June 3, 2012
The division of labor reduced organizational effort and the cost of work in factory production. The division of labor also increased the quality of work through specialization. This led managers to focus on the efficiency of activities that were separated from other activities. Organizational design was seen as the planning and execution of a collection of independent, but connected jobs forming the workflow system.
Connections were based on top-down command-and-control and horizontal, sequential processes. In both cases the action of one part was meant to set off the action of another. Interaction was understood as one-way signals, a system of senders and receivers, a system of causes and effects.
In the cause-and-effect model of communication a thought arising within one individual is translated into words, which are then transmitted to another individual. At the receiving end, the words translate into the same thought, if the formulation of the words and the transmission of those words are good enough.
Physical tasks could be broken up in a reductionist way. Bigger tasks could be divided by assigning people to different, smaller and fairly independent parts of the whole. For intellectual tasks, it is not possible to find independent parts because intellectual tasks are by default linked and interdependent, creating a totally different work environment. In this new work, communication is not talking about work, but work is communication between people. This is why a social business follows a very different model of causality.
In this model of complex causality, communication takes the form of a gesture made by an individual that evokes a response from someone else. The meaning can only be known in the gesture and response together. If I smile at you and you respond with a smile, the meaning is friendly, but if you respond with a cold stare, the meaning may be contempt. Gestures and responses cannot be separated but constitute one act. Neither side can independently choose the meaning of the words or control the conversation. Thus you can never control communication.
The cause-and-effect model of management presumes, accordingly, that leadership potential resides within an individual person, who is the cause. From a social business standpoint the individualistic view is fundamentally misleading. One cannot be inspiring or energizing alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition. An inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are agreeable people around. Mutually recognizing and mutually supporting relationships are the sources of progress. Actions always emerge in a network of relationships – in co-action instead of cause and effect.
Any higher-value activity involves complementary and parallel contributions from more than one person or one team. Instead of division of labor and the vertical/horizontal communication design, the managerial focus should now be in synchronous co-action and enriching interaction. Communication does not represent things in the world. It brings people and things into being.
Social businesses are about interdependent people working in complex interaction
Filed in Complexity, Digital work, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work
Tags: Complexity, Emergence, Esa Saarinen, George Herbert Mead, Hegel, Interactive value creation, Kenneth Gergen, Management, Marcial Losada, Organizing, Participation, Relational view, Self-organizing, Social business
February 23, 2012
The nature of the relationship between customers and firms has changed dramatically. For over a hundred years, companies have assumed that consumers are an undifferentiated mass. Lately, we have moved through different degrees of market segmentation. Today, we have reached a point where the latest interaction technologies are creating an entirely new dynamic between the firm and the people we used to call consumers. Tomorrow firms will compete in making unique customer experiences possible.
The traditional approach was that the firm created value and then exchanged it with its customers. This firm-centric view of value creation is now being replaced by customers’ contextual experiences and co-created value. Value is created in interaction, but outside the corporate firewall. Even if a company is dealing with a very, very large number of customers, the firm must focus on one customer at a time.
We are in a world in which value is determined by co-created experiences – all a bit alike but all a bit different.
During the still (mentally) prevailing industrial era, most firms were vertically integrated. It was only around twenty-something years ago that firms started to source components from outside, from suppliers on a large scale. Today it is natural to rely on global supply chains. This is because the business goal is to access the most competent, knowledgeable sources and paradoxically, at the same time the lowest-cost producers. Access to resources and resource allocation is today by default multi-vendor, crowdsourced and global.
The changing relationships with customers and vendors are the main drivers behind the new ecosystems for communication and participation.
These trends also explain the situation we are in at the moment. The network is the architecture of work. People need to communicate and participate in order to invite contributions and to co-create unique experiences. It is about the relational view. It is not necessary to own the contributing parties. Capacity to connect and cooperate is what is needed. Cooperation is the new competition.
The world we live in today is in many ways the polar opposite of what we have been used to. The management challenge in the era of social media is to invite and combine the contributions of many in order to participate with one (at a time).
Thank you C K
Filed in Complexity, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: Agile, C K Prahalad, Crowdsourcing, generic product, global supply chains, Human capital, interaction technologies, Interactive value creation, Internet, Iterative work, market segmentation, Participation, Self-organizing, Social business, Social Network, Social Web / Social Media, Transaction costs
January 29, 2012
When we think about business structures, many of us picture an organizational chart or the layout of an office building. A structure often refers to the physical arrangement of things, the parts making the whole. What we have missed so far is an understanding of the business structures that can foster faster learning and help us work better with information. Conventional structures don’t address knowledge-related challenges as effectively as they do problems of measuring input and output or accountability.
What social media have helped us to do is to link and coordinate unconnected activities or initiatives addressing a similar information domain. There have also been great successes in diagnosing recurring business problems whose root causes cross unit boundaries. We know that the problems we face today are too complex to be managed by one person or one unit. It requires more than one brain, one point of view, to solve them.
