sustained effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work, but at last the flywheel makes a second rotation. You keep pushing steadily. It makes three turns, four turns, five, six. With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point, you can’’t say exactly when—you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.
My point here should be clear – a social business is one that has set a social intention and takes many, many steps, which, when properly aligned and examined, lead inexorably to a “Social Business” that is able to enjoy a more humanistic, sustainable, profitable, innovative, emergent form of business.
On the one hand this is simple aggregation of effort. Every positive step is amplified by the next one.
But on the other, we Another invaluable William Gibson quote – the future is here it’s just not evenly distributed – is WHY this works. To understand this, you must realize that there is not ONE future that is here, but an infinity of them. Each step opens up a new possible future if it works, if it takes, and sets off a chain of events that lead somewhere. Our goal is to make as many “intentional” possible futures as we can. We cannot know in advance which of them will take root and take over, but we can ensure that they are imbued with desirable qualities, that they are taken with the right intentions. A don’t be evil type of intention (that is reexamined often.).
Social Business = Intention = Seeking = Networking = Innovation
If you are still casting about for reasons as to why connected companies are more valuable than unconnected companies, you need to watch Ricardo Hausman’s lecture on person-bytes, which he applies to countries, but you will be wise to think of in terms of enterprises. And you will quickly realize that 1.0 leadership is leaving too much opportunity on the table because the number of person-bytes – the breadth and complexity of capability the enterprise can address – accessible by 1.0 Enterprise is far less than what Enterprise 2.0 can leverage.
Let me say that again, because I think its pretty big and you might have missed it. Enterprise 1.0, with command and control, is limited in its capability by the intelligence and capability of the Executive team. The executive team has most of the accessible person bytes in the company – though they can use others in simplistic ways. In 1.0 enterprises, the workforce is there to amplify the capabilities of the executives. Looked at another way, Executives are the constraint. After a certain point, it is the executives that restrain growth and capability because the organization cannot amplify what the executive can’t see.
In Enterprise 2.0 power and capability flows the other way – from the network to the leadership. In Enterprise 2.0, executives (leaders) inquire and align collective intelligence and capability. They can access the collective capabilities, resources and observations of the workforce and beyond. They can build businesses with greater person-byte potential.
Hausmann shows that not only are those products that require more person-bytes more rare and valuable, but they lead to richer adjacent opportunities. Person-bytes aggregate via proximity and connection. You don’t have one kind of expertise – say in manufacturing phones – and then suddenly have a totally different kind of expertise in oil exploration – unless you’ve discovered some link between the too.
Social, networked companies can build more complex – more person-byte – products, and grow expertise and advantage more reliably than those that can’t. Hausmann’s data is based on national economies, but if you look at it the connection will be instantly clear.
We are all somewhere between the two – between a 1.0 business over there – and a 2.0 business over there.
If you are looking for practicalities of social business/enterprise 2.0 next, you can read some of the lists and frameworks I’ve written myself here and here.
Just remember this. A framework is an invitation to think, not an excuse not to. Its a way to organize your thoughts. None of us will travel exactly the same path to a new business paradigm, in the same way that none of us have traveled the same path to profitability and success. There is no path, there is only intention. In a world where notions of business, privacy, identity, civil rights, labor, morality, war and peace are all disrupted, let us please make them good intentions.
The best is yet to come.
What will 21st Century organizations aspire to?
I know that my phone and my credit card are spying on me. I am certain that this is not a good thing, and yet I choose not to think about it as I continue to live my ordinary life, occasionally wondering if we’ll all eventually have to turn to the Amish in the post-apocalypse as the last remaining community of people who actually know how to do anything.
But as business and society, we really do need to examine the contents of our pockets and make some decisions. Our technology, if not our instincts, are enabling us to connect and monitor each other, ourselves and the world around us. Business needs are driving us to seek out new models for growth and efficiency, and our humanity is driving us to find more ways to ensure prosperity for individuals and communities – its an awesome thing.
But its going to be complicated. Perhaps I have read too much sci fi, too much 20th century Orwellian angst-lit. We know the next generation of organization (and society) is going to be super connected. We want this to be so. We want this to democratize and meritocritize, we want to leverage the true capabilities and aspirations of the work force. We want organizations to be more “unified’ – but what does kind of “unified” do we want? What will it look like? Is it all rainbows and unicorns?
Back in 2009 David Armano was trying to express his theory of social business, and among other things he had this notion of “Hive Mind”. It was clear that a) David was onto something – but even he was not really sure what, b) that he was a brilliant illustrator, and c) that “Hive Mind” creeped me out. My imagination drew an ugly Borg-like picture. A totalitarian construct. I’m sure that’s not what David meant. So what do we mean?
If we must now reject the “well-oiled machine” metaphor for business, it would be handy to have something to replace it with. Machines, no matter how well-oiled, are incapable of the agility and complexity business needs to thrive. Further, people are not cogs in machines, and why would we want to be? So the mechanistic model fails both the business and the humanity test. We are individuals and communities of staggering complexity – how will we use that to achieve what is currently beyond our grasp or imagination? What is the metaphor of the 21st century, humanistic, connected, buzzing (but not seething) organization?
