The characteristics of work in the network economy are different from what we are used to: the industrial production of physical goods was financial capital-intensive, leading to centralized management and manufacturing facilities where you needed to be at during predetermined hours. The industrial era also created the shareholder capitalism we now experience. In the network economy, individuals, interacting with each other by utilizing free or low cost social platforms and relatively cheap mobile, smart devices, can now create information products.

The production of information goods requires more human capital than financial capital. And the good news is that you are not limited to the local supply. Because of the Internet, work on information products does not need to be co-located. The infrastructure of work does not resemble a factory but a network.

Decentralized action plays a much more important role today than ever before.

Work systems 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 predetermined and fixed or not. The architecture of the Internet is based on loose couplings and modularity. Modularity is the design principle that intentionally makes nodes of the network able to be highly responsive.

The Internet-based firm sees work and cognitive capability as networked communication. Any node in the network should be able to communicate with any other node on the basis of contextual interdependence and creative participative engagement. Work takes place in a transparent digital environment.

As organizations want to be more creative and knowledge-based, the focus of management thinking should shift towards understanding participative, self-organizing responsiveness.

The Internet is a viable model for making sense of the new value creating constellations of tomorrow.

But something crucially important needs to change:

ToriThe taken for granted assumption is that it is the independent employer/manager who exercises freedom of choice in choosing what is done and by whom. The employees of the organization are not seen autonomous, with a choice of their own, but are seen as rule-following, dependent entities. People are resources.

Dependence is the opposite of taking responsibility. It is getting the daily tasks that are given to you done, or at least out of the way. We are as used to the employer choosing the work objectives as we are used to the teacher choosing the learning objectives. The manager directs the way in which the employee engages with work, and manages the timing and duration of the work. This image of work is easy to grasp because it has been taught at school where the model is the same.

In contrast to the above, digital work and the Internet have brought about circumstances in which the employee in effect chooses the purpose of work, voluntarily selects the tasks, determines the modes and timing of engagement, and designs the outcomes. The worker here might be said to be largely independent of some other person’s management, but is in effect interdependent. Interdependence here means that the worker is free to choose what tasks to take up, and when to take them up, but is not independent in the sense that she would not need to make the choice.

The interdependent, task-based worker negotiates her work based on her own purposes, not the goals of somebody else, and chooses her fellow workers based on her network, not a given organization. The aim is to do meaningful things with meaningful people in meaningful ways utilizing networks and voluntary participation.

It is not the corporation that is in the center, but the intentions and choices of individuals. This view of work focuses attention on the way ordinary, everyday work-tasks enrich life and perpetually create the future we truly want through continuous learning.

The architecture of work is not the structure of a corporation, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of organizing. The main motivation of work is not financial self-interest, but people’s different and yet, complementary expectations of the future.

The factory logic of mass production forced people to come to where the work is. The crowdsourcing logic of mass communication makes it possible to distribute work/tasks to where the right/willing/inspired people are, no matter where on the globe they may be.

Knowledge work is not about jobs or job roles but about tasks. Most importantly knowledge work can, if we want, be human-centric. Through mobile smart devices and ubiquitous connectivity, we can also create new opportunities and a better future for millions of presently unemployed people.

It is possible!

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The Social Graph of Work

March 31, 2014

The approach of the industrial era to getting something done is first to create an organization. If something new and different needs to be done, a new and different kind of organizational form needs to be put into effect. Changing the lines of accountability and reporting is the epitome of change in firms. When a new manager enters the picture, the organizational outline is typically changed into a “new” organization. But does changing the organization really change what is done? Does the change actually change anything?

An organization is metaphorically still 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 acceptable 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, organizational design created two things: the process chart and reporting lines, the hierarchy.

1In creative, knowledge based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of people, capabilities and tasks in advance. In many firms reporting routines are the least important part of communication. Much more flexibility than the process maps allow is needed. Interdependence between peers involves, almost by default, crossing boundaries. The walls seem to be in the wrong position or in the way, making work harder to do. What, then, is the use of the organizational theatre when it is literally impossible to define the organization before we actually do something?

What if the organization really should be an ongoing process of emergent self-organizing? Instead of thinking about the organization, let’s think about organizing.

If we take this view we don’t think about walls but we think about what we do and how groups are formed around what is actually going on or what should be going on. The new management task is to make possible the very easy and very fast emergent formation of groups and to make it as easy as possible for the best contributions from the whole network to find the applicable tasks, without knowing beforehand who knows.

