In mainstream thinking, managers are understood as the prime originators of what happens in their businesses. The central concern is how the active manager/subject gets the passive follower/object to act in ways that reflect the manager’s perspective. Management continues to see communication in terms of influence and manipulation.
The social business view sees relations and communication as conversational processes of meaning making. It is a movement of thought on the basis of multiple perspectives that you invite or you pull. A person, when networking, would be subscribing to contextually relevant topics and people. Push transforms to pull.
Interaction starts with recognition. It is about granting attention to people and information and making room for them in our lives. Leading and following in the traditional corporate sense have seen the leader making people follow him through motivation and rewards. The leader also decided who the followers should be.
When seen through the logic of social business and social tools, leading and following have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new business sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, decide who to follow and what topics to follow. You pull information from someone you trust to be at the forefront in an area, which is temporarily meaningful for you.
Another huge difference from traditional management thinking is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one source of information. Thus, an individual always has many topics and people that she follows. You might even claim that from the point of view taken here, it is highly problematic if a person only has one “leader”. It would mean attention blindness as a default state.
Pull communication is at best a process of active following, creative learning through observing and simulating desired practices. Leading on the other hand, is doing one’s work in a transparent, inspiring and reflective way.
Thank you John Hagel, Stowe Boyd and Stephen Downes
More on the subject: Stowe Boyd.
Two distinct modes of communication have emerged and spread since the invention of the telegraph. The first mode was private point-to-point communication that was meant to connect individuals. The second mode was the public broadcasting of content. These two approaches to communication were advanced significantly by a series of innovations resulting in media technologies being perhaps the most socially disruptive developments of our time, but the basic division into the two modes has remained essentially the same.
But now, a new form of communication in the digital, networked world combines broadcasting and point-to-point, creating a third mode of communication.
In its most basic form, what I call private broadcasting, involves a three-part relationship: (1) an initial broadcast gesture from one individual, leaving free the matter of who in the audience acts on the gesture, (2) a voluntary, active response to that gesture by another, and (3) resulting connectivity and activity. Here, the model differs from both the private point-to-point logic and the public broadcasting logic.
The biggest change, however, is in the role of the audience. The passive audience view suggested that the media influences people easily. This is why broadcasting has been the domain of politicians and marketers. The active audience view, that is behind the third mode of communication, thinks that people make active decisions about how to aggregate, and when to interact.
In contrast to the earlier mass era thinking, the society is seen as consisting of numerous differentiated communities, each with its own values and interests. All media content is interpreted within the community according to social sense making within the group. The individuals are influenced more by their peers than by the media.
The mass society theories of marketing subscribed to a passive view of the audience and public broadcasting. It is time now to subscribe to an active, responsive notion of the audience and the possibility for true interaction. The audience for this new form of communication are the emerging, active communities that the individual or the company wants to reach and connect with.
The public access that the Internet now allows people to have is mistakenly believed to mean trying to get the broadest possible audience. There has been a tremendous increase in the amount of content that is available to the public, but not really intended for the public. Instead, these materials are meant for the emerging conversations and communities, changing the way we learn and changing our sense of belonging.
Private broadcasting means a new way of connecting. It is successful if it creates a conversation, and very successful if it helps to build a community.
More on the subject: from content to connections.
Filed in Digital work, Social business
Tags: active audience, active response, broadcast gesture, Communication, Communication patterns, Communication strategy, connectivity, Internet, mass society, passive audience, point-to-point, private broadcasting, public broadcasting, third mode of communication
April 14, 2013
A manager recently voiced his concerns: “Most employees prefer being told what to do. They are willing to accept being treated like children in exchange for reduced stress. They are also willing to obey authority in exchange for job security.” That is the way we have seen it: managers inspire, motivate, and control employees, who need to be inspired, motivated, and controlled. These dynamics create the system of management and justify its continuation.
If we want to meet the challenges of the post-industrial world, this relationship needs to change. The workers changing their role is often seen as a matter of the extent to which the managers are willing to allow it and give up responsibility. In reality it is as much a matter of how much the workers are willing to develop their (management) capacity and take more and wider responsibility.
The dysfunctional relationship between managers and employees creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and a systemic failure in creative, knowledge-based work. What is tragic is that neither side normally understands the predictability of what is going on. The pattern is a mutually reinforcing self-destructive process that manifests itself as a steady decline in the authority of management and productivity of work.
A few researchers have started to dispute the assumption that the present system of management is a fact of life that will always be with us. It may be time for us to question whether the recent problems created by bad management are isolated and should be tolerated. Or to ask whether the fault is in the system itself and not in individual managers?
Luckily, management theory and practice are slowly starting to catch up with the dramatic changes brought about by the loosely coupled, modular nature of creative work and the ideals of social business.
A social business does not behave in the way our dominant management thinking assumes. What is it, then, that has changed?
Organizations are always assemblies of interacting people. The reason for an organization to exist is to simplify, support, and enrich interaction.
At present, there are three types of organizational cultures depending on the type of management and the alternative mechanisms for the coordination of tasks. The different task interdependencies accordingly place different and increasing burdens on our communication practices .