We will choose – with intention or without. If we are building a world of possibilities, we want the better ones to prevail. We will have a hand in what dominantes, and so we have to recognize and prepare our choices. There will be ambiguity. This article on Disney’s idyllic, planned community – asks if its “Cool or Creepy?” This will be increasingly difficult to answer in many contexts.
Organizational design for Century 21 – more than one metaphor.
In the last couple hundred years, business and government have been dominated by hierarchical, command and control structures – though there have been some other models. Family models, some decentralized models (the ‘bad guys’ have taught us some things about decentralized control) – but hierarchies are so ingrained in our society as to be barely questioned.
Now we have “Valve” – a purely self-directed organization (that I still need to understand better). We had the “Occupy” movement and Crisis Commons, Wikipedia, and of course Arab spring – and perhaps one enduring organizational theme of the future will be purely emergent organizations. But other than Valve, none of these has an ongoing, durable organization designed to deliver value in a sustained way – a way that can bring economic prosperity to its members. I do not quite believe yet that the Valve model will dominate, though I hope that model will become better understood and more frequently used. Leadership and vision will play an enduring role, and leadership that can activate the potential of other people will dominate organizations of the next epoch.
In all likelihood, we will have two or three enduring models, ranging from purely emergent to purely directed, that will hopefully bring greater diversity to the types of problems we can solve, and the types of people who can make breakthrough contributions.
As new structures slowly emerge, we need to think about 5 things. We need to assign societal values to each and ultimately determine whether we are building Big Brother or a chance at universal self-actualization.
1. Free Will
A command and control hierarchy is ultimately about discipline and submission to authority. Free will is intentionally constrained. Do what you are supposed to do, and do it well (or else). The Borg epitomizes this same end, but through a networked and decentralized model rather than a hierarchical one. I’m thinking its not the direction most of us actually want to enable.
Zen translates to “direct understanding”. People have spent thousands of lifetimes understanding what that means, but at a novice level, it means un-intermediated learning. That there is a direct relationship between all things, and that you do not need the wisdom of others to guide you to see it. There is no official holy book of Zen. But there have always been those farther along the path, and they have often served as guides for others. This may be a new model of leadership. The wise guide still pursuing their path, willing to help others.
The new networked organizational collective, or “Connective”, in its ideal form, will give each person “direct understanding” of the ecosystem. In fact, as we discuss complexity, and emergence, it may be that “direct understanding” is really what all this design thinking and system thinking is really striving for.
But free will is limited. Often by our understanding of our own culture and paradigms. This recent, brilliant rant by James Altucher is hard to ignore. It describes the illusion of free will created by a society whose patterns leaves only an impression of choice. He’s not the only one to share this view. Some sound bitter and angry and, frankly, nuts. But others are increasingly difficult to ignore. Our society – for all its greatness – has ingrained patterns of behavior and decisionmaking and for better or for worse, its not easy to see beyond its assumptions. But things are happening and what worked before may not work forever, and we have some collective thinking to do.
Technology that democratizes expression, learning and even production can give more people more free will and opportunity to self-actualize than ever before. This appears to be our human aspiration and destiny. But this combined technological determinism and “solutionism” will take us places we haven’t imagined yet. Caveat emptor. We should not go blithely forward without at least attempting to understand what we want society to become. Somewhere between 1984 and The Matrix are some truths we need to explore.
2. Connected Decisionmaking – power, sense and consensus
Decision making is increasingly complex as sense-making is increasingly complex. We have the opportunity to understand so much more now than we ever did, but our ability has yet to catch up. The challenges of big data (did any of you miss this classic chart of murder rate vs. internet explorer market share? Big Data gone goofy.) and collective organizations – where expertise, authority and awareness can be widely distributed – are holding us back. To some extent, this is addressed by our increasing ability to re-act rather than anticipate. This is learning, doing, failing fast – but still and all, action requires decisions. Some organizations will always need more explicit decision making than others (think governments and armies for instance) at least for some decisions.
Gordon Ross wrote a great piece on the nature of power in Networks. He warns that we will eventually need to move past our warm and fuzzy view of organizations and power as purely shared, and realize that while power is not strictly zero-sum, power and equality and egalitarianism are not easily and purely balanced. Some will be more powerful than others. THat means that we need to better understand the nature of power, and be thoughtful and more deliberate in how and when we allot, distribute give up and attain it.
3. We are Cyborg
Since humanity first picked up tools, we have been enhancing our biological capabilities with man-made constructs – eyeglasses for example (which I now need). Google glass is just another step in a long path here. My favorite, too-often quoted Gibson description of the internet – “our continually improving, communal, prosthetic memory” describes the internet, but also suggests that it will be a lot more intimate than it is now.
We are augmenting ourselves in biological, sensorial and cognitive ways- and its a great thing. I have a couple extra parts in my knee that were not original equipment. My first job out of college was writing code to test an artificial ear (which is now in use, I’m proud to say). We will soon have visual analogs of cochlear implants that let the blind see.