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?

It is a picture of an organization without walls, rather like contextual magnetic fields defined by gradually fading rings of attraction.

Instead of the topology of organizational boxes that are still often the visual representation of work, the architecture of work is a live social graph of networked interdependence and accountability. One of the most promising features of social technologies is the easy and efficient group formation that makes this kind of organizing possible for the first time!

It is just our thinking that is in the way of bringing down the walls.

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Tukholma

Industrial-era thinking consists of cultural metaphors that have guided the development of firms and societies for the past 100 years. These habitual mindsets act as intellectual and emotional standards for determining what is the right way to think and what are the right things to do.

Lately I have had a series of conversations with a group of leaders of global high-tech companies. It became very clear during my conversations that their vocabulary reflected a new way of thinking about work. The executives emphasized that the key to success in the new digital economy is likely to be a new position for knowledge professionals and a wide social acceptance of more sustainable values.

These people represented a very different set of standards from those the mainstream thinking portrays.

We still think according to a mindset, in which capital is the key resource and the investor is the ultimate boss. Accordingly, the modeling approach we still use in corporate governance is the principal-agent model, in which managers are viewed as agents of the shareholders, the principals. It is a chain of authority that leads to the knowledge worker only at the end of the chain.

But once acquired, knowledge and skills that are specialized to a given enterprise are assets that are at risk in the very same way that financial assets are at risk. If one can’t continue for some reason, the value of context-specific knowledge and competencies may be much lower somewhere else. Human capital then follows very much the same logic as financial capital and should be treated accordingly.

There is, however, one major difference. Human capital is by definition always linked, social and contextual.

The capabilities of the members of a team are worth more together than when applied alone. With context-specific human capital, the productivity of a particular individual depends not just on being part of a community, but on being part of a particular group engaged in a particular task.

The contextual and social aspects of business matter much more than we have understood.

The ten principles of digital work, the new standards, that the leaders acknowledged:

  1. informed free choice, rather than compliance, is the basis for decisions
  2. active participation, rather than passively accepting instructions, is the basis of growth and development
  3. work activities are carried out within a framework of personal responsibility and goals for self-direction rather than direction from outside
  4. activities are carried out in a transparent way with the goal of distributing the cognitive load of work rather than work being based on reductionist principles and social isolation
  5. one is responsible for one’s own actions rather than being responsible to someone else
  6. a worker is engaging in complex, responsive activities with others in contrast with engaging in closed repetitions of the same activity
  7. the network, rather than offices or organizational hierarchies, is the main architecture of work
  8. productivity is a result of creative learning rather than doing more of the same. Increasing the quality and speed of learning matter more than increasing the quantitative output of work
  9. knowledge work can be understood as investments of human capital following the same logic we have used to understand financial investments. Workers should share the responsibilities and possible upsides that used to belong only to the investors of financial capital.
  10. knowledge work is about interdependent people in interaction. Intelligence, competence and learning are not any more about the attributes and qualities of individuals but about the attributes and quality of interaction

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The impact of technology on industrial jobs.

Redesigning work

January 8, 2013

Corporations as we know them arose around 150 years ago. They were modelled on the most successful organization of the time – the army. The army was then, out of necessity, based on a familiar management model: a few well-trained people at the top commanded a very large number of unskilled people, the “employees”, who were drilled in a few repetitive motions.

This organizational model reached its peak around the time of the Second World War. By that time it had become clear that the command and control organization was rapidly becoming outdated, even for the needs of the army. It was actually in the military that the transformation towards the knowledge worker paradigm first began. Contrary to mainstream thinking, there are examples of armed forces developing furthest from being based on command and control to being based on knowledge and responsibility.

Just as industrial society became a society of corporations, it developed into a society of employers and employees. These were two different ways to explain the same phenomenon. An employee is by definition somebody who is dependent on access to an organization, access to an employer.

Many people still think that one can only work if there is an organization – a “machine” to operate.

Corporate ICT systems are the machines of today. They are too often used in essentially the same way as machines were used in factories. Machine operators in the factory did as they were told. The machine dictated not only what to do but how to do things. The worker was dependent on the machine and served the machine.

To become a social business and to improve the productivity of work will require very different thinking and big changes to ICT-systems, management, and even, the structure of society. In knowledge work the “machines” necessarily have to serve the workers. It is the knowledge workers who decide what to do next and how to do it.

