As we are on the verge of falling into 2014, I thought I’d dedicate some time to rereading the Socialogy interviews from the second half of 2013 searching for patterns, and what floated to the top most consistently. And there seemed to be a short list of thoughts and observations shared across the many contributors to the series. I had earlier done a round-up after the first few months of the series (see Socialogy: A Look Back After Seven Interviews).
The following is a smörgåsbord, an array of thoughts that I have grouped loosely into a few categories, but you must help yourself to them. There is a general consensus on some thoughts —like the pressing need to change business — but in other areas there is less overlap.
Rather than trying to distill this down, I am planning to use it as inputs to my long format writing project for 2014, The Third Way of Work which will be coming as chapter per month installments, starting in February. About that, more to follow. The Manifesto is here.
One thought that did not emerge clearly in discussions with the contributors is that the change ahead for business involves a necessary break with the past, not a gentle transition. As I said in the Manifesto,
Advocating this agenda is naturally oppositional, not just ambling toward a shiny new future. The third way is explicitly and loudly a break with — and even at times a condemnation of — the ways of the past.
Cultural Change And The New Way Of Working
Dave Gray is deeply involved in ‘culture mapping’ — working with companies to help them better understand what makes them tick — and made a great distinction between (my paraphrase) the company’s ‘culture-as-hyped’ versus ‘culture-as-lived’. And he points out,
If you’re going to start a transformation process, the first question to answer is what you want to become.
Sandy Carter picked up where Dave left off, saying
Culture and change management is the foundation of true social business transformation. You can have a great social business, or social media strategy, but if you don’t have the culture that supports that, the transparency, the willingness to learn and share, adoption and engagement will be fleeting and unsuccessful.
Lee Bryant comes close to my call for a break with the past, saying,
Cultural change cannot, I believe, come about through change programmes as they are currently conceived. There is little value in promoting ‘values’ and behaviours without addressing the deep structure of companies and the habits and culture this creates. We need to be more radical in asking how we would re-create companies today if we started from scratch, because I think we now have the social, cultural and technological platforms on which to do a much better job.
Harold Jarche had a lot to say about social learning as a new foundation of work relationships:
There is much more going on with social learning than the just sharing of knowledge, but that is the most visible part. Modelling of behaviour emerges when people work together, as humans seem to be wired to do this. As Albert Bandura wrote in “Social Learning Theory” (1977),
” … most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.”
New behaviours emerge as work is done in new ways.
David Coleman was perhaps the most conservative contributor, who said
The key benefits of collaboration are still the same (after 20 years): The benefits of collaboration are many and have not changed over the last 20 years.;
- Saving time or money
- Increasing quality
- Innovating and/or providing decision support.
But he went on to say that the rise of social changed that:
The thing that has changed the most in collaboration is participation and engagement. Until about 2005 with the rise of social networks, you were lucky if you had an online community that had 10% people engaged and producing content. But with the explosion of user-created-content on the consumer side, I also saw a great rise (70-80%) in participation on the business side!
I offered the observation that
The best way to increase the likelihood of change in social groups is to increase the number of connections people have. That drives the speed at which new ideas can spread. After that you can start to a/ introduce new ideas, and b/ find people who are exhibiting the behaviors you’d like to see more widely adopted, and ask them how to spread those behaviors.
And this pattern is likely to be found at the companies that are changing to the new way of work most quickly.
Megan Murray offered this about the adoption of tools, specifically: > When you consider the adoption woes of social tools, it is not surprising that the folks who are building the collaborative narrative don’t share the experiences of the average enterprise worker. We’re building the future by either taking a requirements list from the past, or ignoring the enterprise perspective all together in deference to consumerization. It’s a bit of all or nothing at this stage in the game.
Neil Usher suggested that constantly focusing on impediments to change may be a bit out of date, itself:
The dominant view of change as something to be fearful of, is part of the caution created by the view of humans as components of a stable machine with predictable outcomes, and therefore consumed by an anxiety that change is something happens to us rather than with us. If our idea of change itself changes as part of the revaluation, to be once again seen as innate (and we have to remember that this was understood as far back as the ancient Greeks), we also dispense with the ideas of barriers to change. In short, it’s going to happen.
I don’t buy his formulaic end point, but there’s a key insight in there, that our perceptions of change themselves need to change. But, after all as Alfred North Whitehead once said, it is the business of the future to be dangerous, and there’s no getting around it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we think about it.
The Network Is The New Business, And The New Deep Culture of Work
Nilofer Merchant was the one who actually said ‘networks are the new companies’, which I am paraphrasing as ‘the network is the new business’. Her argument is that smaller, more agile networks of people are ‘big’ —have advantages — over larger, slower and more ponderous organizations. She also makes the case we need to do work we love, a key aspect of the new deep culture of work.
Neil Usher perhaps most succinctly summed up the central notion of the need for a new way of work:
The fundamental values of most organisations today are based on industrial and technological processes and thinking that are approaching the end of their natural life and usefulness, and are increasingly out of kilter with the way we are now connected.
