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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
Jeremiah Owyang is onto something when he recently suggested that workers should change their mindset about work, and consider themselves instead as a ‘company of one’:
Mindset: Your Boss Is Really Your Client, Jeremiah Owyang
[…] the way that companies should re-think management is that all employees are self-empowered, and like their own business owner. I believe that everyone is their own CEO of one, they are responsible for their own strategy, knowledge, education, marketing, and building their own information strategies.
Why wouldn’t management have this mindset? If you’re willing to invest your time and money on hiring the best, you should treat them as the experts they are. Of course this doesn’t come without proper definition of defining the success criteria, putting ongoing training in place and setting up a performance tracking program.
And such a set-up doesn’t magically pop into existence when a single worker in some company attempts this mental transition. A lot of things have to happen for this to come together, and so the worker adopting this mindset doesn’t get fired.
Ultimately, discussions like this pivot on the degree to which individuals are autonomous. Some example scenarios:
If each of us becomes a company of one, doesn’t the company have to create a fundamental architecture based on supporting companies-of-one? How much autonomy, competition, and apparent chaos can the architecture allow?
I have written and spoken a great deal recently about the differences between cooperation and collaboration:
Stowe Boyd, The Architecture Of Cooperation
The now old architecture of work was based on process-centric, collaborative work: I mean that all the people involved in some business process — for example, new customer acquisition for a consumer products company — would work exclusively on that process, and everyone’s work was defined by the process. In principle, each member of the consumer acquisition team would spend 100% of their time on that process, and all the members would be co-located (in cubicles or offices) so that the process could be as efficient as possible. Considerations of what would be best for the individual would be deemed irrelevant. Collaboration was the byword, and web tools were designed around symmetrical projects, where members derive their rights by being ‘invited’ — assigned — to project-based work contexts.
The new architecture of work is now emerging, after decades of transition. White collar work became knowledge work which has now become creative work. The transition from process to networks is not just a recasting, not just a different style of communication. The work is styled as information sharing through social relationships, and where ‘following’ takes the place of ‘invitation’. People coordinate efforts, but work on a wide variety of activities, which are not necessarily co-aligned with others’ work, and which are not necessarily even known in a general way. A new degree of privacy and autonomy animates cooperative work, in comparison to collaborative work. Individuals cooperating hand off information or take on tasks in a fashion that is like businesses cooperating: they see the benefit in cooperating, and don’t have to share a common core set of strategic goals to do so: they don’t need the alignment of goals that defines old style business employment.
This transition from collaborative work to cooperative work will require a systemic relaxation of work norms, management preconceptions, and individual motivations, and especially the primacy of collaboration. Cooperation is about the freedom to not collaborate, as well, to avoid the overhead involved when people have to hammer out agreements about a shared collective vision intended to persist for some strategic length of time.
I will be writing a great deal more about this in the coming months, and — drum roll — I will be making an announcement later this week that is directly in line with these issues.
Jeremiah Owyang wants to declare the end of the golden age of tech blogging, or, even more portentously, he says
The tech blogosphere, as we know it, is over.
This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but at face value — and leaving aside for the moment the specifics of his argument — I agree. The ‘blogosphere’ — that mid ’00s concept of a community of bloggers writing for each others and cross-linking through trackbacks and threaded comments — that communitarian vision has been superseded by other ideas of what is, or should be, happening, online.
However, I don’t want to adopt the metaphor that is used by people that fear the future, and long for a halcyon past. I won’t go along with the ‘golden age’ rhetoric, which is generally employed by those arguing a fall from a better past into a less virtuous present. (The concept comes from ancient Greek mythology, with its Golden, Silver, Bronze, Iron ages, and then the present, debased age.)
I prefer Winston Churchill’s trope:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Churchill was, of course, referring to a turning point in the struggle with Germany during World War II, while we are discussing the transition from a more primitive and less social phase in the web revolution, into something more complex and, ultimately, more rewarding.