Google Glass, even the iphone and this latest “personal environment monitor” are giving us constructed ESP and other capabilities. And I don’t think any of us will resist it. Why would we? We absolutely want our doctors to have Watson, as I want new eyeglasses to read with.
Two or three generations from now people will wonder how we made do without these things in the way we wonder how people managed without central heating and telephones. Our grandchildren will consider us medieval. They will create PBS reality shows of people trying to survive with bare eyes and no broadband in their human operated cars.
But ESP and complete connectivity lead us to another wickedly complex topic:
Here’s my question. Need we begin to consider what life and fairness means in a post-private society? Will our connectedness and our rapidly increasing dependence on digital technology for all of lifes transactions inevitably lead to a society with no reasonable expectation of privacy? At last fall’s TEDxMidatlantic, Alessandro Aquisti gave a tidy demonstration of the fact that our privacy is an illusion and that our identities and personal information are available to those who want them. Will this return us to small town values where everyone knows everyone else’s business? Would that be a good thing? Will this be humanizing or dehumanizing? What of our “rights”? What of our security or independence?
What will that mean at work? Will our actions be perpetually scrutinized? We of the “knowledge worker” class may feel we are free from the nightmares of keystroke analysis and time scrutiny of “management”, but will our next decade increase everyone’s work-freedom or diminish our own? Will we spread enlightenment or contract it?
5. Choose. Now.
These questions may not seem like core “Enterprise 2.0” questions, but I assure you they are. We are building new business constructs and free will, privacy, decisionmaking and even a reexamined notion of what it means to be human will be profoundly affected and will profoundly affect those new businesses. We cannot know that Visa knows if we will divorce, possibly years before we do, and not decide whether or not that is ok. Will having fully quantified selves, customers and teams means that we rush past the humanity we were trying to unleash? We must face what we’ve put in our pockets.
We cannot predict the future, but we can choose its flavor by making fundamental declarations, and basing the rest of our decisions on those simple, powerful truths.
Do we believe that competent, well qualified people will do the right thing given the opportunity? Do we believe that we can help people see and pursue opportunity and capability where they haven’t in the past? Do we need to reframe the right to privacy debate? Do we believe that societies and organizations thrive based on cooperation or social darwinism? How do we skew toward one and not the other? Do we believe that control is the same thing as power? Do we believe that work people believe in is of value to both shareholders and society? Do we believe in ourselves?
We hold these truths to be self evident. In the United States we have found that it is the embrace and examination of the values set forth by our founding fathers that have endured our few short centuries. Will we and in what way will we need to reimagine the values – business and otherwise – of the next few centuries.
(The best is yet to come)
What we have ourselves here is a chasm.
(this article originally appeared in CMSWire)
Collaboration isn’t breaking out all over.
Can you feel it? Its the subtle loosening of gravity’s pull as we pause at the peak of the hype apex before we thunder down into the trough of disillusionment (with apologies to Gartner). Social collaboration isn’t working very well, but must we go gently into that good night?
Some of the reasons we’re hitting the near edge of this “chasm” we’ve known and predicted from the beginning. This is a paradigm shift as fundamental as any the modern workforce or capitalism has ever seen. More significant than the PC, the internet and the IT department combined. More significant than globalization. Its about retreating from command and control practices designed to make the ENGINE of capitalism (and government and war) purr, to a collaborative one which activates the full capabilities of the participants and networks them in a way that amplifies and accelerates action.
Its about changing from a daily grind of covering our individual and collective hinies to one where we are joined in the intellectual. emotional and emergent pursuit of “better”. Of mission and service.
Ok – so that’s pretty hard, we have established but few ground rules, and it looks like we’ll wander another 10 or 20 years or so in the desert till its really as true as we’d like to to be, but it does seem inevitable, and so it is. But we could speed it along with more rigorous research and learning. We need to stop trying to ferret out bits of good news and start ferreting out learning. In other words, we need to take our own advice about facing both good and bad news with equanimity and an authentic learning orientation.
But there’s another angle to this and its really, really bothering me. Adoption. All the 68,000 vendors in the space (including my employer, OpenText) have settled on streams and digital workspaces as the definition of social collaboration technology -with some allowance for variance in quality, focus and features. And now we’re all lecturing on about adoption.
There are several things that are bothering me about that.
First. The language we’re hearing about adoption is eerily similar to the language we heard about every other enterprise IT paradigm that social collaboration is supposedly saving us from. “People don’t get it, we need change management and training and…..” And maybe that’s all true. But I know that I have scoffed at those foolish 1990’s KM people who stuck to their guns and soldiered on in spite of the fact that what they were doing clearly wasn’t working – though the value proposition was real, vital and clear. I have said the same thing about other IT systems of yore.
Can we now smugly believe that we are somehow more enlightened than others because we “get it”? If we’re so awesome, why isn’t this working? Why doesn’t everyone “get it” and why are we having such a hard time with adoption? I know, I know, human behavior, culture and all that. But we adopted cell phones as fast as they could make em. Just sayin’. Some of the change management stuff is real, true and urgent, and some of it is just denial. We do not want to believe that maybe we aren’t right. But we aren’t.