Sandy Carter one of those most oriented to the changing, networked and social relationship with customers:
88% of the C-Suite plan to interact digitally with customers to a much greater extent over the next 3-5 years. So while social, digital interaction with customers may be relatively low today, it will significantly increase overtime.
Lee Bryant commented on the relaxing of loyalties, as ties become looser:
Talented people are far less loyal to organisations, because there is little these organisations can provide that modern workers need, except in highly specialised areas of the economy where it is not possible to work on cool stuff alone or even in small groups.
Amber Naslund added these thoughts about the networked nature of work:
As the nature of work changes from “jobs” to more fluid, finite engagements - more like project work than anything else - our networks are going to be our employers at large, and I think it’s really important to nurture that.
Gordon Ross gave a clinic on the underlying network theory behind the new form factor of work, starting with Beckstrom’s Law:
The value of a network equals the net value added to each user’s transactions conducted through that network, valued from the perspective of each user, and summed for all.
And including Manuel Castells’ three reasons for why ‘networks kick ass’ [Gordon’s words, not Castells’]:
…networks became the most efficient organizational forms as a result of three major features of networks which benefited from the new technological environment: flexibility, scalability, and survivability.
Flexibility is the ability to reconfigure according to changing environments and retain their goals while changing their components, sometimes bypassing blocking points of communication channels to find new connections.
Scalability is the ability to expand or shrink in size with little disruption.
Survivability is the ability of networks, because they have no single center and can operate in a wide range of configurations, to withstand attacks to their nodes and codes because the codes of the network are contained in multiple nodes that can reproduce the instructions and find new ways to perform.
These features, Gordon stated, are critical today because of increasing complexity and uncertainty.
Megan Murray observed that companies can over-simplify by squeezing out the human factors:
The problem with simplicity in management practice is that it tends to be executed in binary ways, disassociating with basic realities that undermine the goals of individuals and organizations in the long run. Our optimizations often cull the people issues from the priority queue and obfuscate reality by design. We have better data, we need use it responsibly.
A More Human Company, Based On Intrinsic — Not Extrinsic — Motivations
Lee Bryant said,
Mastery, autonomy and doing things that don’t scale are all ideas that I see more and more, and you only have to look at the consumer world to see that people value craft over mass-produced cheaper products, and craft requires a new culture of work, rather than the dominant Taylorist approach.’
Amber Naslund specifically focussed on the transition to intrinsic motivations in the new way of work:
I don’t know that we do a really good job yet of understanding the intrinsic motivations of our teams. Three people who are equally creative or capable could be motivated by totally different things: recognition, the opportunity for advancement, knowing that their work is contributing to a social good. That stuff isn’t really well documented in organizations yet, so I think there are big opportunities there. But obviously, those things are really difficult to integrate into a company that also has to worry about efficiency, scale, and profitability
Megan Murray starts the human business with herself:
I like to think of myself as being relentlessly human in my approach to business, and life really. What I’ve found is that this can often make people very uncomfortable. That tearing at the walls of our self-imposed dysfunction is a tough position to lead with.
Complexity, Social Networks, And Social Psychology
The final question in each interview was more-or-less, this:
The thesis of the Socialogy series is that organizational culture and management should be grounded in modern scientific understanding of people’s motivations and the ways in which our social interactions shape our understanding of the world. Do you see that being manifested? And what disciplines should we be looking to?
Dave Gray argued that understanding complexity of the sort that underlies ecosystems and social networks should take a central spot in business thinking.
Sandy Carter is strongly in the social network analysis camp, and argued that social analytics will yield useful insights.
Lee Bryant made a case for psychology trumping economic theories of the business, saying
The world around us and our place within it sure has a lot to teach us in terms of everything from husbandry of resources through to adaptation, evolution and ecosystems. Economics is, I suggest, an ideological worldview, not a scientific one, and that is a problem. There are other scientific (and social scientific) fields that are probably more relevant to the future of business than classical economics.
Amber suggested that psychology — especially research into emotional intelligence — is central to future advances:
‘I don’t know when things like “feelings” and “emotions” and “desires” became such evil things in a work environment. Maybe when they couldn’t be attached to a quantitative evaluation or crunched in a spreadsheet. But the lack of emotional intelligence in business, to me, is the single biggest threat - far beyond technology or product obsolescence or competition. In fact, I think investments in emotionally intelligent work will HELP those things.’
David Coleman argued for more awareness of human psychology:
I think an awareness of behavioral interactions and relationships are starting to get more greatly recognized in business. In more and more processes we see people starting to be taken into account. Since people are a business’s greatest resource, it is good to see this. However, most collaboration still starts with technology rather than people; I am hoping that will soon change.
The Year Behind, The Year Ahead
I have found the Socialogy series one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve even undertaken. The investment of the contributors comes through loud and clear, and it serves as a great deep background for my ongoing investigations into the networked social infrastructure of the new way of work.
I am looking ahead to continuing Socialogy in 2014 with great eagerness, and I plan to keep to the format in general, but with occasional additions, like video where possible. You can expect a continued parade of theorists, practitioners, and writers, like Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union, Charlene Li of Altmeter group, and a constellation of others.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.