Sharing a practice or sharing an information domain requires regular interaction. Work is interaction and the new business structures should be built on interdependence and communication.
Almost all business communities started among people who worked at the same place or lived nearby. But co-location is not necessary any more. The Internet has changed that. Interdependent people forming a community can be distributed over wide areas. What then allows people to work together is not the choice of a specific form of communication, face-to-face as opposed to email or social platforms, but the existence of a shared practice, a common set of situations. What lies at the core of those situations is the need for different perspectives requiring interaction.
When you design for live interaction, you cannot dictate it. You cannot design it in the traditional sense of specifying a structure or a process and then implementing it. As many have experienced, communities seldom grow beyond the group that initiated the conversation, because they fail to attract enough participants. Many business communities also fall apart soon after their launch because they don’t have the energy to sustain themselves.
Communities, unlike business units need to continuously invite the interaction that makes them alive.
Community design is closer to iterative learning than traditional organizational design. Live communities reflect and redesign themselves throughout their life cycle. The design should always start with very light structures and very few elements.
What is also different is that good community architecture invites many kinds of participation. We used to think that we should encourage all the community members to participate equally. Now we know that a large portion of the network members are and should be peripheral. In a traditional meeting we would consider this type of participation half-hearted, but in a network a large portion of the members are always peripheral and rarely contribute. Because the boundaries of a live community are always fluid, even those on the outer edges can become involved for a time as the focus shifts to their area of particular interest.
Because conversations and communities need to be alive to create value, we need an approach to management that appreciates passion, relationships and voluntary participation. Rather than focusing on accountability, community design should concentrate on energizing, enriching participation.
The new structures and new designs are about communities continuously organizing themselves around shared information, shared interests and shared practices. Business is about doing meaningful things with meaningful people in a meaningful way.
More: “Lead like the great conductors“
Filed in Design, Digital work, Interactive, iterative value creation, New work, Social Web / Social Media
Tags: Agile, Architecture of work, Communication patterns, conventional structures, cross unit, David Weinberger, Digital work, Emergence, Esa Saarinen, information domain, Interactive value creation, Internet, Iterative work, Knowledge management, live interaction, Network, Organizing, Participation, Self-organizing, Social business, unit boundaries
It is not uncommon to think that knowing is something that goes on in the brain. Yet the evidence that it is really so is not quite clear. Some scientists have 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.
Industrial manufacturing was a fairly straightforward transformation process from physical raw materials to physical goods. Economic growth today is still about value added. The difference is that the generic, homogeneous raw materials and mass products of the industrial era are today different ideas and contextual, co-created solutions. The transformation process is also very different. In creative work, it is an iterative, unpredictable, non-linear movement, rather than a linear, sequential chain of predictable acts.
Knowledge-based value added is a movement of thought.
Individuals should take part in the onward movement of thinking. People should know what the live, future-creating ideas are and how to take part in the conversation in a value-adding way. This is independent of what people do, or the organizational unit they belong to.
The management task is to understand (1) what is being discussed, (2) the quality of that conversation, and (3) whether there is movement forward or people are running in circles. Are people stuck?
Thinking does not take place inside independent people but in continuous interaction between individuals. The richer the interaction, the more economic value added is created. The poorer the interaction, the more value is destroyed and waste created.
Knowledge used to be seen as the internal property of an individual. Today knowledge should be understood as networked communication. This requires us to learn new ways of talking about learning, education, competencies and work itself. What is also needed is to unlearn the reductionist organizing principles that are still the mainstream. Work is communication and the network is the amplifier. The age of the (lone) expert is over. The process of communication is the process of knowing.
If we want to influence the process of knowing we need to develop new habits of participation and new habits of communication. This is what the new interaction technologies allow us to do. This is also where agile practices impact on knowledge work in a similar way to that in which lean practices impacted on manufacturing.
Thank you Doug Griffin and Kenneth Gergen
November 26, 2011
Cathy N. Davidson has studied the way we make sense and think. Her claim is that we often end with problems when we tackle important issues together. This happens “not because the other side is wrong but because both sides are right in what they see, but neither can see what the other does”. In normal daily conditions, it may be that we don’t even know that other perspectives other than our own exist. We believe we see the whole picture from our point of view and have all the facts. Focus however means selection and selection means blind spots leading to (attention) blindness. We have a partial view that we take as the full picture.
This is one of the reasons why people in companies are often stuck in narrow, repetitive and negative patterns that provide them with numbing, repressive and even neurotic experiences.
The opportunity provided by social tools lies in the widening and deepening of communication, leading to new voices taking part and new conversations that cross organizational units and stale process charts.
According to Cathy Davidson, attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain. Attention blindness is also the fundamental structuring principle of our organizations and our political system. We see and understand things selectively.