Economic theory and industrial management practice see workers as a cost. A social business, wanting to increase productivity, has to consider knowledge workers as a capital asset. There is a huge difference. Costs need to be reduced, but assets need to be made to grow.

Our present system of industrial management creates systemic inefficiency in knowledge-based work. It can only be removed if the knowledge worker’s role includes a more active responsibility leading to responsive, agile practices. This cannot be achieved unless our mental constructs and the societal structure of work changes radically.

We should ask whether the current social construct of employers and employees is inevitable for some reason, or whether it is a social artefact that is over 100 years old, and should be redesigned.

The change would mean that employees/knowledge workers would explicitly bear the entrepreneurial responsibility for the success or failure of the company, as they do anyway in the end, and, additionally, benefit from any possible upside, just as shareholders do.

From the point of view of corporate governance, it would mean that companies should be run in the interests of workers, as much as in the interests of their owners. That’s what the change from command and control to knowledge and responsibility really means.

And that’s what is needed to become a social business.

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Every young person is an entrepreneur now” and a short video presentation by Peter Senge.

All of us have at some point in our lives experienced performance appraisals where we as individuals were evaluated. This approach to judgment was the same in school and at work: individuals separated from other individuals.

As a result of recent developments in psychology and sociology, we are now leaving behind the preoccupation with the autonomous individual and beginning to appreciate the importance of relational processes and interdependence. The way we perceive organizations is changing accordingly. Rather than an organization being though of as an imposed structure of separate, autonomous functions, today’s organization arises from the interactions of individuals who need to come together. An organization is a continuous process of organizing.

This shift in the way we see organizations changes the way we perceive competitive advantages. The new competitive edge comes from openness and interactive capacity: the ability to participate and connect, as and when needed.

Live organizations and open, live information

Similarly produced products with the same product features are used by different customers in different ways. Just because a product is a commodity doesn’t mean that customers can’t be diverse in their needs and the way they use the product.

Companies used to have no mechanisms for connecting with the end users in order to understand and influence this. Social media and mobile technologies are now changing this.

Organizations are creative, responsive processes of communication. All creative, responsive processes have the capacity to constantly self-organize and re-organize. Change is not a problem or anomaly. Solutions are always temporary and contextual.

In this view, it is information that is the energy of organizing. Or, as Gregory Bateson wrote, “information is a difference, which makes a difference”. When we see information as a power plant that has the ability to organize and change the organization, we realize the power of openness. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, products and new technologies.

When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization.  The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are.  What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information streams that no one could predict they would want to know about. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. Thus information architectures can never be fully planned in advance.

Engagement and participation

No one person or function can meet today’s challenges alone. We need a community of people who willingly participate and provide their insights to address increasingly interdependent issues. Collaboration is necessary because one person no longer has the answer. Answers reside in the interaction, between all of us.

Therefore the challenges of today are engagement and reducing the transaction costs of participation. Widening the circle of involvement means expanding who gets to participate, comment and contribute. It is about inviting and including relevant, new and different voices.

The unfortunate misunderstanding is that engaging people requires managers to let go. As managers contemplate widening the circle of involvement they sometimes believe that it means to have less ability to provide input based on their knowledge and experience. Paradoxically, engaging more people requires more from managers than the current management paradigm.

Instead of being responsible for identifying both the problem and the solution, they are now responsible for identifying the problem and identifying the other people whose voices need to be heard. Who else needs to be here? How do I invite people who do not report to me? How do I invite customers and other people from outside our organization?

Success today is increasingly the result of skilful management of participation: who is included and who is not. Who is needlessly excluded from the information streams and the subsequent interaction?

A common misunderstanding is that productivity will suffer if larger numbers of people are involved. The new social platforms and interaction technologies have dramatically reduced the cost of communication and participation. Temporary, flash communities can be formed to solve a problem or to tackle an opportunity more easily, more cheaply and faster than ever before – if there is openness and people are invited and if people want to engage. It is about distributing the intellectual tasks at hand and integrating the contributions of many resulting in creative learning.

Creative learning is the new productivity. In creative, interactive work, productivity cannot be measured in quantitative terms or as a difference between input and output, but as the speed and quality of learning.

The management task is not to understand people better, but to understand better what happens, and can happen between people. Our world is co-created in relations.