I call these the administrative culture, the industrial culture and the creative, social culture.
The administrative culture, which is found in most governmental organizations is about function-specific independent activities. Two functions or tasks are independent if it is believed that they don’t affect each other. The most important communication exists between the employer and the employee, the manager and the worker. The principle is that the execution of two independent tasks does not require communication between the tasks. The architecture consists of black boxes that are not coupled directly, but in an indirect way by higher-level managers, who coordinate the work. Work as interaction is mainly communication between hierarchical levels.
The industrial culture of process-based organizations is about dependent and sequential activities. Manufacturing work is about dependent tasks. Being dependent means that the output of one task is the input of another. The reverse cannot normally take place. In sequential dependence, those performing the following task must comply with the constraints imposed by the execution of the preceding task. Since the process architecture is typically quite clear, management coordination is mostly about measuring and controlling whether the execution conforms to the planned requirements. The architecture consists of tightly coupled tasks and predetermined, repeating activities. Work as interaction is a sequential process with one-way signals.
A creative, social culture is different. It is about loose couplings and modularity, about interdependent people and interdependent tasks. Two people/tasks are interdependent if they affect each another mutually and in parallel. Interdependent tasks call for peer-level responsiveness and coordination by mutual adjustments, not coordination by an outside party such as a manager.
Most of the information that is relevant will be discovered and created during the execution of the task, not before. As a result it is not always possible for a manager and a worker to agree on a coherent approach in advance. Nor is it normally possible to follow a predetermined process map.
The basic unit of corporate information in creative, social work is not content in the form of documents but interaction in the form of conversations. Knowledge is perpetually constructed in interaction. Work as interaction is complex, situational communication between loosely connected nodes of the network! The structure of work resembles the structure of Internet.
The three cultures and corresponding architectures differ in the degree to which their components are loosely or tightly coupled. Coupling is a measure of the degree to which communication between the components is fixed or not. In most creative work, and always in a social business, any node in the network should be able to communicate with any other node on the basis of contextual interdependence and creative participative engagement.
As organizations want to be more creative and social, the focus of management theory should shift towards understanding participative, self-organizing responsibility and the equality of peers. It is a systemic change, much more than just kicking out the bad managers and inviting new, better managers in. It is not about hierarchies vs. networks, but about how all people want to be present and how all people want to communicate in a way that was earlier reserved only for the people we called managers.
April 9, 2013
Up to now, we have seen the world around us as systems that, we thought, could be described and understood by identifying rational causal links between things: if I choose X, then it will lead to Y. If, on the other hand, I choose A, it will lead to B. We are accustomed to drawing boxes and arrows between those boxes. We try to model the world as predictable processes based on knowing how things are and how they will be. We want to be certain, and we think we are.
Management thinking is based on the sciences of certainty. The whole system of strategic choice, goal setting and choosing actions to reach the given goals in a controlled way depends on predictability. The problem is that this familiar causal foundation cannot explain the reality we face. Almost daily, we experience the inability of leaders to choose what happens to them, to their organizations – or to their countries. Things may appear orderly over time, but are inherently unpredictable. We live in a complex world.
Complex systems are, as their name implies, hard to understand. Social systems, like organizations consisting of people, are accordingly complex and perhaps even harder to understand. There is no linearity in the world of human beings. There are no arrows and people are not boxes, or fit inside of boxes. This is why our thinking needs to develop from the sciences of certainty to something more applicable, the sciences of uncertainty, the sciences of complexity.
Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is, at the same time, predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Chaos theory explains how these patterns form. A parameter might be the flow of information in the system. At low rates, meaning no input or more of the same input, the system moves forward displaying a repetitive, stuck behavior. At higher rates and more diversity the pattern changes. At very high rates the system displays a totally random behavior. The pattern is highly unstable. However, there is a level between repetition/stability and randomness/instability. This level where simultaneous coherence and novelty are experienced is called the edge of chaos.
Classical physics took individual entities and their separate movement (trajectories) as the unit of analysis in the same way we have analyzed and rewarded individuals. Henri Poincaré was the first scientist to find that there are two distinct kinds of energy. The first was the kinetic energy in the movement of the particle itself. The second was the energy arising from the interaction between particles. When this second energy is not there, the system is in a state of non-dynamism. When there is interactive energy, the system is dynamic and capable of novelty and renewal.
Interaction creates resonance between the particles. Resonance is the result of coupling the frequencies of particles leading to an increase in the amplitude. Resonance makes it impossible to identify individual movement in interactive environments because the individual’s trajectory depends more on the resonance with others than on the kinetic energy contained by the individual itself.
We are the result of our interaction. We are our relations.
The conclusions are important for us: firstly, novelty always emerges in a radically unpredictable way. The smallest overlooked variable or the tiniest change can escalate by non-linear iterations into a major transformative change in the later life of the system.
Secondly, the patterns are not caused by competitive selection or independent choices made by independent agents. Instead, what is happening happens in interaction, not by chance or by choice, but as a result of the interaction itself.