The points that Jeremiah makes to support his argument are very tactical, not looking at the strategic changes going on technologically or societally. His ‘trends’ aren’t really trends, but narrow extrapolations from recent events masquerading as business advice. They are these, in brief:
Trend 1: Corporate acquisitions stymie innovation
Trend 2: Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover
Trend 3: The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social
Trend 4: As space matures, business models solidify – giving room for new disruptors
These observations are interesting as far as they go, but aside from the ‘faster, small, and social’ I don’t think these are major, in any sense.
I’d like to offer a few trends that may be implied by Jeremiah’s lists or by the comments of various bloggers that he cites, but aren’t really characterized very well in his post.
It’s obvious that Jeremiah is caught up in the issues confronting three groups of web denizens posting their contributions posting on technology platforms based on a now well-established model of web publishing, which we call blogging. This is unexamined in his piece, but the model of a website made up of chronologically ordered posts with comments in a thread on each piece, and a variety of navigation or advertising widgets in the margin may be getting tired, and may not gibe with other modern advances in online media dynamics. At any rate, Owyang’s concerns seem to be directed toward three constituencies:
He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the problems of major media companies, which continue to be deadly serious, nor does he refer to the notable advances that media companies like The Atlantic have accomplished. Nor does he spend much time talking about the technology companies — like Tumblr, Twitter, and Flipboard — that are involved in the tectonic changes going on today; changes that make the ebb and flow of small-potato business models surrounding tech blogging look like the scrambling of ants underneath the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Yes, we are veering into a new era of web media; and it’s about goddamned time.
Here’s a few of the most powerful trends, in summary:
Obviously, Owyang and those leaving comments on his post weren’t necessarily treating these trends. The post was ostensibly about the changes in the world of tech blogging, after all. But I don’t see how you can meaningfully explore that niche without the larger context.
Brian Solis sees the larger context as necessary as well:
I recently wrote about my thoughts on the state and future of blogs, which is of course far grander than the world of tech blogging. And as you can see, blogging is alive and clicking.
Yes, micromedia, video, and social transactions/actions are breaking through our digital levees and causing our social streams to flood. And, yes, Flipboard, Zite, and the like (get it?), are forcing our consumption patterns into rapid-fire actions and reactions. You have a choice. You are either a content creator, curator or consumer. You can be all of course. But, think about this beyond the mental equivalent of 140 characters. What do you stand for and what do you want to become known for? The answer is different for each of us. But, content, context, and continuity are all I need to learn, make decisions and in turn inspire others.
I don’t buy the consumer angle — after all, every person is curating for at least one person, themselves — so I consider it a cardinality distinction: curating for one is not appreciably different than curating for two or ten. All curators — of whatever degree of discernment — started by curating for themselves. But Solis clearly gets the big picture, and I agree totally that what is bubbling up today will make the web a place where we continue to come to learn, make decisions, and connect with — and perhaps inspire? — others to do the same.
I signed up to EmpireAvenue after hearing about it last week: a fantasy stock market fashioned on the notion that people and brands can be traded like stocks.
It’s getting a lot of play on the interwebs because — I believe — people would like this to be some sort of useful proxy for influence. Again.
Jeremiah Owyang does a serious writeup, implicitly advocating that brands should get involved, but I think he’s way too premature with this plaything. David Armano takes a more playful and questioning viewpoint, and suggests it’s ‘more fun in many regards than Facebook’.
But I don’t think it is. It will be a useful proxy for popularity, which is only loosely linked with influence. And meanwhile, eye candy like Empire Avenue will lead people to once again reinforce the wrongheaded blurring of popularity and influence.
Here’s what I wrote at Quora when asked if Empire Avenue is a fad:
Like most systems based on gaming, it will turn out to be a fad, unless there are complex strategic elements of the game (like chess, go, bridge, or WoW). A stock market based on some derivative of popularity is what we hoped to leave behind when we graduated high school. At least most of us.