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The way in which companies organize themselves and define their internal boundaries has essentially been determined by the way in which communication between people is planned and transfer of information is designed. The classic hierarchical structure was based on the assumption that a manager or worker could have rich interaction and exchange of information only with a limited number of predetermined people. A narrowing of interaction always marked operational boundaries. Thus you did not want people to cross functional silos. This was the infamous trade-off between richness and reach.

An increasing number of companies trying to become social businesses are now becoming aware of the technical barriers and structural bottlenecks that hinder or totally prevent cooperation that is not planned in advance.

It is time to rethink. Rather than thinking of organization as an imposed structure, plan or design, organization arises from the interactions of interdependent individuals who need to come together.

The accumulating failures of attempts at organizational agility can be traced to the fundamental but mistaken assumption that organizations are structures that guide and, as a consequence, limit interaction. An organization as a structure is a seventeenth century notion from a time when philosophers began to describe the universe as a giant piece of clockwork. Our beliefs in prediction and organizational design originate from these same ideas.

A different ideal is emerging today. We want to be agile and resilient and we want to learn effectively and fast. The tension of our time is that we want our firms to be flexible and creative but we only know how to treat them as systems of boxes (or network nodes, where the shapes are round instead of square), with a fixed number of lines between them.

It is time to change the way we think about organizations. It is not about hierarchies vs. networks, but about a much deeper change. Organizations are creative, responsive processes and emergent patterns in time. All creative, responsive processes have the capacity to constantly self-organize and re-organize all the time. Change is not a problem or anomaly. Change is the organizing input rather than the typical managerial re-design process.  All solutions are always temporary.

Gregory Bateson wrote: “information is a difference which makes a difference”. Information is the energy of organizing. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, new technologies and competitors.

What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information that no one could predict they would want to know. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. Thus an organization can never be fully planned in advance. When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization. The context matters more than ever. The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are.

We seek organization, but organization is a continuous process, not a structure.

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Thank you Ken Gergen for a great evening and great conversations

More on Gregory Bateson. On social business. Narrative work.

“In the future, when the history of our time is written from a long-term perspective, it may be that the most important things historians will see are not technological advancements or the Internet, but the fact that for the first time a substantial and rapidly growing number of people had choices.” (Peter Drucker)

The industrial age was about limiting the scope of choices. This was accepted since the need to gather costly information and to communicate with low quality tools was minimized. Furthermore, as the scope of decision-making and action was narrowed, the learning requirements for workers and customers were limited, reducing the transaction costs of work. The efficiency contribution of mass production was in fact derived from these lower information- and communication-related costs.

Today, in contrast to people being content with limited choices, offerings need to be created to meet diverse, unique requirements.

For knowledge workers and customers the task of gaining the input needed for these situations is creating an entirely new environment. Creative learning is becoming the fundamental activity. It is not about consuming pre-determined content, passing tests or something with beginnings and ends. Learning is continuous transformation. It is the foundation for creative action. The ability to meet the needs of a situation better can only exist partially prior to the live moment. You can never be fully prepared in advance: success depends on how you are present and how you communicate.

The new competitive edge comes from interactive capacity: the ability to connect with information and people, as and when needed.

What gives the edge is not what is already known by the individual, as much as the ability to solve problems that require real-time learning through live interaction. In increasingly complex environments learning curricula cannot be effectively designed beforehand. Needs and also solutions emerge responsively.

This view focuses attention on the way everyday conversations between people create the future. Organizations are self-organizing patterns of participation and communication through which coherent action and innovation emerge.

The concept of the social business builds on an agile, iterative framework. Learning is not related to meeting the requirements set by someone else, but is motivated and expressed through personal situational needs and aspirations. The idea of interactive competence also reflects the radical change in thinking that is going on. We are leaving behind the Western preoccupation with the autonomous individual and beginning to appreciate the importance of social processes and interdependence.

This understanding of competence suggests that the capability to act is a social process. The primary learning asset for a knowledge worker is interactive, reflective practice. The network is also a means for signalling: making one’s own learning visible not only to oneself, but also to others, thus creating a platform for comments, conversation, and even formal accreditation.

Learning happens in interaction between interdependent people. Competence, the ability to act more purposefully is the emergent phenomena resulting from that interaction. People are simultaneously forming and being formed by each other at the same time – all the time.

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Thank you Riel Miller, Doug Griffin, Stephen Downes, Kenneth Gergen and Ralph Stacey

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