The new social technologies have the potential to influence connectivity and interaction as much as the sciences of complexity are going to influence our thinking. The task today is to understand what both social business and complexity mean. The next management paradigm is going to be based on those two, at the same time.
Filed in Complexity, New work, Social business
Tags: Chaos, complex causality, Complexity, Doug Griffin, Henri Poincaré, Interaction, Kenneth Gergen, Marcial Losada, Paradoxes, Ralph Stacey, rational causality, Relations, Social business, The sciences of certainty, The sciences of uncertainty
March 23, 2013
Economic growth is about value added. In manufacturing adding value was a transformation process from physical raw materials to physical goods. Economic growth is still today about value added. The difference is that the generic, homogeneous raw materials of the industrial era are now unique ideas and the transformation process is an iterative, interactive, non-linear movement, rather than a linear, sequential chain of acts.
The worlds of manufacturing-based added value and creativity-based added value require very different skills. Before the Internet and smart devices, most professional occupations required individual competencies that in most cases had accumulated over years. This experience base, often called tacit knowledge, was used to retrieve answers from memory and to independently solve situations arising at work. Knowledge was situated in the individual. In order to help individuals cope with the challenges of everyday life, individual competencies needed to be developed. This is why our whole education system is still based on independent individuals learning and, as a consequence, knowing.
The cognitive load of work has increased as a result of manufacturing giving way to creative, knowledge-intensive work. The content of work is changing from repetitive practices to contextual, creative practices. This makes the individual experience base, by default, too narrow a starting point for efficient work. Experiences can be a huge asset but experiences can also be a liability, creating recurrence where there should be novelty and innovation.
Creative work is not performed by independent individuals but by interdependent people in interaction. A new way to understanding work and competencies is unfolding: knowledge that used to be understood as the internal property of an individual is seen as networked communication. This requires us to learn new ways of talking about education and competencies. What is also needed is to unlearn the reductionist organizing principles of industrial work. Work is communication and the network is the amplifier of creativity.
People have always networked. Scholars depended largely on correspondence networks for the exchange of ideas before the time of the universities. These communities, known as the “Republic of Letters” were the social media of the era, following the communication patterns of today astonishingly closely. The better-networked scientist was often the better scientist. The better-networked worker is today usually the better worker. The better-networked student in the future is always the better student.
The main difference from the time of the Republic of Letters is the efficiency of our tools for communication, meaning thinking together. A “man of letters” may today be a man of tweets, blog posts and Facebook, but the principle is the same: the size and quality of the network matters. What matters even more than the network, is networking, the way we are present and interact. It is time to acknowledge the inherently creative commons nature of thinking, creativity and economic growth.
Life is a temporal pattern of emotional and intellectual interaction. We are our interaction.
Noam Chomsky interview.
Filed in Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social business
Tags: Cognition, Communication patterns, competence, Creative commons, Doug Griffin, Economic growth, Elinor Ostrom, Interactive value creation, Internet, Iterative work, Kenneth Gergen, Knowledge work, Learning, Network, Ralph Stacey, Smart device, Social business, Tacit knowledge
March 22, 2013
Social sciences are concerned with understanding and representation of what is going on and what has happened. Earlier, social scientists took great leaders and their personal characteristics as the topics to be explained. Context and time did not matter. More recent approaches to the study of social phenomena can be summarized as trying to understand temporality; the processes of becoming, live movement in time, which, in the world of business, either gives rise to viability or makes us slowly, or rapidly, obsolete.
The life stream of individuals is the new focus area. Life streams are also called social activity streams. The term “lifestream” was coined by Eric Freeman and David Gelernter in the mid-1990s to describe a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary; every document created and every document received is stored in the lifestream.
In management studies, the questions of becoming, remembering and forgetting are not only new concerns. They are the essence of modern knowledge management, especially in the time of Big Data, when “it is cheaper to keep than to throw away”.
There is a fear of memory loss in business, but there is also the opposite fear, that memory produces practices in the present that should best be forgotten.
Anthropologists claim that reproduction of the past is easier than change. This often leads us into situations where the past is no longer an adequate guide to the present, leading to a situation where an information asset turns into a liability.
Knowledge-intensive work takes place in communication. The process of knowing is the process of communication. The most important knowledge management challenge is to understand what takes place in that interaction: what is being discussed? What is not discussed, what is silenced? Who is included in the conversation, who is excluded? The most important measure, however, is how the common narrative develops, how fast, and where to.
This is why an organization should be seen as a pattern in time, a lifestream, a continuing story without beginnings. Everything we do is built on what has happened before. New people join this narrative and people leave. The patterns that emerge do so because of what everybody is doing. It is what many, many local interactions produce. Work is dynamic participation and influencing how the story develops.
Without understanding and visualizing where we come from and where we are heading, it is impossible to know whether we move at all, whether the flurry of daily activities is actually keeping us trapped in repetitive patterns without any progress. The same people having the same conversation again and again, as often seems to be the case.
Our past, together with our intentions for the future is present in the daily, mundane actions and interactions that often pass without notice. A lifestream is the ongoing reference point and visualization of progress in place (a map) and time (a calender). It is the means for pattern recognition to help create the future we truly desire.