Third. So we’ve been pushing this techno philosophy pretty hard for three or five years, and as a Gartner analyst recently observed in a meeting, its no longer a new industry. And what have we learned? We have a bunch of people like me, many better than me, lecturing on what should be and could be, but where’s the “what is”? I want a more rigorous body of learning out of the last five years. We deserve it and we need it to continue to be leaders in the reinvention of work. I know that there is an Amazon’s worth of books and papers out there, but its not enough. Yet. We have some clear wins. The majority of fortune 1000 businesses are using some form of social media to communicate internally as well as externally. Pockets of success are found within many companies and a few organizations are entirely transformed. Perhaps more new organizations are being formed after the new model rather than the old.
In the face of a mountain of evidence that something isn’t working as well as we hoped, is “try harder” a good strategy? Are we asking the hard questions of ourselves that could help us tell the difference? Like – why do people like email so darn much in spite of the fact that its killing them and makes their life more difficult in both the long and the short term. Are we wrong to ignore it? To insist that “email is dead, use this instead”?
Why do teams fail to act the way we think they will? Are we oversimplifying the notion of team? What about organizations? Where is the deeper insight on the relationship between teams and organizations? Why isn’t a sophisticated vocabulary breaking out? Why do we not yet have 100 words for different kinds of collaboration and teams, as expert in it as we think Eskimos are about snow? What is the difference between an intranet, a community and a team? I don’t want a tweetchat full of clever answers, i want clarity – and so do you.
So – yes, the paradigm shift will take a generation to turn over. But we have not yet come close to our full measure of duty as techno-innovators to drive it. I would like to toss out some themes where I think we have important questions to ask, things to learn. Maybe these are on the right track, maybe not, maybe its the wrong question entirely. But we need to start asking questions and stop searching – exclusively – for crumbs of corroborating evidence and data, and start looking at the entire body of information.
In other words, we need to step back from building business cases – though they are still important and valid – and put more emphasis on building our knowledge.
Themes and Variations
These are some of the themes where I want to see harder questions asked. What are your questions?
1. The organization
First – the organization, the intranet and collaborative teams are NOT the same thing. The relationship amongst and between these things need serious scrutiny. We’re beginning to see serious and rigorous study of public social networks in use for marketing, crisis management, etc – but that’s a bit easier – its all happening out in public, so we can see it and analyze it, thanks to the Twitter API. Its a bit harder to go into private enterprise systems and have a look (with some obvious and disturbing exceptions).
2. Connecting the dots
Second – streams are nice. I adore twitter. I adore our internal corporate tools that are similar to it. And here we’ve seen great adoption. We’ve turned our org into a giant chat room -an extension of Instant messenger or chat for all. Nice. there’s benefit in that. Ambient awareness has huge benefits and is one of the key elements in making remote work work. But that’s not a ‘wirearchy’, it does not make work visible in an actionable way, it does not cement team bonds, it connects only a modest set of dots, it is, in short, inadequate to change how we work, though its a nice addition. We need to build the semantic, statistical, psycho-social and otherwise tools that goose the gods of serendipity?
Several years ago, I came up with a definition of collaboration that focused on three key ideas: creation, connection and compounding. I also observed that great teams shared four basic traits – they had a shared sense of mission, they respected one another, they trusted one another and they were committed to achieving excellence. We’ve since learned that very effective teams have great communications – and – very importantly – members are more or less equal in the amount they contribute – no divas, no wallflowers. But we’re only seeing whispers of real actionable insight into how to contrive (or “cast”) these magically great teams. Leadership, yes, balance and matching of people – yeah, we sorta kinda know we have to do that, but few of us know how.
How is most collaboration achieved? What is the type, volume and velocity of information that needs to be exchanged? Is this the same of variable by team? By task? By …. what? How can teams connect to the whole and vice versa?
We’ve learned some other things too. What is the number one source of employee disengagement? Opacity of the organization. We have no idea what is going on, therefore we know we aren’t contributing meaningfully, and can’t contribute meaningfully, so we’re sullen. Turns out sullen employees (otherwise known as the disengaged) don’t churn out the best work. How are we fixing that? Ten years ago we tried dashboards based on BI – that didn’t really help, and was too metric-sy and therefore, more likely than not, punitive so it didn’t work. Streams? Not the way we currently use them.
4. Teams and Organizations
We’ve done some good work here. Shared workspaces and profiles have helped many organizations know themselves better, work more efficiently, and collaborate more seamlessly. But adoption here has been very hard for many, and even where adoption is high, we are still not meeting our ultimate goal of seamless, common operating pictures – shared knowledge, group insight.
I want to know more about where the actual work gets done. We believe it mostly happens in teams. There are several types of teams, and I think we need to start paying careful attention to the differences between them.
