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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.
- Stowe Boyd
CMSwire asked me to participate in the January topic of the future of collaboration, and in my usual fashion, I suggested it was time to move past collaboration to cooperation:
It’s the year 2014, and we are trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.
As we move into a new way of work — one based on more fluid and looser connections, grounded in freethinking, humanist and scientific approaches to the social contract — it’s becoming clear that the traditional model of ‘collaboration tools’ is based around outmoded structures of control rather than the shape of our work today, or the nature of networked sociality. We need a different take on the tools we are using to get work done, one based on open cooperation at the core of our work instead of closed collaboration running alongside it.
Perhaps most important is one fact that isn’t immediately obvious when looking at collaboration tools: their tool architecture features were devised when using such tools was an occasional activity, like reading and writing email. However, in today’s economy, people are always on, and our work tools sit at the center of our work, where we are always engaged. Paradoxically, it is this place — where we see the greatest flow of messages and information — that comes to feel like the “still point of a turning world,” to borrow from T.S. Eliot.
In recent years, enterprise social networks have been developed that attempt to fuse the cooperative following and interaction a la Twitter with the collaborative controls of older work tools, and they haven’t led to some new explosion of productivity. And I think that is because they fail to take into account the shape of our work today, or the nature of networked sociality. A different take on social tools is needed, one based more on open cooperation at the core of our work instead of closed collaboration running alongside our work.
Go read the whole thing.
[originally posted on Get Real, 31 May 2005]
I had the chance to speak with James Surowiecki last week, who will be one of several keynote speakers for the CTC [Later became Enterprise 2.0] 2005 conference. James is a writer at the New Yorker, but perhaps best known for his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, that explores the ways in which groups can — at times — be smarter than the individuals that make them up.
We spoke about the ways that collaborative technologies can help — and possibly hinder — intelligent decision making within groups, especially organizations like the modern enterprise. James started the conversation by expressing his optimism about the upside potential for collaborative technologies, which are “immense, in the sense that we can learn from each other, and pass critical information to each other.” At the same time, there is a downside: “the more we interact, the more we will be influenced by each other, and therefore, the independence of thought that we know is critical to good collective decision-making can begin to fade away. So, finding a balance between the two is important, especially when you consider technologies like the Internet.”
How little the discussion has shifted in eight years. The link to the full article seems to not work any longer, alas.
This reads like it’s just about hospitals, but its about hierarchy.
Theresa Brown, Healing the Hospital Hierarchy
The good news is that there are institutions trying to improve how nurses and doctors work together. One bright light in the area of interprofessional education is the University of Virginia. With the strong backing of Dorrie Fontaine, the dean of the School of Nursing, the university requires interprofessional education for its nursing and medical school curriculums. Courses, training modules and even faculty members are shared across both disciplines. Medical and nursing students are taught to respect each other’s areas of expertise and contributions to their shared mission.
One of the program’s core areas of focus is what collaboration means to doctors and nurses. Doctors believe they know what teamwork is, but for many it may mean what Tina Brashers, the lead physician for the interprofessional education program, calls the “poof factor”: “Doctors type into the computer and POOF, the order happens,” with no input from nursing needed and little knowledge of nurses’ importance to patient care. Nurses, in contrast, are more likely to define good teamwork as a relationship in which everyone’s input counts.
Let’s hope the interprofessional education model catches on; otherwise, patients will feel the lack. My patient waiting for his transplant was lucky. The cardiologist arrived on the heels of the oncologist’s temper tantrum. After an exam and a real look at the EKG, he said the patient wasn’t having a heart attack and we could safely do the transplant.
But such encounters can have latent consequences: the power differential in hospitals is such that if a doctor chews out a nurse it tends to make her less likely to speak up the next time.
Because successful health care needs to be interdependent, the silencing of nurses inevitably creates more opportunities for error. In a system that is already error-prone and enormously complicated, where health care workers are responsible not just for people’s well-being, but their lives, behavior that in any way increases dangers to patients is intolerable. When I became a nurse, that’s not the kind of harm I signed on for.
Yes, other situations are not necessarily life or death, but if you replace ‘nurse’ with ‘worker’, ‘doctor’ with ‘manager’, and ‘client’ with ‘customer’ the realities of teamwork come into focus.
I am always interested in new tools to help me think visually, so I immediately took a look at Mural.ly when I first heard of it last week.
Mural.ly provides a shared canvas – a mural, in their terminology – for visual ideation, and the tool borrows from a number of innovative and conventional approaches. It appropriates the Powerpoint idea of text boxes and images, but does so on a Prezi-like gigantic canvas. Mural.ly also lifts the Prezi notion of a sequence of framed areas as a way to make a presentation, but it does so without the nausea-inducing shifts in perspective that Prezi provides. And Mural.ly uses a Google Docs-like sharing model, where a group of collaborators can edit a shared mural, and even chat in real time through the tool as they are doing so.
Murals can be private – available only to those invited – or public – visible to the entire web (although only editable by collaborators). And they can be exported in a variety of ways, including embedded into other web pages or sites, like Tumblr or Wordpress.
I created a small mural to experiment with Mural.ly, and found the tool relatively straightforward, based on my experience with Powerpoint, Prezi, and Google Docs. Here you see one part of my mural, which is theoretically about Innovation In Pizza Cutters (you can see the mural here: http://mrl.li/QI5t6G).
I am the author of the mural, so I am presented with the authoring tools along the left margin, with the ability to add images, paste text, manipulate shapes and arrows, change backgrounds, and so on.