Knowing in the brain is a set of neural connections that correspond to our patterns of communication. The challenge is to see the filters and linkages as communication patterns that either keep us stuck or open up new possibilities.
The opportunity lies in the fact that as we don’t all select the same things, we don’t all miss the same things. If we can pool our insights we can thrive in the complex world we live in. In this way of thinking, we leave behind the notion of the self-governing, independent individual for a different notion, of interdependent people whose identities are established in interaction with each other.
From this perspective, individual change cannot be separated from changes in the groups to which an individual belongs. And changes in the groups don’t take place without the individuals changing.
Our attention is a result of the filters we use. These filters can be a mix of habits, company processes, organizational charts or tools. Increasingly these filters are social. They are the people we recognize as experts. Our most valuable guides to useful bits of insight are trusted people whose activities we can follow in real time to help us enrich our views.
Management research has focused on the leadership attributes of an individual. 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.
Leading and following when seen as a relationship, not as attributes of individuals, have a very different dynamic. Leading in this new sense is not position-based, but recognition-based. People, the followers, also decide. The leader is someone people trust to be at the forefront in an area, which is temporally meaningful for them.
People recognize as the leader someone who inspires, energizes and empowers them.
Another huge difference from traditional management is that because of the diversity of contexts people link to, there can never be just one boss. Thus, an individual always has many “leaders” 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.
We are now at the very beginning of understanding leadership in the new contextual, temporal framework. The relational processes of leading and following should be seen as temporary, responsive activity streams, not only on the Internet but also inside companies. They are manifested as internal (Twitter) feeds, (Facebook) updates and blog posts from the people you associate with.
Richer, more challenging, more exploratory conversations leave people feeling more alive, more inspired and capable of far more creative and effective action.
Thank you Cathy N. Davidson and Doug Griffin
Filed in Complexity, Design, Interactive, iterative value creation
Tags: Activity streams, Cathy N. Davidson, Communication patterns, Complexity, Doug Griffin, Facebook, Interactive value creation, Internet, Knowledge management, Organizing, Participation, Self-organizing, Social business, Twitter
The modern business enterprise is easily defined. It has two particular characteristics: it contains many separate operating units and a hierarchy of executives. As a social innovation the modern enterprise was born when the volume of economic activities reached a level that made administrative coordination more efficient and more lucrative than market coordination.
Before the rise of the modern firm, the activities of small, often personally owned enterprises were enabled and constrained by market and price mechanisms.
The important innovation of the modern firm was to “internalize” activities by bringing many discrete components under one roof and under a system of coordination. The modern multi-unit business corporation replaced the small, single-unit, enterprise because administrative coordination permitted greater productivity and lower (transaction)costs per task than was possible before.
The big idea behind industrial management was to purchase or set up units that were fit enough to operate as independent entities, but instead integrate them into one system. Bringing these activities together gave the corporation many advantages: by standardizing interaction between units, the cost of transactions were lowered and the cost of information on markets and sources of supply were dramatically reduced.
The principle of internalization permitted the flows of goods, services and information to be planned from one unit to another. Budgeting of flows allowed more efficient use of facilities and personnel than was the norm earlier. The advantages of internalizing many business units within a single enterprise could not be realized without management.
Managers essentially carried out the functions formerly handled by price and market mechanisms. Managers were now the enablers.
The practices and procedures that were invented at the dawn of industrialism have become standard operating methods and are still taught in business schools today. The existence of a managerial hierarchy as means for coordination is not questioned. It is the defining characteristic of the modern business enterprise.
Facing a world that has changed
Two aspects of work have changed dramatically. First, all financially successful offerings involve customization, or aggregation by the end-user. This means that companies must thrive in situations where very little information or communication can be made routine. Second, all successful firms are actively involved in emergent, responsive interaction with people “outside”: customers and network partners. These firms understand that value is not created inside the organization but in the larger ecosystem they are one part of.
We all have mindsets of the world that serve as maps that guide what we see and how we understand the world around us. The maps can be helpful but also outdated and incorrect. Management practices of the industrial, passive-mass-consumer era were based on standardization, management coordination and repetition. These approaches and principles are not just less useful, but critically wrong today.
Both of the change drivers: customization and interactive value creation, demand that firms value people more than they value budgets, processes, organizational units and hierarchies. Firms must attract and link contributions from skilled individuals – no matter where those people are and where those contributions come from. The products the firm sells to its clients are not offerings of the firm per se, but offerings created by specific individuals in specific situations of “local” interaction. This is why business-to-business (B2B) value systems are not different from business-to-customer (B2C) value systems. It is about people in interaction in both cases.
Work is always interaction between interdependent individuals.