Why do we have different kinds of teams? What makes them different? How can we use technology to help them? How do teams and the organization as a whole relate to each other. What work is going on in the organization and who is involved? What is the pace? What are the outcomes? When we say visible work – are we thinking about it the wrong way? Maybe we should focus on making the patterns of activity visible more than simply the typing of individuals. How many teams are in your organization right now? How many are project teams? How many are committees, how many are swarms responding to urgent miscellaneous stuff? How many teams are people on? At what rate do they form and finish? Is it a stable number? Are some people on more teams than others? Is that good or bad? I have no idea. But that’s unacceptable. We need to start knowing these things.
Here’s one hypothesis to begin the discussion. There are (at least) 5 different kinds of teams.
1. Structural. these are the teams that we can see on the org chart. Marketing, HR, R&D, etc. In larger orgs, these break down even further – hierarchically.
2. Cross functional – these are the teams that collect people from across the organization for various purposes. In my world, these are often product teams.
3. Project – these are people that have come together for a very specific and time bound purpose and deliverable.
4. Interests and Communities of Practice – these are groups that support one another emotionally, socially or professionally, and you’ll see many of them within an organization.
5. Swarms – these are the long lists of people, many of whom you’ve never met, who are on the cc line of that last reply-all-urgent email trail you were on. You feel this pain like I do, right?
5. Really Visible Work
There are many ways that these teams are different, but the most obvious is how they form. Think about it – I’ll spare you (and my editors) the 1000 words I could write here on it for another time. Maybe you’ll write them for me. There are other important differences too. Quick – give me three ways we could help these different types of teams be more effective. But wait! Why do we have these different types of teams and what do they tell us about the organization? Would visibility into what teams are where and when and why help us? In what way? would we be more engaged once and for all if we could see all this? Is this what we should be talking about when we say “visible work”?
The paradigm doesn’t need to complete its shift for us to be squeezing more value out of it now. We do not need to wait until the majority of CEOs agree with “us” (whoever us is). We can start now, if we ask the right questions. If we continue to ask questions, rather than construct success. Today is the day to stop “proving” we’re right, and start thinking about what’s next. Our successes are real, and there, and let them be reported. But, the immutable law of physics still applies. People will adopt a tool when its easier to use than not to.
This is a great time to do it. We’ve had some important successes. Social Collaboration is an accepted part of mainstream business. We’ve settled in a bit and we have an important opportunity to step back and formulate some really hard questions. We have greenfield ahead of us. But we have a lot of good honest work to do to the bridge the chasm, and I for one am vibrating with things I want to do next. You?
The best is yet to come.
Another cross posting from CMSWire.
So there are these two things going on. The first you’ve definitely heard of – its the great reawakening of the white-collar and consumer world as their value and participation and voice are released from the anonymity of the command and control corporate model thanks to nifty new social technologies. The second is about the exponentially increasing complexity of the world. Everything that touches anything sets off another thing and so on. Social is accelerating complexity and vice versa. The very best of us and even our technology are daunted by the challenge of understanding issues and taking action in such an environment. This is why the future has become ever more unpredictable, and planning ever-more – optimistic. [There’s a third – and that’s that all this reawakening stuff has nudged us to look hard at some things that had been left unexamined for too long, like leadership, collaboration, and certain exploitative forms of capitalism, but that’s a different discussion]
These two forces are putting intense pressures on business. In his classic work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn describes a period of “crisis” that precedes a scientific revolution. The crisis is a period where a field of math or science becomes dramatically more complicated, while yielding diminishing, incremental returns. If John Seely-Brown and John Hagel are right, and the average Return on Assets has dropped by 75% since 1965, then we may be seeing an analogous crisis in business that leaves us ripe for business revolution (they call it the Big Shift). Calling it “social” business is missing half of the point. Business isn’t going “social” because it wants to hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
Business is changing to a new model – Enterprise 2.0 – both because people are demanding it AND because a centralized command and control model that uses process and efficiencies of scale to achieve superhuman feats has limits to what it can do. But a new model of applying networks of sensors and capabilities (people) onto complex problems, to achieve uniquely human feats, can solve problems that hierarchies cannot. [note – i’m officially, if temporarily, moving back to Enterprise 2.0., until such time as someone finally coins a term that is less misleading than “Social”.]
1 Some problems are too hard to solve the old fashioned way.
As a math student (computer science was in the math department back then) I learned that we can classify problems by how hard they are to solve. We measure how much effort a solution takes based on the level of efficiency of the clever little algorithms we use to solve them. In general, these solutions use logic to make hard problems into simpler ones. There is a class of problem, however, that cannot be solved efficiently because though we understand the problem, we can’t find a clever way to make it look simpler. The technical term for these is NP-Complete. They are very hard.
There is another class of very hard problem – one we see in economics, society and business. These are known as“wicked” problems. Wicked problems have so many factors twisted up together that you can’t really hope to untangle them. Think economics, or the weather. Or product strategy or organizational design. There is no particular right or wrong answers, but there are better and worse outcomes.
