October 15, 2013
The new landscape of work is alien territory for most of today’s business leaders and business schools, but things are already moving towards a new world.
The new landscape consists of the network as the architecture of work and work as coordinated action between non-co-located but interdependent people. The astonishing thing is that we can find an existing, efficient, working model for this kind of digital work. It is games.
The game environment may be the next productivity suite available for digital work. Adopting the best qualities of games could help firms to meet the pressing challenge of highly mobile and distributed work.
What, then, can be learned from these games?
The pace of games is normally very fast and requires fast decision-making. Decisions are typically based on incomplete information and are always iterated as more data become available later. You can’t take a lengthy pause to strategize and to weigh up the options. The culture needs to embrace changing decisions, learning and adopting constant corrections to the course that was initially chosen.
Acting is always based on uncertainty. You can’t succeed in an uncertain environment without trial and error, without taking risks. You can’t embrace risk taking without accepting failures. Here the game environment is fundamentally different from most corporate cultures. Frequent risk taking and confronting risks routinely help players to learn to keep paradoxes alive calmly and to live efficiently with continuous change.
Management in games is often temporary. People switch roles. They direct others one minute and take orders the next. Management is a task. It is not a position, or part of the identity of an individual. Companies often identify people as leaders because of the high level of potential they show early in their careers. That model may not work in the future. The growing complexity of business means that no single leader can handle all the different challenges any more. Treating management as a temporary state and a task can be the new model of the future. The whole assumption that leadership resides within an individual may not be correct at all.
Getting the network environment right for cooperation is imperative. Efficient digital environments make information open to all of the players, all of the time. This information includes quantified-self type statistics and trend information for reflexive work. Real-time status updates on operations make planning the next move easy.
The mainstream corporate approach to knowledge management has assumed that thinking and doing are separated. In the game environment a player is expected to act on information, without waiting for instructions from a boss. The most interesting thing in the game environment is that it allows people to take responsibility, to assume leadership as and when needed.
The widespread adoption of game mechanics for coordination and taking responsibility would require a dramatic change in mainstream organizational culture. However, the games are here today and the generation that has grown up playing the games is growing up and joining corporations.
They are going to be the drivers of the change towards a more creative, productive and more fun work environment.
September 25, 2013
We have been studying companies’ connections and disconnections for more than twenty years and have worked inside a huge number of them. Across all this research, common themes have emerged and intensified during the past few years: good communication in the era of the Internet and the new interactive tools does not mean any more that companies should listen carefully to their customers or that leaders should talk clearly with their subordinates. The linear view of communication, the movement of messages or sharing of content between people is giving way to a totally new understanding of what interaction, and work, are all about.
The first emerging theme is that communication is in fact a process of continuous coordination and knowledge creation. Knowledge is not shared as contents, but arises in action. Knowledge is never transmitted from one mind to another. It is a change from the movement of messages to a joint movement of thought. The future and viability of an organization depend on this process.
Economics still makes the assumption that individuals, the agents, as they are called, operate autonomously, separately from the influences of others. When choosing something, making a decision from a set of alternatives, the agent compares the attributes of the alternatives and selects the one that corresponds to her preferences. It is a world where independent individuals carefully weigh up the costs and benefits of any particular course of action.
However, scientists have emphasized the limits of our understanding. An important point is that these limits apply to everyone. They apply to politicians, to central bankers and to top executives of multinational companies. John Maynard Keynes once wrote that we have, as a rule, only the vaguest idea of the consequences of our actions. Herbert Simon and Stuart Kauffman on the other hand have argued that the number of future paths open to us at any point in time is so vast that it makes no sense at all to speak of the best or optimal decision. But we still think the world works like a predictable machine operated by rational agents
Behavior that does not follow an economist’s definition is often called irrational, but it may be that in a world of ubiquitous networks, a proliferation of choice and an abundance of information, the economic definition of rationality has itself become outdated and irrational.
We need a new model of rational behavior and a new understanding of how we make decisions. We need a new decision model!
The second emerging theme is that the assumption that people make choices in isolation, that they do not adopt opinions simply because other people have them, is no longer sustainable. The choices people make, their buying decisions and their political views, are directly influenced by other people. That is to say that we construct our world together in communication. Network scientists such as Duncan Watts and Mark Granowetter have proved that the world comes to be what it is for us in our relationships. In the end it all depends on the company you keep and the conversations you have.
This leads to the importance of emphasizing relations instead of reductionism and separations. Reductionism means that the organization is understood as being split from its environment and one functional team is seen as being separate from another function. The worst mistake we make as a result of reductionist thinking may be that we assess and reward employees as if they were disconnected from other employees.
Links and communication are at the centre of organizational life. Depending on the quantity of interdependent links and the quality of communication, the organization lives or dies. Work is interaction between interdependent people.
The third emerging theme is that communication creates patterns. Words become what they are through the responsive actions of the people taking part. The relational view means in practice that if a conversation goes badly, it is always a joint achievement. On the other side, a conversation can only be successful if both participants join in and make it so as Ken Gergen points out. In management, it means that there is nothing one person alone can do to be a good manager. Good ideas don’t count as good ideas, if other people don’t treat them as such.
New leadership is about an awareness of creative and destructive patterns and having the ability to influence what is going on. In a creative pattern, the participants build on each other’s contributions. The conversation, thinking and action are in a process of forward movement.
