December 4, 2014
Mainstream thinking sees a community on a different level from the individuals who form it. The social is seen as separate from the individuals. From a Designing Change -point of view, this would mean different plans and actions on the individual level and different plans and actions on the communal level. And this is how we often think.
Another, newer, approach sees individuals themselves as social. Both the individual and the social are then about the same thing: interaction. The main difference from the first approach is that the individual and the social cannot here be separated or even understood separately. Both our individual and organizational lives are co-created in an interconnected network.
The human mind is not located and stored in an individual. Rather, what we have called the individual mind is something that arises continuously in relationships between people, in communication. This is also how organizations are born and how they develop.
Interaction starts always with acknowledgement. It is about granting attention to others and making room for them in our lives. Thus how we connect has tremendous significance. Who do I acknowledge and who acknowledges me? The modern version of hierarchies is inclusion and exclusion. Who do I talk to and who are the people I don’t talk to. Who do I listen to and who are the people I don’t listen to?
In this model, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual, that suggests a response from someone else. The gesture is also called a bid. There is no linear causality from the gesture to the response. The response is always a choice. The meaning of the gesture can only be known in the response. If I smile at you and you respond with a smile, the meaning of the gesture is friendly, but if you respond with a cold stare, the meaning of the same gesture is contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one social act.
Do you turn towards me or do you turn away when I talk to you? Not answering is turning away. Is your response constructive although you don’t agree with me, or do I see it as destructive? The thing is that neither side can independently choose the meaning, or control the conversation. It is always co-created.
Change starts often with recognition between new people with different views and different approaches, evolving into a creative, complementary sense of consciousness. Designing change is sometimes about new connections, new people taking part. It is about new agendas, asking different kind of questions and pointing to different kinds of issues.
The requirement for efficient work is not necessarily to have common goals or to reach agreements. Creative work is a movement of thought that is always based on working with differences. Paradoxically you always need people who agree, but equally, you need people who don’t think like you. Thinking develops best through constructive friction and argumentation.
The most important metrics are about how the common narrative develops? An organization should be seen as a pattern in time, a continuing story. New people join this narrative and people leave. Work is dynamic participation and influencing how the story develops towards the future.
There can be no change without changes in the patterns of communication. Organizations of any kind, no matter how large or how small they are, are continuously reproduced and transformed in the ongoing communicative interaction.
The distinctive characteristic of a high productivity organization is the capacity to generate expansive, positive, emotional states. Emotions can thus be seen as the driving force behind cognition and action. There is a lot of truth in the sentence “I don’t remember what you said, but I remember how you made me feel”.
September 2, 2014
It is not uncommon to think that knowing is something that goes on in the brain. Perhaps astonishingly, the evidence that it is really so is not quite clear. Some scientists have recently expressed doubts. The mind, they have argued, is not a thing to which a place can be allocated. Intellectual life is essentially social and interactive, they say. Life is carried on through communication between people. These researchers claim that interactions are not secondary by-products of thinking. They are the primary sites of that activity.
The structures of the brain and the Internet look the same. In the brain there are neurons that link as a result of being active at the same time. This firing together creates a connection that increases the strength of their connection. On the Internet there are servers and people that are linked in temporary interaction, sometimes as a result of being inspired and interested in the same topic. This short-term communication sometimes leads to a longer relationship increasing the strength of the connection. No neuron links with all the other neurons at the same time. No server links with all the other servers at the same time, and no one person interacts with all the other people at the same time. So all communication is always contextual and local, whether in the brain, in an organization, or on the Internet. However, local here does not mean spatially local. The nodes in local interaction can be physically located far away, in different parts of the world. The Internet redefines what the local, in local interaction, means.
We often think of individuals as independent and self-contained. The view suggested here sees individuals as nodes of the complex networks they form, co-creating themselves and the reality in which they participate.
Our social interactions play a role in shaping our brain. We know now that repeated experiences sculpt the synaptic connections and rewire our brain. Our relationships gradually frame the neural circuitry. Being chronically depressed by others or being emotionally nourished and enriched has lifelong impacts. This is of course unwelcome news to someone whose relationships tend towards the negative but it also points to where the possibilities for repairing the situation might be. And they are not inside a person’s head.
We can no longer see our minds as independent and separate but as thoroughly social. The human mind is not located and stored in an individual. Rather, what we have called the individual mind is something that arises continuously in relationships between people.
This is why we need to focus on communication practices in addition to, and perhaps even instead of, communication technologies. Communication starts with acknowledgement. It is about paying attention to others and making room for them in our lives. Our attention should be on questions such as who is talking and who is being silenced, who is included and who is being excluded, who I acknowledge and who acknowledges me?