Our instincts tell us, based on 400 years of Newtonian rationalism, that if only we work hard enough, with enough intelligence and discipline, we will see the component parts and the relationships between everything and the formula and methodology will be revealed. Everything can be understood by examining its component parts. Nothing is beyond examination or building with swiss-clockworks perfection. Our notion of business and process design (among many other things) depend on this idea, but it is – if not exactly wrong – limited.
The reason strategy is hard, the reason R&D is hard, the reason marketing, support, sales, innovation, operations and design are hard is because they are multifaceted challenges that involve many unpredictable, often external forces that change at an accelerating pace. When you wade into the morass, you are making it even more complex.There is no definitive right or wrong answer, there is only better and worse.
These types of problems are often referred to as “wicked”. Wicked problems defy systematic, top-down solutions. Our Command and Control organizations have done many things well, but we are now entering an era dominated by the kind of problem they don’t do well.
2 But that doesn’t mean we can’t solve them.
We’ve learned some things about solving very hard problems. In the late 1980’s we learned that Genetic Algorithms can solve NP-Complete problems very fast. A subset of these problems were in the field of graph theory. The kinds of problems that deal with optimizing pathways. That could be shipping routes, airline routes, or even communications routing.
As an undergraduate I read about Genetic Algorithms in Scientific American. [I carried a photocopy around in my backpack for my entire senior year, showing it to every professor and other people, who mostly thought I’d started speaking in tongues] What was at that time mind-blowingly cool about these is that you could get a solution to a “very hard” problem, super fast, without knowing anything about the problem itself. No clever algorithm required. I’ll say it again, because its hard to believe. You can optimize these systems and solutions without finding a trick or invention that depend on some new insight or understanding of the problem. You can solve extremely hard problems with no knowledge.
3 Bars and Boids – complex adaptive systems solve “impossible” problems
In the mid 90’s I was actually paid to build simulations of complex systems (think SimCity for business) for customers like FedEx, AT&T and certain government agencies. This meant I was messing with “Boids” and the “Bar Problem” and living in Monterey, California – it was a peak experience.
The Bar Problem is an eye-opener in terms of how you can solve impossible problems with no insight, knowledge or intelligence. It bucks every intellectual instinct you probably have, which is what makes it so interesting. It addresses the question of whether you can solve “impossible” problems of this kind: there’s a bar in Santa Fe (not at all coincidentally the location of the Santa Fe institute that pioneered this work). The bar is a great place to be iif 60% of the population – but no more than 60% of the population shows up on a given night. Otherwise it is either dull or overcrowded. If no one has any information about what the others are doing when they make their decision, how do you get the right number of people in the bar?
Here’s one way. Create a “population” (a set of agents). Everyone follows a random rule. Like “if I liked the outcome 5 days ago, go to the bar”. Or “if today’s date is a multiple of my birthday, stay home”. If the rule doesn’t work more than a few days in a row, change to a new rule. And an answer emerges like an old Polaroid photo. The system finds the answer. If you have any programming skills, this is very easy to simulate (even I have done it, but its a secret – i never want to write code again. It annoys the computer and myself equally).
These kinds of systems are called “complex adaptive systems.” A Complex Adaptive System has a large numbers of components (agents), that interact and adapt or learn.
So – we learn that we can solve (some) impossible problems like – supply and demand, traffic flows, and other insanely hard things – easily.
4. Teams and Crowds – collaboration also solves impossible problems
More recently, we’ve shown that teams and crowds can solve impossible problems. Andrew McAfee has pointed to some stunning proof of this. Like chess. In the old days (1980), a chess Grand Master could blow away any computer at the game. By the mid 90’s, it was the other way around. But more recently, we’ve discovered that a competent team (not masters, but decent players), a process, and a computer assist can consistently blow away the super computer. Or that a random and loosely affiliated group of people can solve the protein-folding problem – a completely “impossible” problem better than any other known method. Protein-folding is hard because a protein is a long string of amino acids. In a body, the long string folds up on itself based on the chemical and electrical properties of its thousands of amino acids. The biological effect of a protein are determined almost entirely by its folded up shape. But its impossible to predict how it will fold, and therefore, what it will do or how it will play with others. In other words, how medicine will or will not affect it.
What I’m getting at here is that when you start to network people, you are building what we call a complex adaptive system – that’s what Boids, Genetic Algorithms and the Bar Problem are about. Complex adaptive systems can solve “impossible” problems.
6. So – when we’re talking about Social Business
You’ve been promised Collective intelligence – but there’s even more. Agents are stupid. People are not (mostly). So – Social Business means we can access collective intelligence – no one is as smart as everyone. At least we’re trying for that. But also, socially connected businesses are complex adaptive systems – able to solve impossible problems – not head on – but through action.
This idea has been implied in several places, but I want to make sure its crystal clear. People are agents. Organizations are complex adaptive systems. Social technologies and philosophies amplify the interaction and connectivity of its agents (people).Of course, the pathetically simple agents described above, can’t hold a candle to the magnificence of a human network. But we need to build our ability to think of human networks as a kind of a complexity calculator. In 2013 we will begin to learn how to wield this “wicked” weapon against complexity.