Destructive patterns are the most harmful in terms of organizational viability. These patterns don’t contain forward movement but running in circles. People and organizations get stuck! People slow down in bitterness and silence, or even to the breaking of the link. The most destructive patterns often begin subtly, but unless they are worked with soon, not only will relations suffer but the whole network will deteriorate.
Being aware of the patterns includes being aware of the roles that we play. Whenever we speak, we do two things: we subtly define ourselves and define the other. Does the speaker in a company context define herself as one who can talk down to others or as an equal? What we say is important to the viability of the organization but the way we say it can be equally important. Talking down or talking up between people creates an asymmetry that leads to bad decisions and inefficient movement of thought.
The machine metaphor meant that we tended to think that the people “above” us have significant power. They are in control. We thus talked up to them. They should decide. They should do things for us because they were the ones who were responsible, not us. Knowing that they are not in control raises the question of a need for a new distribution of responsibility. Bottom-up as a metaphor is as harmful as top-down when the common goal is resilience.
There is no aspect of work or leadership that takes place outside the realm of communication. Human agency is not located or stored in an individual, contrary to mainstream economics. The individual mind arises continuously in communication between people.
Being skilfully present in the forward movement of thought and relational action is the new meaning of being rational.
Thank you Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Ken Gergen, Marcial Losada, Katri Saarikivi and Paul Ormerod
Links: “Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty” “Possibilianism” “Stanley Milgram and the uncertainty of evil” “The fluid core“. “On functional stupidity and trust“. “Tulipmania” “Neuroeconomics“
Filed in Complexity, New work, Social business
Tags: Agile, Communication patterns, Complexity, decision models, decisions, Doug Griffin, Duncan Watts, Elinor Ostrom, Emergence, Esa Saarinen, George Herbert Mead, Herbert Simon, Internet, John Maynard Keynes, Kenneth Gergen, Knowledge management, Marcial Losada, Mark Granowetter, Ralph Stacey, rational causality, rationality, Resilience, Resilient, Self-organizing, Stuart Kauffman
May 26, 2013
The creative era we live in is an age of unprecedented possibility compared with the industrial age. Major shifts are taking place: ideas matter more than money and as there are more people with good ideas than there are people with money, new opportunity spaces are being created. Industrial workers used to do as they were told. Today, knowledge workers negotiate solutions in active interaction with their peers. We also used to think that organizations outlived workers. The organization came first, and people served the organization. Today, workers´ careers outlive organizations, profoundly challenging our thinking. People have to come first, creating a revolution in work related social structures.
Companies are not managing their employees’ long-term careers any more. Workers must be their own HRD professionals. With opportunity comes new responsibility. It is up to the worker to construct the narrative of working life, to know what to contribute, when to change course and how to keep engaged – for much longer than we have been used to. To do those things well you have to develop a new understanding of yourself and what you are actually up to.
The schools and workplaces of the industrial era were organized on the assumption that there is one right way to learn, or to do things, and it is the same for everybody. To improve was to subscribe to this ideal, the goal somebody else gave you. After that, the task was to know where you are, and (try to) close the gap.
This is where the biggest changes are taking place. Instead of the industrial era’s generalizations and abstractions about what is good for you, or what five steps everybody should take, it is now time to cultivate a deep understanding of the context, the unique, particular situation you are in. Who are you and where do you come from? What kind of relations are the building blocks of your life? Reflecting on your reality should be the starting point of any effort to change things. This is also where we are often at our weakest. It did not matter in the past because most decisions were made for us. But now people can, and must, choose. The new task is to be able to make these choices on the basis of our own particular strengths and our own sense of belonging.
Most of the choices we make each day are believed to be the products of well-considered, rational decisions based on knowledge, but they are not. They are repeated patterns, habits. We are not conscious in the way we think we are; we do most of the things we do on autopilot.
Habits in an individual’s life are a natural consequence of our neurology. Patterns in the brain emerge because of repetition and learning. When patterns emerge, the brain stops participating fully in decision-making. The brain stops recruiting prefrontal areas, allowing consciousness and attention to be potentially focused on other tasks. The brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. It is the same thing in organizations. A community is always a collection of routines and habits. The aim of these patterns is the same as in the brain, to make life easier and more predictable.
The problem here is that neither the brain nor the people in a tightly knit community can, in the end, tell the difference between a bad habit and a good habit. The patterns repeat in a self-reinforcing way. Repeating patterns, not reason, are the root of how we behave.
Although each situation means relatively little on its own, over time, the patterns of our life have an enormous impact on our creativity, productivity, health, well-being and happiness.
We all know that the primary thing that causes change is a major crisis! It may be the first heart attack or a sharp, deep drop in revenues. It is remarkable how fast people then find the ways to live in the right way, or how businesses suddenly start to deal with the “burning platforms” they could have tackled a long time ago.
I don’t think that people and organizations really have to wait until something serious happens to them to fix things. I believe that the productivity suites of tomorrow are going to be a combination of sensors, big data and quantified-self technologies. When used together, these create totally new opportunities for live feedback, daily reflection and iterative change. And, most importantly these opportunities are based on our own unique context and our own unique storyline.
Managing yourself is first and foremost about pattern recognition. It is essential to remedy the things you do repeatedly, that don’t serve you and the life you want to create.
It is about changing the focus from what we should be doing to what we actually do!
Thank you Katri Saarikivi
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.