I found the tool’s features adequate, but I really wanted more options with text elements, like lists and individual styling: currently any changes in text style affect the entire text object, so you cannot highlight a single word, for example. Also, I was baffled by the provision of text boxes, comments, and post-its all with different limited options for fonts and styling.
The real-time chat is simple, but I can see it being very effective (although at present it seems to disappear at logout, so there is no history, which is a shame).
And the frames implementation – which allows the collaborators to create a sequenced walk through the canvas – is a great tool, as I said earlier, largely lifted from Prezi. I would like to see the capability for more than a single map, though, since different collaborators might want to wander through a body of information in different ways. Or a single researcher might want to collect a very large body of information and insights, and build different traversals for different purposes or audiences. As with Prezi, I found myself missing the capability of objects appearing as part of a slideshow animation, but a great deal can be done with movement, instead.
And lastly, I wanted to be able to record a walkthrough with voice and capture as a movie: this would be an awesome capability, since the tool supports embedding in other locales. I guess I could use a third party tool, but that would step outside the collaboration and sharing model the tool supports already.
I need to experiment with Mural.ly in a larger context – more collaborators, more materials – before I can tell exactly how rich the experience is, but my sense is that Mural.ly is already a great adjunct to brainstorming and group ideation, and with just a few more features could be indispensable.
Matt McAlister makes a distinction between leading and managing in this examination of Chinese motorcycle supply chain dynamics:
Matt McAlister, Leadership lessons from China
John Seely Brown and John Hagel examine how a network of motorcycle parts assemblers in China break traditional centralized management tactics to optimize for innovation in a paper called “Innovation blowback: Disruptive management practices from Asia.”
In the Chinese city Chongquing a supplier-driven network of parts developers work together under the loose guidance of their customers rather than under the orders of assemply-line management:
In contrast to more traditional, top-down approaches, the assemblers succeed not by preparing detailed design drawings of components and subsystems for their suppliers but by defining only a product’s key modules in rough design blueprints and specifying broad performance parameters, such as weight and size. The suppliers take collective responsibility for the detailed design of components and subsystems. Since they are free to improvise within broad limits, they have rapidly cut their costs and improved the quality of their products.
As a manager, when you define what is to be done and how it is to be done, then you are setting the exact expectation of what is to be delivered. There is no room for exceeding expectations, only for failing to meet expectations. Your best-case scenario is that you will get what you asked for.
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.
Just as predicted, more of the major business consulting firms are reorienting their services around ‘social business’, even if they are avoiding the term itself.
As I have argued strenuously elsewhere (see Enterprise 2.0, Social Business, And Work Media), we have seen the rapid transition from tactical proselytizing about ‘collaboration’ to ‘enterprise 2.0’, and now the movement to strategic reconceptualization of the company using the metaphor of ‘social business’.
Here, the newest adherent appears to be CapGemini, being counseled by Dr. Enterprise 2.0 himself, Andrew McAfee. McAfee can’t stand to say ‘social business’, since he spent years arguing against the term and at least some of what it has come to mean, so he and CapGemini are talking about ‘digital transformation’, instead.
Mark Fidelman via Business Insider
Don’t believe the world’s businesses are going social? Take this recent declaration from CapGemini’s Managing Director, Global Head of Practices, Didier Bonnet when discussing Social Business with me: “We’ve actually repositioned the entire practice around digital transformation. So for us it’s not just changing one service offering; it’s our entire focus globally for our teams to deliver and to sell.” He came to that crucial decision after MIT and CapGemini interviewed over 160 executives throughout Asia, Europe and North America and discovered that businesses are digitizing.
CapGemini’s decision was further supported by Andy McAfee, MIT’s Principal Research Scientist for Digital Business, view that, “analog companies eventually are going to get swept aside by digital companies. It’s my firmest belief about the future of business.”
While Bonnet and McAfee are careful to avoid the S-word, “social” in our discussions because for most executives it still equates to happy hour, social technologies are an important aspect of their research. Bonnet explains, “it’s becoming a powerful and common word so we’re not fighting it anymore.” Indeed, executives are still terrified of their employees wasting time on social activities, but the visionaries are embracing social as a competitive differentiator.
But just to beat the drum one more time — after all, it’s New Year’s Day, so I should start 2012 fighting this battle — the transformation at work here isn’t companies going digital: it’s companies going tribal. It’s a transition to the open follower model — a la Twitter and Facebook — and a decisive step away from top-down, hierarchical, and centralized management.
The social tools that we have seen work so well, with such enormous and quick uptake in the open web, are based around social networks, and built upon the premises of social media. The versions of these social media tools being adopted for the business context are what I chose to call work media:
Work Media: social tools designed for the enterprise but based on the patterns of interaction, influence, and communication from social networks of the open web. Work media tools share a number of characteristics, most centrally the streaming metaphor of Twitter and Facebook, with short updates from a variety of sources cascade into each user’s dashboard, from which each can derive a networked gestalt of the world. Work media is altering the DNA of business.
So, on a tactical level, businesses are adopting work media, and that is shifting the nature and dimensionality of business communication. When you change the way that people communicate and interact, you change everything. So this seemingly tactical change has deep, strategic impact on the business, and the consultingologists want to ride that wave. There’s money to be made, after all.
It’s not necessarily venal, however: companies can certainly use help in making this transition. But, at the same time, I am not sure that well-established consulting businesses — except younger, smaller, and less old-school ones — are the right resources to look to when trying to make sense of the social revolution. Better to find people who have been scuffling down that road a little bit longer.
TEDxMidAtlantic 2011 - Stowe Boyd - An Architecture for Cooperation (by TEDxTalks)
The mic is too close too my mouth — I wish someone had done something about that — but the message of this presentation is still important.