In a corporate context, an organization is still metaphorically a picture of walls defining who is inside and who is outside a particular box. Who is included and who is excluded. Who we are and who they are. This way of thinking was fine in repetitive work where it was relatively easy to define what needed to be done and by whom as a definition of the quantity of labor and quality of capabilities. As a result, management practice created two communication designs: the process chart and reporting lines.
In creative, knowledge based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of capabilities and tasks in advance. In many firms reporting routines are already the least important part of communication. At the same time, much more flexibility than the process maps allow is needed. The variables of creative work have increased beyond systemic models of process design. It is time to learn from the brain and the Internet.
What if the organization really should be an ongoing process of emergent organizing? Instead of thinking about the organization as a structure, let’s think about contextual communication. If we take this view we don’t think about walls but about connections and how groups are formed around what we actually do. The new task is to make possible very fast linking and thus to make it as easy as possible to get the best contributions from the whole network.
The focal point in organizing is not the organizational entity one belongs to, or the manager one reports to, but the reason that brings people together. What purposes, activities and tasks unite us? What is the cause of interdependence and group formation? These contexts should create transparent, permeable boundaries between them, not walls. Instead of the topology of organizational boxes that are often the visual representation of work, the architecture of work is a live graph of interdependence and accountability. Yes, accountability, because the interaction itself constrains and not only enables the people in the interaction.
Changing the way we communicate is the way we change organizations. Changing the conversation is not a major programme or change process. It is about understanding and influencing participation. It is sometimes about new connections, new conversations, and new people actively taking part. It is often about asking different kinds of questions and pointing to different kinds of issues.
The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons. There are around 3 billion Internet users at the moment. So we are still far away from the cognitive potential of the brain when it comes to possible link combinations of communication between people. But this may be humankind’s most valuable untapped resource!
On any scale we choose to look at things, there can be no change without changes in the patterns of communication.
More information: Learning rewires the brain.
June 4, 2014
The Internet can be seen as the combination of two much earlier innovations. The first was the telegraph, which allowed information to be transmitted electronically. With the advent of the telegraph, people could communicate instantaneously across long distances, which was unimaginable before that time.
The second innovation was the computer, which allowed information to be processed and stored with unimaginable speed and almost limitless storage capacity. Both the telegraph and the computer solved huge problems by themselves, but combining the two facilitated truly new and transformative social innovations that led to the network era we now live.
Our present understanding of the logic of networks is largely a result of the work of Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz, who connected the research done by Mark Granovetter and Stanley Milgram.
Following their findings, let’s think of people instead of computers and links of acquaintance as telegraph lines connecting them. This social world has not been designed by anyone. It has evolved through countless connections between chance and choice: people meeting people. Our social network is neither ordered nor random, but something in-between.
The potential of the network we are part of is mostly invisible to us in our ordinary social lives. We can only see as far as those to whom we are directly linked. We do not normally know, or think about, the people our friends know. But in a network-science sense these people are important to us. The friends of our friends act as ties that sew the larger social network together. They are the shortcuts to people far away. They make the world small for us. You typically have strong links to family members, friends and co-workers. The weak links, the connections of our connections, and the people we have met only once or meet very seldom, are bridges between worlds. An example of this may be the person from New Zealand whom you met at a conference a few years ago. Without that link you might not be connected to anyone in New Zealand. But because of it, you are linked in two steps to his friends and in three steps to everyone they know. This is called a small-world network.
Order, design, strong links and local proximity have been the leading principles of the world of work, but what if easier and more valuable work were in effect based on dynamic connections and interaction with people in the larger network? Finding these people is now possible with the help of digital social networks. The small-world geometry offers a way to see order and design in these apparently disordered networks. Digital, purpose-driven proximity may replace local proximity in the future world of work.
But the way we work needs to change. As people do their own thing, they also need to act as links for others. That is the new role in all work. People need to be fluent in connecting, curating and re-publishing.
What kind of technology would enable this to happen? I don’t believe the future of digital work is built on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn.
The “Blockchain”, the engine on which Bitcoin is built, is a new distributed consensus/authority system that allows transactions, or other data, to be securely stored and verified without any centralized authority at all, because the entire network validates them. Those transactions don’t have to be financial and the data doesn’t have to be money.
The future of work may be built on connecting small-world networks and the Blockchain technology. The network is then the market and commons for exploration, coordination and value creation without any central authority. The importance of Bitcoin may not lie in digital currency. It represents a novel form of network-based organization.
This kind of work, I think, may be unimaginable today.
Thank you Rob Wile, Mark Buchanan and Mike Hearn
More: The future of Blockchain.