Emergent outcomes – the ones promised by social collaboration, social marketing and social in general – are not just a hope and a prayer, but real. Trusting in them is not foolish but wise. Our human networks, thoughtfully connected, with some smart methodologies will help us to apply complexity to complexity and make progress against now-intractable problems.
Enterprise 2.0 is not about social per se, it is about thinking very differently about what is hard. About what is impossible. About what IS possible. About your role in it, and about how a human chorus of intellect can help. Enterprise 2.0 will measure outcomes dispassionately (with equipoise) as a way to ask questions without assigning blame. It will focus on learning as innovation, and disentangle accountability, blame and outcomes. It will depend on the connected circulation of insight and information of a network, often knowledge-less solutions, and the deepest respect for what people can and will bring to the table, given the chance.
Our goal then in this next handful of years is to better understand the relationship between organizations, complex adaptive systems, complexity, and impossible problems. We have hints and clues, some research, instinct, experience and trial and error. Its a hard problem, but its not impossible. We need to break open opaque ideas like “collaboration” and “team” and “serendipity” and get to know them intimately. We need to redefine our ability to sense and create connections and conclusions from luck to faith to something we actually do understand.
The best is yet to come.
On Wednesday at 11 EST, 8am PST, we’re going to try something new and have a bit of a roundtable using Google Hangout, based on my last article. If you’re interested in listening in, or joining in, the details are here.
If you want to join in or just lurk, this is the link https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/ci6k5278vii7a68qlni5bug1hd8
Cross post from CMSWire
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
— Steve Jobs Stanford University commencement address, June 2005.
About a month ago the huffington post published a widely shared article: Steve Jobs’ 1983 Speech Makes Uncanny Predictions About The Future, hinting at the fact that in addition to being a marketing, design, technology and otherwise genius, he was a modern day Nostradamus to boot. But read the article. Steve Jobs in no way shape or form predicted the future. He envisioned how wireless connectivity should work, how technology could become a deeply integral part of every part of daily life, and made it happen over the course of decades (and a good number of failures). Steve Jobs did NOT predict the future, he invented it.
Why does this matter to you, who are neither Jack Kennedy nor Steve Jobs?
Because it is becoming increasingly impossible to predict the future but diminishingly effective to look at the competition and engage in checkbox-wars-faux-innovation. It is increasingly easy to make a business case for or against nearly any approach to any problem, and the interconnectedness and complexity of nearly everything renders traditional 12 month planning cycles barely useful, and increasingly time consuming.
But do not despair! This may look like a paralytic situation, but it is the perfect time to tweak the rules and reframe the question. It is a liberation.
Rather than spend the majority of time and effort trying to predict and account for external factors, the near collapse of this model gives us license, permission and imperative to focus on internal ones.
The Simple Way forward.
1. You must decide what really matters, and use that as your primary guide.
This has traditionally been an overlooked discussion in business (with a few notable exceptions). The discussion of why has exploded (thank you Simon Sinek) (though few know how to do it, but this is another discussion). Understanding what really matters – the outcome you want to deliver is now the only meaningful, durable, criteria for decision-making. It is the future. What do you want it to look like? What do you feel in your bones? What do you believe in? Without this, decisions are random, reactionary, political, and rapidly remade, and unmade if they are made at all. This is what Mr Jobs was referring to when he says “you have to believe in something”. Its your only viable guide. (and while I applaud and wear Toms shoes, when I talk about a purpose-driven company it is this that I mean, not that)
2. This is not an excuse not to think, but an invitation to think harder.
The great remaining benefit of planning is that, when properly done, it thinks through the problem rigorously, and unpacks the foreseeable details. To avoid this is simple laziness.
3. HOWEVER- we know that reality will intervene in unpredictable ways
Our responsibility, therefore is to build resilience into our work. That is to say, establish times, places and mechanisms to understand and acknowledge reality and respond accordingly.
This can take many forms. The simplest is to work in short phases. That is, rather than planning a year long project, break it into pieces.
4. But business is planning, right?
Planning assumes that you can predict the future. We grade our performance based on how well we predicted the future (metrics). We think we can look at the metrics, use them to improve our predictive capabilities. So if we accept that we can’t predict the future, are metrics still useful? Yes! Metrics become guideposts and diagnostics. They help us to understand where we are and how well we understand cause and effect. They are not goals, and they are not meaningful in and of themselves. If something isn’t working, your metrics are your way to get deeper insight into what is not working. If is is working, metrics can help you recognize that.
Planning itself needs a new approach. Engineers began to figure this out about a decade ago. In counterpoint to the traditional waterfall method, they chose agile and agile-ish methodologies for software. Software engineers adopted agile, because waterfall (design intensely, build a schedule based on design, execute) methodologies turned out to be such appallingly bad predictors of success. (I look forward to any takers on the Agile debate – its effectiveness, whether and when its actually used, blah, blah, the point is it was a significant attempt to change the game that was interesting enough to go mainstream- ish).
Engineers discovered and accepted this quickly, because management at the time only understood one thing with software – the ship date. Make it and they were rewarded, slip and they were finished. And waterfall schedules always slipped. 98% of the time. Why? Because software is so complex that it is nearly impossible to tell if it works prior to actually trying it, and even then, its not that easy.