It is now more expensive to internalize than to network
Interaction can only partially be planned in advance. People need to participate based on transparent information and high quality communication systems enabling responsiveness. Some work is also in the future located “inside” the firm, but the really important part of interaction takes place “outside“. A larger and larger number of the contributing individuals are necessarily customers and network partners who are outside the company Intranet as we know it know. The explanation for this is that it is now more expensive to internalize than to network. The fundamental principles of organizing are changing because of the Internet and the low cost and high quality of communication. This is why there are no, and never will be, successful social media implementations inside firewalls.
Work today is network-enabled, situational collaboration based on interdependency that typically links operational units and spans over traditional value systems. The approach that managers do the coordination for the workers is just too slow and too costly in the low transaction cost environments we live in today.
The enablers have turned into a constraint.
The task today is to create a valid context in which people think about and experience social media / social business. The difficulty is that this context has to make sense in the world we are going to, and not the world we are coming from.
More on the subject: what bosses do in the Economist. A post on group intelligence by Tom Malone. Work of Steve Denning. Article in the Ivey Business Journal. More on the new context: digital literacy. Greg Satell on networks. Stowe Boyd´s blog post.
April 25, 2011
Physical tasks can normally be broken up in a reductionist way. Bigger tasks can be divided by assigning people to different smaller parts of the whole. For intellectual tasks, it is much harder to find parts that make for an efficient division of labour. Intellectual tasks are by default linked and complex. Reductionism does not work.
The machine metaphor led to the belief that if we only can arrange the parts in the right way, we optimize efficiency. When the image of work was the assembly line, work could be fragmented and individual performance goals could be set for each worker. The world was all about little boxes separated from one another.
The demands of work are different now: how efficient an organization is reflects the links people have with one another and the links they have to the contexts of value. How many handshakes separates them from one another and from the things that matter? We are beginning to see the world as relations.
When we talk about relations, we often take examples from nature: murmuration and bird flocks. The V shape of a bird flock does not result from one bird being selected as the leader, and the other birds lining up behind the leader. Instead, each bird’s behaviour is based on its position relative to nearby birds. Ornithologists say that the V shape is not planned or centrally determined; it emerges out of simple, and relatively few, rules of interaction. The bird flock demonstrates a striking feature of emergent phenomena. But the birds do not need to figure out the rules of flight that guide how they organize themselves. These rules are genetically hardwired. Nature provides this for the birds.
Birds then are not “free like birds”.
When it comes to people it is a different story. Mother nature does not provide deterministic rules for collaboration. We are free to choose, or not to choose, our own ways of doing things together. Accordingly we are ourselves responsible for formulating the principles we use to organize our life. Social systems are thus fundamentally different from natural mechanisms.
New architectures of work
We have examples of social architectures that redefine some basic beliefs about social systems.
The wiki is at the moment the best departure from division of labor and workflows. Wikis let people work digitally together the very same way they would work face-to-face. In a physical meeting, there are always more or less the wrong people present and the transaction costs are very high. Unlike email, which pushes copies of the same information to people to work or edit separately, a wiki pulls non co-located people together to work collaboratively, and with very low transaction costs. Email and physical meetings are excluding ways of doing things. They leave people out. A wiki (depending on the topic, the context) is always inviting and including. The goal is to enable groups to form around shared contexts without preset organizational walls, or rules of engagement.
Ward Cunningham described his invention in 1995 as the simplest online database that could possibly work. An important principle of the wiki is the conscious emphasis on using as little structure as possible to get the job done. A wiki does not force hierarchy on the people. In this case, less structure and less hierarchy mean less transaction costs. A wiki always starts out flat, with all the pages on the same level. This allows people to dynamically create the organization and hierarchy that makes most sense in the situation at hand to get the job done.
People work together to reach a balance of different viewpoints through interaction as they iterate the content of work. The wiki way of working is essentially the digital and more advanced version of a meeting or a workshop. It enables multiple people to inhabit the same space, see the same thing and participate freely. Some might just listen, some make comments or a small edits, while others might make more significant contributions and conclusions.
New work is about responsive, free and voluntary participation by people who contribute as little, or as much as they like, and who are motivated by something much more elusive than only money. The society has moved away from the era of boxes to the time of networks and linked individualism. Being connected to people – from elsewhere – is a cultural necessity and links, not boxes, are the new texture of value creation.
Organizations are their communicative performance.
Thank you R. Keith Sawyer, Stewart Mader, Robert Cummings, Rod Collins, Doug Griffin, Kim Weckström, Richard Harper and Yochai Benkler
Filed in Social Web / Social Media, Interactive, iterative value creation, Digital work
Tags: Complexity, Communication patterns, Wiki, Interactive value creation, Emergence, Self-organizing, Iterative work, Doug Griffin, Yochai Benkler, Participation, Digital work, Architecture of work, Communication strategy, Transaction costs, Ronald Coase, Crowdsourcing, Kenneth Gergen