Most other business problems are similarly complex, but the complexity, and the failure of traditional methods can be harder to recognize. So ironically, it was the perpetually slipped ship date that reinvented the engineering process – which might be the best success story for metrics this side of Amazon.
The other business disciplines must follow suit.
We suffer when we try to predict the unpredictable. We look foolish when we’re wrong, so we work very hard to be right and in doing so we shred our ability to respond to change. And we, the participants, detest the process because we know that no matter how hard we work, we are unlikely to succeed this way. It is depressing.
As we continue to stumble into the gaps created by our waterfall predictions of marketing, sales, design and other business activity, we must bring more of them into a post-waterfall, quasi agile approach.
[A brief aside – ten years ago, when agile was new, it was phenomenal in its effectiveness and ability to help people rethink something that was deeply broken and depressing – the typical software cycle. We’ve seen this methodology abused, both by teams who are still waterfall but call it agile, and by radical practitioners with near religious zeal for its rituals. Frameworks, people, are there to help guide the way, not relieve you of the need to think ever again.]
So – how do we apply “agile” to the business process? What follows will seem obvious, edgy or downright radical, depending on your circumstances, but this approach can scale to your level of comfort.
Step One – think
Establish your why – “how will the world be different if we achieve our goals.” Ironically, many of us ignore the fact that we can’t answer this immediately. Perhaps its too embarrassing to admit. If this question is unanswerable, then the first stage – the first experiment – is about answering this question. Do something (almost anything). This is throwing out feelers to immerse yourself in the gestalt of the issue. It may or may not be a completely false step, but it can be an effective way entering a completely unknown realm. A kind of echolocation.
Step two – think
Depending on how new this type of project is for you, do an appropriately in depth level of planning. If it is completely new, do very little. If its your second at bat, a little more, if you do it everyday, go ahead and think it deeply through.
Step three – create resilience (think)
Consider one or more resilient approaches to the work.
A few weeks ago at KMWorld, David Snowden laid out an extremely compelling case for one highly resilient method he calls “Multiple Parallel Safe to Fail” experiments”. This is an ingenious, highly resilient process that rapidly explores the solution space in a low risk way, while maximizing the likelihood of finding success through the process of ritualized dissent. Its a magnificent and magnificently simple process (in theory), but may be a bit much for beginners. Not because it is difficult in deed – but it plays by a different set of rules, and that’s awkward.
Mr Snowden acknowledges that we can argue all we want about the best approach to a tough problem, but in the end, we cannot know in advance which is the best solution. The best approach is therefore to take all of the ideas that pass the sniff-test ( he has a fantastically useful and rigorous sniff-test he calls “ritualized dissent” ) and invest just a little in each and see what works. If at least some don’t fail, Snowden says you aren’t exploring the space aggressively enough. It makes so much sense it kind of hurts.
That said – this can be a lot to swallow for those teams and organizations who are not yet comfortable recognizing the high levels of uncertainty they live with now. It may be easier to sell a single-threaded version of this approach.
Several years ago a colleague of mine was tasked with the job of creating a social collaboration space for the entire US government. A role that she clearly understood was both a plum assigment and a catastrophe waiting to happen. She was smart enough to invite a wide variety of people into an open exploration discussion early on. She was kind enough to pretend I didn’t work for a “vendor” and invite me to attend.
The one bit of advice I gave her was to plan on the fact that whatever she did would be inadequate by definition, but if she said up front that they would build it in three phases – then she’d get three tries at being right instead of just one. After each phase should could face the complainers and detractors with a smile and invite them to invent phase next. By the time phase 3 came along she should have made enough progress to earn a phase 4. Or not.
At the time this seemed very radical, but what I was trying to tell her is not “fail fast” which is a problematic little epithet, but to construct the plan in advance to afford opportunities to make feedback, problems and concerns a positive rather than negative element.
You do this very simply. Rather than doing it all at once, break it into pieces (whatever it is) and do something quick. Step back and check it. Adjust and go forward a little more. And when you get good at it, parallelize it in the Snowden model.
What is important to you is the only sustainable advantage
You can’t predict the future, but you can make it happen – if you have two tools at your disposal. The first is a willingness to take small steps and learn aggressively from them. The second – and this is the very most superlatively important thing – you must know what you are trying to achieve. You must have that durable internal guide that enables you make good decisions and to understand their consequences. Attaining this can be the most difficult business challenge of all. But it may be the only one that really matters.
No one would argue that Apple is a leading social business. But they are a leading visionary business. Don’t try to copy Apple’s products, or anybody else’s. Don’t try to copy their management approach. Don’t try to copy. The checkbox wars might keep you afloat in the short term, but in the end it will fail. In the end the greatest sustainable advantage, and ultimately the most important driver of so-called “social businesses. The ability an willingness to think hard about what matters, and make it so.
The best is yet to come.
Note: David Snowden read the post on CMSWire, and blogged a response that is worth reading.